Jan Eval 1There is no better way to ensure a historic house museum’s longevity and vitality than to elicit input from your audiences and respond constructively. Without these voices informing decision-making, museums lose their vibrancy and worth. It’s time for museums to listen. But for many museums the act of “listening” is out of their comfort zone and capacity as a staff. Additionally, many institutions have yet to understand the true value of listening.  In these instances any form of evaluation or visitor studies has been set aside, with little or no consideration other than what might be required by funders.

15 museums of many types in the Denver, Colorado metro region, INCLUDING THE Molly Brown House Museum, banded together to build capacity for evaluation and better serve the needs of our visitors and community collectively. The thought questions which served as a foundation were:

  • Would museum evaluations and visitor studies be more effective if they were conducted jointly rather than as separate institutional projects?
  • Could institutions of all sizes and budgets work together to create a community of evaluators?
  • Could the Denver area be the test market for building evaluation capacity while sharing resources and data across the institutional board? Jan Eval 2

 The newly created Denver Evaluation Network (DEN) members realized that there was need to build the evaluation capacity outside of the Denver area, as there was a thirst for knowledge within its regional colleagues. Members included two nature and science focused sites, one state history museum, four regional history organizations, two art museums, two historic house sites, one historic grave site, one children’s museum, one botanic garden, and one zoo.

Jan Eval 3As lead applicant, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) 21st Century Professionals grant. Designed to provide intensive professional development for the 15 DEN institutions and to provide evaluation resources to many more throughout the Mountain-Plains region, the goal of the Building the Evaluation Capacity of Museum Professionals in the Mountain-Plains Region project has been to positively impact evaluative thinking, implementation, and use in Denver and beyond.

To be continued…

 — Andrea Malcomb, Director, Molly Brown House Museum