Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Colleen Dilenschneider data on intention

Data Update: Which Cultural Entities Will People Return To After Reopening?, Colleen Dilenschneider, 22 April 2020

Near-term demand to revisit cultural organizations is being redistributed toward some kinds of entities and away from others. Here’s what’s changed in the last two weeks.

It’s time for another update – a third article on the public’s likelihood to revisit various types of cultural organizations when they reopen. The beauty of a third data point is that it allows for a better sense of any trend lines observed over the last four weeks.

Research shows that people currently expect to start returning to their more usual attendance patterns within three months, with a full return to “normalcy” within six months. That’s good news. But it also begs an important follow-up question: Will people return to their normal visitation patterns equally for all cultural entities?

The answer – which has grown even more apparent with this week’s third update – is that it appears unlikely.

People may anticipate returning fully to their normal cultural engagement behaviors within three months, but they may not be as likely to visit the same specific types of organizations (at least not in the immediate near term). In other words, the near-term demand for onsite cultural engagement is being redistributed away from some organization types and towards others.

Four key findings that emerged in the research published on March 24th have endured throughout the ongoing assessment.

  • Cultural experiences that allow for a visitor’s relative freedom of movement – and particularly those that feature outdoor spaces – will likely benefit from increased demand. (This category of experiences includes outdoor historic sites, parks, zoos, botanic gardens, etc.)
  • Experiences involving enclosed spaces with minimal visitor movement – such as performing arts enterprise – indicate lessened demand.
  • Entities perceptually offering tactile experiences – such as science centers – are also at risk in terms of immediately re-engaging their typical visitor volume.
  • How susceptible people believe they are to the virus may play an important role in their attendance decisions. (For instance, symphony and orchestra audiences tend to be older and thus may be more concerned about contracting the virus.)

Of course, the likelihood of revisiting these entity types may continue to evolve… and we are watching to monitor these potential movements.

Two-week update on likelihood to return to normal behaviors

As of the March 24th baseline condition when these findings were first published, IMPACTS had collected data from 2,299 US adults who profile as likely and/or historic visitors to cultural entities to better understand how likely they are to return to their normal, pre-coronavirus behaviors once the current gathering restrictions have been removed. The April 6th update contemplated an additional 2,007 adult respondents. The April 20th update contemplates an additional 1,893 adult respondents.

We asked people the following question: On a scale of 1 to 100 where a response of 1 means “a significant decrease in my likelihood of visiting,” a response of 50 means “the same” or “no change in my likelihood of visiting,” and a response of 100 means a “significant increase in my likelihood of visiting”: How likely are you to visit a(n) [organization type] after the current coronavirus-related restrictions are removed and you are able to resume your normal activities?

A response of 50 indicates no change whatsoever in intended future visitation behaviors. In essence, people responding 50 intend to engage with the indicated organization type as they would if COVID-19 never existed. Any response greater than 50 indicates a proportionately higher level of demand for a type of organization. Inversely, any response less than 50 indicates proportionately lessened demand for an organization.

This research does not necessarily mean that people prefer to visit botanic gardens more than symphonies. Instead, this research measures how likely people are to return to their normal, pre-coronavirus behaviors. It means that people whose normal behavior is to go to symphonies report being less likely to return to the symphony after the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. It means people whose normal behavior is to go to botanic gardens may be more likely to visit than usual after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

If you’re a regular reader familiar with IMPACTS data and methodology, then you already know that seemingly small changes in big data can have significant implications. Any number above or below the 50 value is proportionally indicative of more or less demand relative to “normal” visitation behaviors.

The update shows the potential durability of the findings – especially given the context of COVID-19 happenings

The data indicated in the most recent update matter because they demonstrate both the repeatability and durability of the findings.

Repeatability of a finding is important. When research processes yield affirming results (i.e. the results tend to repeat) then this helps organizations proceed with confidence that the data is reliable for planning purposes.

The durability of a finding is similarly valuable. It helps us to understand if the finding is reflective of a single moment in time, or if it offers insight concerning a more extended, consistent duration.  There are few data points more relevant and valuable to a planning process than a durable finding.  A durable finding helps organizations plan with the confidence of knowing that the public’s attitudes and perceptions informing their decision-making processes are likely to remain operative for a period of time. In this case, that may be the period of time in which entities begin to reopen.

Also, consider the context surrounding the timing of these data points. A redistribution of demand may not be very surprising on April 6thRemember our headlines at the time. Social distancing had just been extended to the end of April, and officials were calling the upcoming weeks “our Pearl Harbor” and a “9/11 moment.” The death toll in New York was expected to peak. The CDC had also just recommended that we wear cloth masks in public to protect one another and help flatten the curve. Arguably, a more dramatic redistribution from experiences involving many people in an enclosed space – and instead toward open-air experiences that allow for freedom of movement – sounds reasonable.

This week, however, intentions to start revisiting cultural institutions within the next few months is on the rise. Some states are even reopening businesses this week. And, of course, we’ve all been home battling cabin fever for the past month. One might guess that if there were a recent time period wherein likelihood to revisit may begin to return to “normal” pre-coronavirus conditions, it may be this one.

And yet, the general redistribution patterns currently remain durable. They’ve neither recovered for performing arts institutions nor declined to “normal” attendance likelihood for art and history museums, parks, gardens, zoos, and aquariums. There is evidence of the durability of current beliefs that experiences requiring a visitor to be indoors and in stationary, close quarters do not currently indicate the same levels of demand as do other cultural enterprises.  Indeed, the indicated demand has generally strengthened to favor organizations that allow less constricted visitor movement patterns as opposed to more close-quartered experiences.

What if the likelihood to visit my organization type is in decline?

Remember: We’re in a time of change. Some states are reopening, and yet the death toll from the virus is still growing. Much remains unknown about the virus. There is anxiety and confusion all around.

The key here is the repeatability of the finding. Indeed, there’s reason to believe that this redistribution of demand will impact cultural institutions upon reopening. The redistribution appears, well, stubborn. And for better or worse (depending upon the type of experience you provide and your organization type) we don’t know how long it will last.

On that note, I offer two data-informed bright sides to help inform strategic conversations right now. We shared these reminders on April 6th, and they are still every bit as relevant.

1) There’s time to devise a strategy to mitigate and/or alleviate concerns upon reopening.

For the US on the whole, people do not intend to visit cultural organizations within the next month (and most are closed or have suspended programming anyway). However, the time that people generally intend to come through our doors again may be approaching. This moment of pause provides organizations with the grace of perspective and the ability to diligently consider any data, collect information, gather with colleagues (virtually), determine priorities, and figure out what to do both now and later to nip negative perceptions in the bud and alleviate concerns.

Maybe it’s offering a virtual concert subscription and integrating this into an ongoing business plan. Maybe it’s lowering the capacity of the theater for a while or seating people in every other chair for a period of time. Maybe it’s highlighting permanent exhibits that don’t rely on touching things. Maybe it’s a whole host of other operational changes and messages to show that you’re responsive to concerns and putting the safety of guests first.

2) Some things that will make people feel safe visiting are within an organization’s control 

While the creation and availability of a coronavirus vaccine – the primary thing that will make people feel safe – may not be within the control of a cultural institution, there are several things that are. While performing arts organizations may face steeper expectations regarding operational changes surrounding safety measures, the good news is that we’re already getting a sense of what people want to see to feel comfortable visiting again.  And, indeed, expectations that operations will change to optimize safety is clear for both exhibit and performance-based organizations.

From being sure that you have enough hand sanitizer to considering operations so that people are not crowded and waiting in long lines, to simply deciding when to reopen again… you can help yourself succeed. Take a look at these findings and consider how they may inform messaging and operations both right now and when you reopen.

The extent to which leaders are coming together and sharing resources right now is heartening and inspiring. (At least, in our personal opinions.) The greatest source of knowledge and strength may be others within and surrounding the cultural sector who are grappling with similar challenges and coming up with creative, data-informed solutions to maximize engagement until a vaccine is available.

People intend to visit cultural organizations again. Perhaps that’s the best news there is, regardless of your organization type. The people who enjoy leaving their homes for cultural experiences intend to get back to having cultural experiences. The goal, of course, is to help them feel comfortable again visiting your own organization.

We will continue to monitor this metric and keep you posted so you are armed with the information required to make the best decisions for your institutions.

We’ll be back on Monday for another update on intentions to visit cultural institutions, both nationally and regionally. Stay safe in the meantime, readers.

Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published thus far. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox. 

See also: https://www.colleendilen.com/2020/04/15/performance-vs-exhibit-based-experiences-what-will-make-people-feel-safe-visiting-again-data/

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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