This study was an exploration of the public trust and accountability characteristics of an accreditable museum as defined by the American Association of Museums (AAM). Museums that are accredited demonstrate their commitment to community engagement, diversity, and accountability. The 161 museums that were re-accredited in 2008-2009 were the intended sample for the study. The obtained sample consisted of 53 museums that responded to some or all of the questions in the survey used to gather relevant data. The Web-based survey included both closed- and open-ended questions that provided both qualitative and quantitative data.
The survey queried museums for information as to: what museums do to engage with their audience and community; what steps do museums take to ensure diverse staffs, boards, and exhibitions, and to involve all of the stakeholders in planning for museum exhibitions, activities, and programs; how museums communicate with the public regarding the way they operate legally and ethically; what areas of public trust and accountability museums see as in need of further development within their own institutions; and what changes are being implemented to work on those areas of public trust and accountability identified as needing further development.
The museums in the study offer a wide range of services to the public and are beginning to perform multiple functions within their communities. Regarding diversity, museums either have diverse staffs and boards or are aware that they are not as diverse as they could be and are actively seeking to further diversity. Diversity of exhibitions is aided by the input of community groups, although a large number of museums still only involve their own departments in planning. Where accountability is concerned, museums are found to have many operational documents available for the public by request, but most information that is communicated more directly to the public is about exhibitions and programs.
Museums surveyed are continuing current activities or increasing their programming with communities and special populations. More diverse staffs and boards are being sought as these museums diversify the way they do business and the offerings they present. Web-based information is becoming the more prevalent form of communication and museums are increasing their presence online by using social networking and new media technologies. Through all of these efforts, museums are trying to remain relevant in an ever-changing society.