Now online: NEMO webinar on museums' role in supporting community wellbeing

On 29 April 2021, Dr. John Falk and Judith Koke, Institute for Learning Innovation, invited to a conversation about the museum's role in supporting the community in terms of four types of wellbeing: physical, intellectual, social and personal.

Long focused on learning, this conversation explored other ways museums can build relevance and relationships with the different communities they serve. Falk opened the NEMO Webinar by explaining that he considers wellbeing to be more than happiness. Rather he considers wellbeing to be an evolutionary mechanism that we have evolved to provide survival related feedback. People learn to avoid things that cause pain, and we seek out things that we know will make us feel good or that others have recommended. Falk argues that we cannot attain wellbeing, but rather it is something that people constantly strive for and it is a lifelong process.

Koke explained that she defines community as the experience of belonging in the sense of relatedness and a sense of co-ownership. When considering how museums can support their communities’ wellbeing, they have to start by asking the community what wellbeing means to them. In a study, Falk and Koke learnt that communities expect their museums to fulfil four basic categories of wellbeing: physical wellbeing, intellectual wellbeing, social wellbeing and personal wellbeing.

Watch the NEMO Webinar

Falk and Koke also discussed how the pandemic has changed the way museums engage with their communities. Koke suggested that visits by school classes might never return to the same level or fashion as before the pandemic. She also said that if a museum looks at what the community wants and the mission of the museum, it is quite likely to find several interrelations.

Falk introduced the participants to business models and museums. He argues that if we can understand the real value of museums - enhanced wellbeing - it should be possible to make it understandable to policy makers in terms that they understand - return on investment (ROI). On this topic, Falk has made a pilot study to see if the ROI can be understood in terms of wellbeing. The calculations were based on collected data on museum visitors’ experienced wellbeing after a visit. On average, people felt that their wellbeing increased after a visit and that the feeling of enhanced wellbeing persisted for a week or more. The study concluded that museums deliver significant value and that they compare with virtually any other experience in the community.

In the conversation with the participants, the discussions revolved around concepts such as “return on engagement”, funding models in relation to wellbeing, museum shops in terms of their educational potential, how people learn, museum translations as well as sustainability and climate change. 

Mentioned references

The facilitators

Dr. John Falk is Director of the Institute for Learning Innovation and Emeritus Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning at Oregon State University. He is a leading expert on free-choice learning; the learning that occurs when people have significant choice and control over the what, where and when of their learning. Dr. Falk’s current research focuses on understanding the identity/self-related reasons people utilize free-choice learning settings during their leisure time; studying the community impacts of museums, libraries, zoos and aquariums and helping cultural institutions re-think their educational positioning in the 21st century. His awards include the NARST: A worldwide organization for improving science teaching and learning through research Distinguished Career Award (2016); Oregon State University, University Outreach and Engagement Vice Provost Award for Excellence, Innovation-Partnerships Award (2016).

Judith Koke is a dynamic leader in the free-choice learning ecosystem, with a strong track record of creating organizational change through the integration of visitor research into evidence-based decision-making. Over her career, Judith has served in a wide range of leadership roles; in all of these, she has challenged museums to broaden and deepen their relationships with diverse audiences. Her career combines audience and learning research with museum leadership, and she has been invited to work with numerous museum boards to build a better understanding of the changing role of museums today. Judith has published extensively and taught in numerous graduate programs. Her passion for lifelong learning is currently being channelled into researching museum inclusion for individuals with ASD and developing the next generation of truly effective professional learning opportunities.