Understanding emotional connections to museums

During the pandemic we saw many passionate local people getting together to support and ‘save’ their local museums or similar cultural organisations. Our new research project asks ‘How might we harness that passion and energy all the time?’

Co-sponsored by Art Fund, AIM is working with M.E.L Research to explore public engagement with museums and cultural provision at an emotional level, with the goal of translating this into actionable insights museums can use to connect even more strongly with their communities.

Elliot Simmonds, Client Solutions Director, is leading the project for M.E.L:

“Museums and heritage assets represent many things to many people. They are places of education, family engagement, fun and enjoyment – and they are places of space and solitude, to think, to challenge and to reflect. As the sector moves forward, we hope this work will help organisations engage audiences in the best possible way, and create long-lasting, strong and impactful relationships between people and their museums.”

One of the outputs of the study will be an easy-to-understand toolkit, providing a set of wide-ranging principles which can be adapted by individual museums, as well as example case studies of how those principles work in practice.

The research, which is in the engagement phase at the time of writing, will involve several key phases lead by M.E.L.

  • In-depth conversations with a handful of ‘Community Leaders’, individuals who have shown a clear commitment to a museum
  • Online work with a larger group of those from the ‘community’ side will take place over several days, allowing a deep rapport to be built and exploration of a range of different motivations and perspectives.
  • An online survey open to both those working in museums and those passionate about their museums in their communities.

“It’s really important that we see communities in their broadest sense,” says Elliot. “We’re not limiting ourselves to geography, we want to capture communities of shared ideas, communities of interest – emotional connections are not limited to place.”

The team will undertake analysis of the findings using a range of theoretical frameworks, as well as through the lens of behaviour change and behavioural economics (a type of analysis which recognises that not all decision-making is ‘rational’).

The findings will also be contextualised by other studies undertaken in similar sectors e.g. work by the National Trust on connection to place.

Finally, resulting findings and initial recommendations will be ‘played back’ to museum teams to gain feedback and generate examples of how the recommendations might be implemented. This will then be utilised when preparing the final report and toolkit.

If you would like to know more about the research or to be involved, please contact Elliot.Simmonds@melresearch.co.uk

M.E.L Research Ltd is a social research agency deeply rooted in social value. The team has extensive experience of the heritage and cultural sectors. Click here to visit the M.E.L Research website>>