About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In Data for Dollars we looked at how the history museum industry could better articulate its worth in self study. Such articulation is meant to aid advocacy so that people understand not only the industry’s worth, but also its needs. This study would show a certain return on investment, as urged in the recent Pioneer Press editorial, “Spend Legacy Money for Maximum Benefit.”

One problem of which historical organizations all need to be aware is that the proof in cultural data collection projects really could be described as self-authenticated since it originates from the field. This is why the fourth concern about perhaps having insufficient objectivity was included – not only for inappropriate self-diagnosis, but also to insulate history museums from criticism that could undermine advocacy.

If collecting cultural data about history museums based on effective use of finite resources could be problematic, then it seems as though alignment with commonly accepted metrics might be another answer. Certainly over the years many museum conference sessions have encouraged educational institutions to align with state education standards, and to work on pressing social concerns such as closing education gaps. These are worthy and urgent goals.

One commonly accepted metric that may be useful is the North American Industry Classification System, developed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. While history and museums are on the list, the codes for these are near the bottom of that list, and not as finely granulated as other industries. The use of NAICS can be seen in the recent 2011 Report to the Governor and Legislature from the Minnesota Historical Society that shows for every $1 spent on history projects from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund that an additional $1.95 is put into the economy.

A third way to establish value is to show how historical organizations assist or further public policy initiatives. One here in Minnesota that the history field should examine is The Itasca Project. The project looks at aligning public policy with a more conducive climate for business. Its aim seems to be to expand the number of taxable entities rather than continually raising taxes on an ever shrinking number of taxable entities. Since its start in 2004, the project has determined six priorities and four other initiatives. The many reports generated by the project may suggest additional ways to align the work of local history for the betterment of the state.

For example, in The Economics of Early Childhood Education the report shows that one adverse affect to early childhood development is that providers are weaker for their inability to buy services on an efficient scale. While some history museums make a concerted effort to help Home Educators to do this, and a few also reach to daycare operations, do any also reach out to stay-at home parents? While stay-at home parents may be a shrinking market, what the report really suggests is that all segments of early childhood care taken as a whole need access to economically efficient services, meaning services acquired on scale. So, while a historical organization may have a program for home schools or daycares, does it offer its service broadly at a consistent price?

If successful historical organizations reach people because they go where the people are, it may stand to reason that financially successful historical organizations will operate in the same circles as producers of wealth. It may make a certain amount of sense to thoughtfully consider how historical organizations not only contribute to the quality of life, but also contribute to the bottom line for local businesses.

In addition to the valuable self-research of cultural data collection, is it appropriate to consider alignment with established and presumably objective metrics? How about with public policy studies like The Itasca Project? What other initiatives or metrics do you use when advocating for your organization?

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