Why do we engage with culture?

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre is a cultural strategy and research agency based in the UK, whose clients include BFI, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate, British Museum, Southbank Centre, Qatar Museums Authority, and 92nd Street Y. Next issue director Gerri Morris begins a series of columns for IAM on improving audience experience through research

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM) has been conducting research with cultural audiences for over 20 years. During this time, we have facilitated hundreds of focus groups, held dozens of consultation events, and listened to thousands of interviews. This has generated a huge body of intelligence on cultural audiences: their needs, wants, motivations, behaviours, engagement, and the impact that culture has on them.

Each time a cross-section of people are asked why they visit museums, for example, or what they seek to get from a theatre visit, this results in the same range of responses – and these types of responses reflect very deep-seated personal human needs.

Reasons cited frequently include:

• to spend quality time with friends and family

• to learn about the world

• to experience nostalgia

• to feed a hobby or professional interest

• to experience a visual ‘feast for the eyes’

• to gain inspiration

• to be transported on an imaginative journey through time or place

• to derive ‘food for the soul’

Over the course of several years, MHM has modelled this data and developed statements that reflect how people actually express these motivations, refining the model and the questions down to 17 statements.

The power of this approach is that these motivations can be quantified and grouped into four broad categories, which represent the key drivers of a visit: Social, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual.

These motives are what make people embark on a visit. Upon entering a building, those motives become expectations, and upon leaving they become outcomes.

This is why research is so important: the ability to measure motives, expectations and outcomes can provide deep insight into visitors and their experience.

Read more in issue 4 of IAM subscribe here.

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