Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

3

Measuring social value

Carol Scott

A major outcome of the policies of microeconomic reform that have swept Western industrialised countries since the mid-1980s has been the introduction of increased accountability for the expenditure of public monies. Generally, the model that has been adopted to account for the use of resources in the public sector is one in which performance is measured against quantitative indicators. The application of this model to the museum sector has generated considerable debate and discussion regarding the limited ability of short-term, quantitative indicators to adequately reflect both the complexity of the role that museums play in society and the long-term contribution that they make to social value.

This chapter is in three parts. First, it will give a brief synopsis of the issues generated by the introduction of the performance measurement model to assess the work of museums. Second, it will describe two models that have been developed to assess the long-term social value of participation in the community arts sector with relation to the vexed question of assessing the long-term impacts of museums. Finally, it will explore some indicators on which the long-term benefits and contributions of museums might be assessed.


Introduction

Following World War II, governments of Western industrialised countries embarked upon a period of economic expansion that was to last for a quarter of a century (Redfern 1986). Large investment in public spending was one of the characteristics of this time and governments had sufficient resources to respond to the changing demands of the community. Initially concerned with basic needs, government responsibility expanded into increased welfare and social services, subsidies for all branches of the arts, consumer protection and protection for the environment. The level of expenditure could be sustained during the post-war period of rapid economic growth but, with the economic downturn of the 1970s, governments were faced with the necessity of reducing spending (Douglas 1991:1). Significant changes introduced in the 1980s and 1990s saw governments reverse the expansionist trend through policies of economic reform that sought ‘economies’ in public spending. In Australia, the intent of a ‘Review of

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