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The Value of Knowledge and Information

by Craig Foden

Jan 27, 2016


Hi, I’m Craig Foden and I’m currently working for the SROI Network helping with some research and development of the Global Value Exchange. This is the second instalment in a mini series of blogs. In this blog post I want to share with you some findings from a small piece of research around use of museums, galleries and libraries.

The Value of Knowledge and Information

What change are we looking at? (The Outcome)
The outcome “Use of museums, galleries and libraries (change in)” formed the central focus of this piece of research. I felt that this outcome was highly relevant in light of recent cuts to libraries and the arts which have raised serious debate over the true value these services generate for society.

How do we measure that change? (The Indicators)
To measure the outcome Use of museums, galleries and libraries, I used 4 objective indicators: Data relating to the indicators Library service in the last 12 months (percentage of people who have used) and Archive centre or record office in the last 12 months (percentage of people who have used), is published regularly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Questionnaire data and analysis is available for separate groups, with information on facility use for 5-10 year olds, 11-15 year olds and adult age groups.

The Number of museum visitors in the UK is published by the Museums Association, and information on the Number of people involved in Volunteering/other civic engagement activities/decision making activities through a museum/library/archive service is published by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Links to reports relating to these numbers can be found in the Data Source and Relevant Information sections of these indicators.

How do we value this change? (The Valuation)
Through my research I found that there were several ways of measuring the value of museum, gallery and library use. One method was to estimate the direct financial benefits to the UK economy from account turnover and visitor expenditure. For public libraries in the UK these direct economic benefits were estimated to be £815 million per year (a sum 12% larger than the £724 million annual running costs) whereas for galleries and museums the figure totalled £1.5 billion per year.

Although straightforward economic valuations are useful, the more interesting valuations I came across used willingness to pay (WTP) and wellbeing valuation techniques.

I found particularly useful information in a study on the willingness to pay of people in Bolton for museum, library and archive services. This found that museum users were willing to pay £33.23 per year and non-users willing to pay £13.67 per year.

The research also looked at library users who used the archive service. These users expressed an average WTP of £21.95 per year to access this service, significantly higher than the £0.38 per year of non-users, perhaps reflecting a lack of understanding as to what archives are and what information they contain.

The same study also focused on library use, finding users were willing to pay £39.95 per year on average for a library service, whereas non-users had a WTP of £11.99 per year. This high WTP of non-users reflects the wider public benefits of library services and the significant levels of importance placed on this service by the community.

Wellbeing Valuations
Interestingly, research conducted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport found that the value of increased wellbeing due to regular library use had a very high value of £1359 per user per year. The far greater value of increased wellbeing in comparison to WTP for the service illustrates the important role that libraries play in improving community cohesion, life satisfaction and mental health.

A similarly high value for increased wellbeing of £1084 per person per year due to regular arts engagement was also found, highlighting the large potential of gallery and museum services in creating social value.

Does the change lead to any other changes? (Chain of Events)
As with my last piece of research on public transport and congestion, the new chain of events feature on the Global Value Exchange allowed me to illustrate the causal relationships between different outcomes and identify some of the ways in which libraries, galleries and museums impact society indirectly. I found evidence that use of museums, galleries and libraries led to a wide range of outcomes: Internet and Media Access
Of these outcomes, the one I found to be most interesting was Internet and media access (change in). I thought that this outcome was particularly relevant to the value of knowledge and information, as internet use enables access to this in much the same way as a library, archive or museum.

A study conducted by BT found that the average value of internet access to a first time user was £1064 per person. This figure takes into account a range of values associated with internet use, such as improved confidence, reduced feelings of isolation, improved employment opportunities and financial savings.

It is interesting to note that the £1064 per person value of internet access is not too dissimilar to the £1084 per person per year value of regular arts engagement and the £1359 per user per year value of regular library use estimated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
It can be concluded that access to information and knowledge, whether from libraries, museums, galleries or the internet can be estimated to be just over £1000 per person per year.

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