Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Backward ABC’s of Museum Data

This week’s blog post comes from Philip M. Katz, assistant director for research at AAM.

This was going to be an essay about the power of museum financial and operating data—robust, reliable numbers that can help museums plan for the future and help the museum field make a better case right now for all museums. I even had a clever hook: the backward ABC’s of Collecting, Benchmarking and Advocating with data.

I was going to write about “the folly of prediction” using data (the subject of a great episode of Freakonomics Radio). I was going to remind you that CFM typically urges museums to take a long-term view of planning. Our standard warning is that “traditional short-term, small scale planning methodologies usually do not prepare a museum for radical changes in the future, or foster real innovation.” As a result, we  try to provide museums with tools for looking 5, 10, 25 or more years down the line. But our assumption is always that good long-term planning builds on solid knowledge about a museum’s current situation. And that requires good tools, like AAM’s new Museum Benchmarking Online (MBO) system, which features instant comparisons and detailed reports for subscribers. 

Finally, I was going to talk about how AAM needs as many museums as possible to share their vital statistics, so we can make informed arguments about the state of the museum field and its impact on American society. (Especially important when policymakers start talking, again, about cutting support for museums.) In the past, museums across the nation generously contributed their data to AAM’s periodic Museum Financial Information surveys; now we’re using MBO to collect the same information. It’s free, but it does take time. subscribers get access to a suite of comparison and reporting tools.

But I couldn’t find a way to make any of this exciting or compelling. So I drew you a comic strip instead. Please share it with you friends and colleagues.


Phil Katz said...

The next deadline for participation is December 31! See the revised cartoon at

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