Public Value and Public Policy in Britain: Prospects and Perspectives
Museums are contested sites. When the new Museum of Liverpool opened in the summer of 2011 it attracted 250,000 visitors in its first month (NML 2011). However, the build up to the opening was beset by arguments over funding, costs and content, suggesting a clash of not just technical approaches to dealing with managing the project, but also of the meaning and worth of the project itself. The museum was a site for contests and controversies over value. The visitor numbers suggest the museum was a great success, with an obvious use value for the visitors, but museums, along with the rest of the cultural sector, do not see their value narrowly defined in the numbers making use of their institutions as visitor attractions. Rather they have a range of functions that are narrated in terms of differing values. These functions are carried out against the position of the museum as a site for the conflict of values, a place where issues of representation and identity, ethics and morality are to be struggled with and struggled over. In Liverpool, an important aspect of the museum is to engage with the tragedies of Liverpool’s past, attempting to deal with issues of racism, sexism and homophobia, along with class and religious conflicts, in a way that both represents these issues but also renders them accessible (as well as palatable) for differentiated visitors, with their range of motivations for attending. The conflicts and accords of morals and ethics, perspectives and personalities, are intertwined with the value of the visitor numbers. The pressing question over the last 20 years, in the UK and elsewhere, has become how best to measure the value of the funding, the visitor experience, and the institution’s performance. Public value, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, seemed to offer a way to do exactly that.