More knowledge by friends. About the DMA Friends program and how to use “friendly“ information
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is committed to knowing its museum visitors better and deepening their connection with the art displayed in its collections and special exhibitions. For over 10 years, the DMA has conducted research using diverse evaluative tools that support the staff in their efforts to better understand the preferences, actions and curiosities of its audiences. Through this increased knowledge, museums gain valuable insight for nurturing relationships between people, art, and museums. This knowledge also leads to increased mission impact in the communities it serves.
In early 2013, the DMA launched a new initiative to increase its understanding of individual participation in the museum, called DMA Friends. This programme is the first free museum membership programme in the US.
On site visitors are invited to sign up for the DMA Friends program, which runs on a flexible digital platform. Once signed up, DMA Friends elect to tell the museum when they visit and what they do during their visit by checking in via kiosk or text message to gallery spaces and education programmes using codes. Since launching the programme two years ago, over 93,000 visitors have registered to be DMA Friends, with 95.4% of DMA Friends identifying themselves as new members of the museum.
As a digital engagement platform, DMA Friends is a tool that values and creates incentives for visitor participation with art and the museum. It is also a tool for visitor research, providing staff with high-volume, individualized quantitative data that enhances our understanding of visitors and their participation patterns; whether sparse or concentrated, repetitive or diverse. Staff can be aware of individual visitor behaviour, but can also group visitors into ‘communities’ of interest, such as families, creative types, etc. DMA staff use DMA Friends data to customise communications and to monitor the relative success of the educational programs and experiences. They are also exploring how insights from this data can inform decision-making regarding effective techniques and programs for creating deeper engagement.
The DMA’s interest in visitor participation focuses largely on repeat participation, stemming from the belief that increased participation will lead to deeper engagement and a potentially transformative impact. For many years, the standard measure for any museum’s impact has been overall attendance, or total participation. A focus on repeat participation is a step toward a more meaningful measure of impact because it further fleshes out the story of visits and visitors, working to capture the nuances of engagement. After nearly two years of running the DMA Friends program, repeat participation among Friends is approximately 11.8%, with Friends’ participation ranging from two to well over 100 distinct museum visits. As the DMA continues to study visitor participation and engagement, staff recognise a need to pair continuous, effective methods for collecting qualitative data with the quantitative information captured via the DMA Friends program. The museum is currently exploring how to reconcile these two sources.
Visitor to the Dallas Museum of Art signing up to become a DMA Friend, (c) Dallas Museum of Art
Audience demographics, an additional metric the Museum cares about, is monitored via Friends in relationship to the demographics of the city and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. During the sign up process, Friends may elect to submit their zip code information. This information is then pulled into a real-time mapping tool that can represent the number of Friends in each zip code, alongside population statistics for each zip code as well as 2010 U.S. census information. This map provides an overview of areas in the city where the DMA has a presence, and where it does not. While the map affirms assumptions about zip codes where the DMA has a large concentration of Friends, it signals potential and opportunity in the community where few to no DMA Friends live in certain zip codes. The latter suggests that the DMA may have little to no relevance or impact in these areas. Staff has begun an investigation of two specific “underserved” zip codes within fairly close proximity to the Museum. It is our goal to explore and strengthen any existing Museum-community relationships in these areas as well as create new ones.
This article has first been published in Kulturmanagement Network's KM Magazin 03/2015.