What is the most common theme incorporated into the charitable causes of organisations across the culture and heritage sector?  The answer – having a positive impact on its audiences, however this may be defined.

So why does most research among these audiences still default to focussing inwardly towards the organisation than outwardly towards the audience?  We remain obsessed with Key Performance Indicators which talk about satisfaction with us, likelihood to recommend us or whether we are seen as good value for money.  But shouldn’t we be just as keen to understand and measure the impact that we are having on our audiences, given that this is what our charitable objectives are often about?

Perhaps even more importantly, shouldn’t we be routinely demonstrating how the impacts that we are having on our audiences are aligning perfectly with the strategic objectives of the organisations that will potentially help to fund us?  Wouldn’t it significantly help our bid if, when applying for funding, we already had a bank of baseline data and insight that evidenced the impact that we have on our audiences and how we are looking to further develop this through their funding?

For example, The National Lottery Heritage Fund identifies several audience-related outcomes in its criteria for funding, as detailed here: https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/publications/outcomes-detail

  • A wider range of people will be involved in heritage
  • Heritage will be identified and better explained
  • People will have developed skills
  • People will have learnt about heritage, leading to change in ideas and actions
  • People will have greater wellbeing

    We need to think about effective ways of routinely integrating these outcomes and other similar outcomes identified by our other funding organisations into our visitor evaluations and surveys, whether we are currently applying for funding or not.  Clearly, the shorter term visitor outcomes are more straightforward to evaluate than the longer term impacts.  Visitor surveys conducted shortly after a visit experience have the potential to evaluate how understanding of heritage, change in opinion or short term wellbeing have been impacted.  But we may need to look at introducing more longitudinal research approaches to properly measure the longer term impacts on skills development or change in behaviour – for example, propensity to become a volunteer.

    An important consideration when measuring these outcomes is the point in the visitor journey that we conduct our evaluations.  The current trend – often led by the availability of new, shiny technology rather than a well thought through need – is to gather visitor feedback ‘in the moment’.  There is no doubt that ‘in the moment’ feedback using mobile ethnographic techniques, for example, is invaluable when looking at the detail of the visit experience.  However, if we are interested primarily in outcomes and impacts, visitors need some time to reflect on their experience.  Post-visit, online surveys provide an environment where visitors have had an opportunity to evaluate in their own minds, the short term impact of their visit and give more honest, considered feedback.

      So a few tips when thinking about integrating audience outcomes into your evaluations:

      • Consider what outcomes your own organisation is seeking to achieve
      • Consider the strategic objectives of the organisations you will potentially seek funding from
      • Try to ensure that the outcomes you decide upon are integrated consistently across all of your evaluation work
      • Allow time for the audience to reflect on their experience and consider its impact before evaluating
      • Recognise the difference between short term outcomes and long term impacts of your work and adopt appropriate evaluation methods accordingly