Reflecting on the First Volume of ACM Trends Reports

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We have completed the first volume of the ACM Trends Reports! As we reflect back on our inaugural volume, we would like to discuss some key highlights the reports have unveiled that are relevant to both ACM and the field. (For those who have not read the reports, we are hoping this will inspire you to give them a read! Find out more here.)

The ACM Trends Reports are possible through a partnership with New Knowledge Organization, LTD (NKO). Collaborating with NKO allows ACM to produce concise, readable reports about trends identified through analysis of a decade of ACM museum member data. Prior to the Trends Reports, ACM provided reports to members based on data collected from the most recent museum membership survey, conducted every two years. These bi-annual reports serve an important purpose—and are not going away! However, they only focus on membership data from one survey year—and therefore lack the contextual references around museum operations and programming.

Why are the Trends Reports important? First, by looking at more than a decade of ACM membership data, these reports share trends in the operational, financial, and programmatic work of the children’s museum field. They also allow ACM to identify areas of strength in the field, such as where museums effectively provide services or efficiently use funding, as well as areas for improvement. By identifying these trends, ACM can work to provide more effective professional development opportunities for members. These trends, backed by data, also allow ACM to have substantive conversations with policymakers and national partners on the strengths of the field.

How do the Trends Reports benefit my museum? One of the most important results from the first volume of Trends Reports was the creation of the expanded size framework. This framework allows museums to identify as small, medium, or large based on four criteria: Total Operating Expenses, Total Staff, Total Square Footage, and Total Annual Attendance. The first four reports in Volume 1 discusses the creation of the size framework, as well as effective programming and operational approaches from the perspective of each size category. The size framework has been used in ACM’s updated Query Reports Service and the ACM 2016 Membership Survey Report (the most recent bi-annual report, mentioned earlier). The framework also provided the structure for a series of investigation sessions at InterActivity 2018 (Birds of a Feather Small, Medium and Large). In short, the updated size framework provides a more concise tool for museums to use in benchmarking (or planning) and in highlight their ongoing work.

Size Category Total Operating Expenses Building
Size
Annual
Attendance
Staff
Small Less than $487,326 Less than 12,000 Less than 50,000 Less than 14
Medium $487,326 – $2.3 million 12,000 – 44,040 50,000 – 148,667 14 – 41
Large More than $2.3 million More than 44,040 More than 148,667 More than 41

How do the reports provide context for the work of children’s museums? The remaining reports in Volume 1 focused on several trends revealed from the longitudinal data analysis. Some trend topics include museums and nontraditional families, the children’s museum workforce, and operating income and expenses.

These latter reports place children’s museum trends in a larger context by referencing data sources outside the children’s museum field. For instance, ACM Trends Report 1.6: Reaching Nontraditional Families discusses how ACM Museum Membership data showed how children’s museums engage underserved populations, using correlating data from Children’s Bureau and Children’s Defense Fund. ACM Trends Report 1.10: Making a Museum Sing: the Children’s Museum Workforce discusses the different types of labor in children’s museums: full-time, part-time, and volunteer, drawing from data shared in the ACM Member Survey, the 2016 ASTC-ACM Workforce Survey, as well as Bureau of Labor Statistics. These additional data sources place the children’s museum workforce data beyond the children’s museum field and provide contextual data in order to expand the conversation to outside stakeholders. In essence, the ACM Trends Reports have provided members a concise way to discuss data driven trends about children’s museums to a broad audience.

Caveat: the data behind the ACM Trends Reports is US-centered. The ACM Museum Membership Survey data almost entirely focuses on responses from US museums, particularly the workforce and financial data. In addition, most additional data sources are from US government agencies or US nonprofits. This is partly due to data access, ACM is able to access most US museum financial data via 990 Forms or Guidestar, whereas non-US financial data is more difficult to obtain.

How have the reports been used? During the development of the first volume, ACM and NKO created opportunities to receive feedback from member museums via surveys, webinars and a brown bag lunch at InterActivity 2017. As a result, many indicated that the reports would be helpful in describing the work of children’s museum to stakeholders such as board members, families, and community partners. Others also recognized the reports as being useful to funders and for planning purposes. Some also identified the reports as being useful in onboarding new staff, particularly professionals new to the children’s museum field.

What’s next for the ACM Trends Reports? Next week, ACM will release Volume 2 of the ACM Trends Reports, all about the economic impact of children’s museums! Stay tuned for more information.

Jen Rehkamp is Director, Field Services at the Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.