In placing our focus on the wellbeing of people, place and planet, Happy Museum has from its outset explored what we value as a society, how we measure it and the particular contribution of culture. Merely counting visitor numbers tells us nothing of the quality of their experiences and, working with the principle ‘measure what matters’ we have linked our evaluation directly to what we value and developed tools and resources in response. 

Framed by this blog, this No Going Back conversation set out to challenge prevailing measures of social and cultural value and connecting with a range of cultural, place-based and economic frames, to explore how we might better assess the contribution and impact that cultural institutions make to their communities and wider localities.

We began by recognizing that – whilst we aspire to practical and accessible metrics that genuinely value the impact of our cultural work – we are constrained by existing frames of value defined by global economics. national policies and local civic structures.  We must work within these system as they are, whilst at the same time attempting to do things differently.

We also recognized our power as cultural communicators to tell a different and public story about what we value (and therefore measure) as a society.

SEE BELOW for a recording of the session and additional resources.

Our first speaker was Liz Zeidler – founder and Chief Exec of Centre for Thriving Places (formerly known as Happy City who partnered with Bristol RWA on this Happy Museum commission).  Liz introduced us to the big systemic picture which underpins our current crises before sharing Thriving Places powerful and accessible work on place-based approaches to measuring, understanding and improving wellbeing.  She gave a powerful sense of the potential advantages to people, place and planet when measuring what matters becomes the norm.

She was followed by Tony Butler – Founder of Happy Museum and Director of Derby Museums who outlined the roots of our current and unsustainable museum economy.  He then explored how reframing and revaluing our work might help see us into a thriving future – touching on collections management, regenerative economies and social justice. You can read more of his thoughts in this recent piece – Living within Limits.

We then took some time in small groups to explore together what was arising from these presentations before coming back together to dig deeper into some different approaches to value and evaluation.

Rejoining the wider conversation we heard from Peter Lefort – Sector and Partnerships Lead for Carbon Neutral Cornwall, who shared how the Council are experimenting with the Doughnut model as a decision-making framework for the Climate Emergency.  Holding issues of complexity and urgency in mind he looked at how tools like the Doughnut model can be a powerful lever for change.

Mandy Barnett – Director of MB Associates and former evaluator for Happy Museum – then shared a new resource, Culture Cubed, co-created with a five cultural organisations supported by Kent County Council.  Focusing on their work with the Salt Festival, part of Folkstone Fringe, she took us through the stages of planning, preparation, evidence, findings, learning and improvement – demonstrating the value of a broad and systematic approach to cultural value.

Finally we heard from Lisa Broadest, Operations Manager at Leeds City Museums, one of our No Going Back Peer Learning museums who spoke of the potential of a joined up approach to wellbeing and equity between the museum service, the wider City Council and external funders.

Participants then reflected in small groups on what they might take forward from the session – here are some of their thoughts..

  • Thinking about the interdependence of activity now and much longer term. Thriving models and non-hierarchical models within my work. Just finding time to dig deep and think more strategically about Places network would be amazing and finding some professional guidance to help.
  • Consider conflicts between the drive to generate tourism – and the carbon impact of tourism – how to do tourism, festivals and events in a sustainable manner.
  • Follow up links & encourage use, owning up to failures, looking at how things can be complicated but understandable. Continue to work cross sector & cross theme.
  • Make sure I’m always grounded in doing what matters in order to measure what matters.
  • The C – Convincing in CORE is something I will take forward, Internal and external colleagues can take more convincing than others, the HM re-imagining of museums from 20th century to 21st century is still early doors and that needs to keep going with.

Additional resources including those shared during the session

Thriving Places and Happiness Pulse – Liz Zeidler

PDF of Liz’s Slides

Centre for Thriving Places

Thriving Places Index

Happiness Pulse  

Doughnut Economics – Peter Lefort

PDF of Peter’s Slides

Video link to a one hour talk by Peter Lefort on the Cornwall Council doughnut economics adapted model:

Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL): – lots of great resources including case studies and videos explaining Doughnut Economics (Lola suggested watching the video about Costa Rica’s initiative:

Cornwall’s Doughnut Hack:–the-doughnut-hack.html – a great example of the doughnut in collaboration

Rewards of Doughnut Decision Making: 

Work by the University of Exeter and Cornwall Council: 

Cuture Cubed – Mandy Barnett

PDF of Mandy’s Slides

Culture Cubed can be used as in-depth or light touch guidance.

  • It is for all creative and cultural practitioners and organisations, especially smaller organisations and those delivering socially-engaged arts.
  • The overview is downloadable from including:
    • About this resource
    • An introduction to Social Value
    • An overview of all the sections
    • All the Exercises
  • The whole resource includes detailed support in each section and a real life case study from Folkestone Fringe.  If you would like to use the whole resource or to discuss further support, contact us via or at
  • You can follow a step by step process or dip in. We advises starting with the step by step sections, and referring back to the introduction for more guidance.
  • There is also a simple ‘put a toe in the water’ option in each section

Paradise is here: Building Community Around Things That Matter by Ruth Nutter

Based on a 6 year project I ran inspired by the Ruskin Collection in Sheffield. ideas around how to deliver, measure and demonstrate the impact of socially and environmentally sustainable community engagement work, It’s available at

Happy Museum

Our principle ‘measure what matters’ links our evaluation directly to what we value, to the wellbeing of people, place and planet and a suite of freely accessible tools and resources that were created in response.