Since I first took up the EVR position at Museum Victoria in January 1994 much has changed in regards to EVR within my organisation and in the museum sector. EVR practitioners have become more skilled and professional in conducting studies and we continue to experiment with new methodologies. Between us all we have probably evaluated every aspect of the work of museums and their engagement with the public. And now we have large storehouses of studies, and insights from them, in our organisations – I have just completed the 833th study conducted here at Museum Victoria. EVR no longer needs to justify its existence and people within our museums naturally turn to it to inform their work.
However, in recent times I have begun to wonder if that is about to change. Has the visitor’s voice become so central to our thinking that we run the risk of believing we know it all and so do not require EVR as we have in the past? In fact, fewer full-time EVR positions exist and there is a greater reliance on part-time positions and student projects. Indeed, it is more likely that EVR is represented within an organisation by someone who is keenly interested but has another role to fulfil as well. I have also noticed that the practitioner is being replaced at conferences and the like by an increasing number of academics. So are thing changing and what might be the future for EVR in the museum sector?
I asked Dr Patrick Greene, CEO Museum Victoria and the new Chairperson of the CAMD, his thoughts on the past and future contributions of EVR to the sector.
On arrival from Manchester 10 years ago, Dr Greene was impressed by how museums in Australia had embraced EVR to inform their work. His experience in Manchester confirmed for him that evaluation most definitively leads to better exhibitions and even now it is important to keep asking public what it is they want from museums. Dr Greene stated that EVR continues to be a strong factor in shifting the long standing belief that museums know best to one that recognises that people in the community have all sorts of valuable knowledge that museums must embrace.
As for the future, the new frontier is digital and with the NBN roll out it is particularly pertinent. Museums are faced with a bewildering range of opportunities for using digital mediums, but we do not yet know which ones will work best for us. Unless we become deliberate in examining the effectiveness of each form we won’t know where to put our effort. The rate of change is so speedy, we find ourselves in a scramble to catch up. We must get the right tools in place to do work within our organisations and we should look to collaborating across museums.
EVR also has a strong role to play in providing information that can be used to advocate the work of museums to stakeholders and partners. The assertions of an organisation are all very well but they are made stronger when backed up with facts which add authority and verification. If museums are not already involved in advocacy they should be, and it will only become a more important thing to do to keep our museums sustainable. This work, and the role of EVR in it, is ongoing.
So if there is, as Dr Greene says, a strong need for EVR in the sector, how can the EVR SIG support this? There has been a slow demise in the vigour of this, and other, SIGs in recent times. Member numbers have declined and contact between them has become tenuous. At the next committee meeting, we will be discussing the role of the SIG. Should we reinvigorate it or has it no role to play? Use the comments section below to tell us what you need from your EVR SIG. The committee will get back to you with some initiatives either way.
A rose by any other name . . .
Our name, Evaluation and Visitor Research Special Interest Group (EVR SIG) needs to change in line with Museums Australia renaming of these dedicated interests groups. So the new name is Evaluation and Visitor Research National Network (EVRNN). How do people feel about that?