The Collaboration for Ongoing Visitor Experiences Studies, or COVES, is an exciting example of how museums are working together toward more data-informed decision-making. Starting with funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, COVES has evolved into a membership-based initiative supporting 37 science centers, children’s museums, natural history museums, and—most recently—art museums, of diverse size and geography across North America. See a map of members below.

A Shared Approach to Evaluation

Members of COVES use a shared survey and data collection method to better understand who visits their institutions, why they visit, what they see and do, and how they feel about their experience. They use this data for strategic planning, identifying gaps in programming, and building diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion efforts. 

Aggregate data helps members understand how their institution compares with the broader field, and COVES members actively explore new ways of sharing and comparing data with each other. See the 2017-2018 aggregate report.

Future Directions

In light of the concurrent crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and of pervasive racism and associated police violence against people of color, COVES is shifting to meet the new and evolving needs of museums. Preliminary plans include updating data collection methods to be safer and more inviting to encourage visitor participation in the COVES survey, revising the survey with new questions related to health and safety, and supporting additional conversations among COVES members to ensure that the community members feel connected and supported.

ASTC’s Role in COVES

ASTC is a member of the COVES leadership team and provides administrative and network support, including managing member communications and recruitment, planning webinars and meetings, and actively participates in the COVES Leadership Advisory Council.

Current COVES Members

Seven COVES members are not represented on this map, including: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, Arkansas); Discovery Museum (Acton, Massachusetts); Minneapolis Institute of Art (Minnesota); MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (Santa Barbara, California); Pensacola MESS Hall (Florida); Space Center Houston (Texas); and The Tech Interactive (San Jose, California).

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