Why Every Museum Should Make Data Part of Its DNA


In the digital age, museums and nonprofits are constantly looking for new tools and approaches to improve the various pillars of their operation. From collections to marketing, education, fundraising, and all things in between, there is no denying how valuable technology and access to data has become.

Without data, how do we know where we stand and where we are heading? Data can help you breakthrough emotions, bias, and unsupported opinions, to make informed decisions and do so more quickly.

New tools are making it easier for organizations of all sizes to collect, analyze, and respond to data in the same way that large corporations, modern governments, and tech startups do. Becoming more data-driven is a common strategic goal of the 21st century nonprofit, but where do we begin?

How to get started

In the past, many organizations that have seen success with data usage have often had experts on their staff whose primary focus is working with and analyzing data. But with today’s tools and resources, you don’t need an in-house data scientist or analyst. Any organization can reap the benefits of working with data faster, easier, and more affordably than ever! 

Consider your goals

There’s no point in focusing on data just for the sake of it. It’s only worthwhile if you’re going to apply your work towards a relevant goal and achieve something that will be useful to your organization. For example, a goal might be to increase membership renewals or to find out the demographic of your museum’s typical visitor or patron. Rather than getting buried under data looking for insight, start by focusing on the questions you’d like to answer.

Start small

The best way to experiment and uncover the best strategy for your organization is to start small. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by any new undertaking and the learning curve that comes along with it, so take it one step at a time. Additionally, if your first foray into becoming more data-driven is a success, you’ll be better prepared to implement more ambitious initiatives in the future. 

Learn from your community

Research and understand what other organizations have done and reach out for some advice if needed. The industry is currently in a learning phase when it comes to data, so people are generally open to share insights that can benefit everyone and advance the field.

Approaches to data for museums

There are many different ways that organizations are incorporating data into their culture and process. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

Medium data

While “big data” may be all the rage, start with medium data. Focus on the basic task of collecting and analyzing “structured information about who you are, what you’re trying to do, and what’s happening” as suggested by Jacob Harold, CEO of Guidestar. This will help with both day-to-day decision-making and long-term planning.

Think like a startup

You don’t need a ton of money, experience, or even a software team on staff to be successful leveraging data. Young tech startups successfully use data to “growth hack” their business despite often having a small team and limited resources. Look to startups as sources of inspiration and resourcefulness. And we’re all in luck as the American Alliance of Museums has published a series called “Becoming a Data Startup” with step-by-step examples and tutorials to help you every step of the way.

Leverage digital tools

Today, there are numerous digital tools that are available to help you gather, store, and visualize data. You very likely already use Google Analytics, various social networks, email marketing, and (hopefully) a CRM - these tools are always compiling impressions, keep your data structured, and even provide basic demographic insights. And, to take a clearer look at the various sources of data you possess, check out some of the plug-and-play data visualization tools to get you started.

Ready to become a lean, mean, data machine? There is no better time than now to infuse data into your institutional DNA… And with no surprise, there is even data to prove it!

What is your organization doing to leverage data? Let us know!

Further reading:

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