12-month annual museum passes: what is the rate of return?

Back in early May I asked the Twitter hive: “For museums with a free return visit within 12 months: does anyone know an average, examples or research of the proportion of visitors who take this up?”

I was keen to benchmark a client’s figures and get a bit more context to explore whether aiming to raise their rate of return was a realistic – and desirable – prospect.

I promised to share the responses (where I was given permission to do so), so here goes!

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MuseumNext takeaways

MuseumNext takeaways

I’ve been following along to #MuseumNext conferences on social media for a few years and they always have a great buzz around them. So when MuseumNext founder Jim Richardson created an early bird freelance offer to this year’s London conference, I (and many other freelancers) jumped at the chance to attend.

In fact, Jim called it an “invasion of freelancers” and we had about 40 freelancers at our Museum Freelance social meet-up on day 1 from across the UK, America, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Turkey and more! Some left inspired to set up something similar to Museum Freelance on their patch. This is brilliant news, as a thriving supportive community is such a boost for freelancers.

Some of the crew at the Museum Freelance meet-up at Museum Next
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Reflections on Agents of Change – the Museum Freelance conference

A cancelled meeting means I’ve finally got the chance to finish my blog post on the third annual Museum Freelance conference held in Manchester in March. I organised it with Marge Ainsley as a conference dedicated to freelancers working with museums, heritage sites, libraries and archives.

My key takeaways were:

  • Be yourself and be authentic
  • It’s ok to make mistakes – learn from them
  • Question your purpose, what do you want to be, what do YOU want to do?
  • The importance of online networks – join them, get involved in them
  • Change can be positive
  • Being “unemployable” is great!
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Example: tailoring digital content to users

I really liked this from The Drum – after signing up (free of charge) to get to their website content, I was given three options of what they can do for me:

The design is clean, with clear calls to action.

It’s a simple concept, easy for a user to do and feel like it’s something that benefits them – information tailored to what they are most interested in.

And of course for the organisation an opportunity to flag some of their products and services and get a useful layer of user insight about each of their preferences.

The Drum is a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe so you’d expect them to get it right. But this approach could easily be scaled up and down and be transferred to cultural organisations’ websites and e-newsletters to establish what their users and audiences are most interested in e.g. visiting, buying a ticket, finding out about events, doing some research, being inspired and then curating relevant content to them as a result. No doubt some of the bigger cultural organisations already do this for e-newsletter sign-ups, but I’ve not seen it frequently and certainly not on their websites. Would love to see examples if anyone has any case studies?

End of week testimonial

On Wednesday I delivered the findings of a substantial piece of audience consultation on behalf of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich. The project team and trustees were so receptive to the findings – they listened, they got it, they’re excited about the possibilities and ready for the challenge.

It was so encouraging to see, as audience development and consultation is new to the organisation. It was a meaningful project and one I feel privileged to have contributed to. I was delighted to receive this note from the client today:

“Congratulations and a huge thank you from of all of the Governors and staff for a very thorough, well planned and executed piece of work.  It will not only inform and underpin the immediate project but, most importantly, the development of the offer as the Library moves forward. […] Thank you once again for all of your work and skill in bringing together such a helpful piece of work.”

Richard Hill, project manager, The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

About the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

The Memorial Library is a really special and unique place. It was set up to honour the nearly 7,000 Americans in the Second Air Division who lost their lives during the Second World War in bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany from their Norfolk and Suffolk bases.

It is intended to be a living memorial, to not only be a tribute to those Americans who were killed, but also to act as an educational and friendship bridge between the UK and USA.

Audience consultation project for the Memorial Library

However the organisation recognised the need to increase and broaden its visitor base. I was commissioned to undertake a programme of front-end user, non-user and stakeholder consultation to help the Trust to understand:

  • the Library’s current user profile
  • barriers to engagement from non-users
  • what both sets of audiences would like to see from a redeveloped Memorial Library.

The work involved a feedback station in the Library, a series of focus groups, telephone interviews with stakeholders, an online survey, face-to-face interviews with users of the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library (the Memorial Library is housed within it) and two public consultation events.

Tips on running staff reflection workshops

One of my pet bug-bears is project evaluation for the sake of it, as a tickbox exercise.

Done well, there’s so much value that can be mined at the end of projects. And yet I see some organisations just evaluating on the basis of funders’ requirements, with no thought to how they can genuinely learn from the experience in a practical way going forward.

Rather than just focussing on ‘what we’ve done’, I champion an approach that identifies lessons learned and implications for future projects. I want to ensure that good practice is recognised and embedded in organisations, and we avoid duplicating mistakes.

Benefits of a staff reflection workshop:

A staff reflection workshop can be a really useful way of capturing transferable lessons. Done well it can:

  • Be a safe space and valued opportunity for participants to have their voices heard
  • Help to deepen understanding, collaborative working and relationships amongst the participants
  • Enable team members to bounce ideas off each other
  • Uncover a wealth of insights and ideas
  • Be the basis for a best practice guide for future projects
  • Give participants a sense of buy-in and ownership of the best practice guidance
  • Be a method to help team members reach consensus
  • Act as a type of closure on a project for participants
  • Be fun and engaging!

But a session needs careful preparation and facilitation so that it remains constructive and productive and doesn’t degenerate into a whinge-fest, go off tangent for a long period of time or is dominated by a minority.

I have organised and facilitated reflection workshops for a range of different organisations, where participants have comprised members of different internal departments, teams and different organisations.

Here are my top tips for running a constructive team reflection session:

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My takeaways from the SHARE Museums East conference

Last week I went to SHARE Museums East’s annual conference held at the stunning Firstsite gallery in Colchester, aimed at people working in and with museums in the East of England. The theme was ‘Embrace, Empower, Employ’.

I was there as a delegate and also as a representative of the Museum Freelance Network, presenting a break-out session on Working with Freelancers aimed at museums’ representatives and hosting a Museum Freelance stand with fellow consultant Claire Adler in the breaks. It’s great that SHARE recognises the importance of freelancers and consultants to our sector and provided a platform for us to develop relationships between the network and museums in the region.

As ever with cultural sector conferences, delegates’ and speakers’ passion, dedication and quest for learning and sharing really came across during the day.

Here are my four main takeaways from the day:

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Greener freelancing

Last month Bridget McKenzie guest-hosted a Museum Freelance chat on Twitter on the topic of ‘green’ freelancing.

Bridget is the director of Flow Associates and founder of Climate Museum UK, a mobile museum creatively stirring response to climate emergency and Everyday Ecocide which exposes ecoblindness, erasure of other species and climate denial in media and culture.

We only scratched the surface in the 45 minutes on Twitter, but it felt like a good start to get a conversation going.

Some examples of green freelancing practice people raised were:

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End of project reflection

I recently completed a project working with the Science Museum Group to facilitate and capture staff feedback and reflections on their group-wide learning projects. This fed into a best practice guide and toolkit for the Group’s four museums to use in the future.

It was a fascinating project, and fantastic to see time being set aside for reflection and staff contributions being sought, valued and used.

It got me thinking about my own reflection and project evaluation when client projects come to an end. Whilst I always look back on them and think about them, this has never been a formalised or written-down process.

So I decided to create a simple reflection sheet that I now use at the end of each project, which:

  1. enables me to reflect in a more structured, constructive and consistent way;
  2. identifies lessons for future work to help me improve what I do, how I work, and mitigate similar future issues;
  3. ultimately feeds into business planning work, continually helping me to identify my strengths and preferences in terms of types of work and how I work.

If anyone is interested in having a look or using the sheet, you are welcome to download it as a Word or PDF document and I’d be really interested to hear what methods other freelancers and consultants use.

Train the Trainer: Train the Freelancer

I’ve recently returned from a two-day Train the Trainer course in London with the College of Public Speaking. Whilst I do a fair amount of learning from my office (reading, online network discussions, the odd webinar and online course), it reminded me how valuable it is to get out of the office, really dedicate time and focus on training and learn in a practical way with other participants.

The course:

  • provided plenty of strategies, models and ideas I can implement and use in my training;
  • forced me to step out of my comfort zone as we had to practise presenting in front of the group, watch the film back and be critiqued;
  • gave me the opportunity to take time away from the office to think and reflect.

As a bonus it also provided two professional trainer certifications (with The Institute of Leadership & Management and NCFE).

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