The Museum Column

cultural intelligence, exhibit reviews, museum news

Context for on-line visitor research — two tips

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The digital age opens new vistas on who we can ask to participate in exhibit making. No longer are we restricted to asking the public for their participation in a familiar museum setting, a focus group facility, or a nearby shopping mall or community centre. On line, we can ask anyone, anywhere, for their ideas. But who are we talking to, how do we contextualize the information we are receiving? Here are two things I have been thinking about.

We have always relied so much on demographics to contextualize audience research. We so often select who we would like to ask questions of based on demographic characteristics. Then, results are also analysed by demographic segmentation. When we start researching on-line perhaps some demographic questions can be asked up front to define the field of respondents, but how reliable is this information when it is not supplied in person? How do we know who we are talking to?

And so, I was intrigued to see a questionnaire from the Australian National Maritime Museum. This museum was seeking opinions about what a new exhibition on whales should be like.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay Australia by eGuide.  Flickr.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay Australia by eGuide. Flickr.

No demographic information is asked for. Instead, respondents were asked to fit themselves into a category based on their “Museum Personality”. Here are a couple of selections:

“Learning is Fun” — I love learning but it should be fun for me and my family

“Box Ticker” — I am always looking for something new to do and experience

This self-selected visitor-centred method of knowing a bit about who is participating in the research study likely provided useful context to the design team responsible for creating the whales exhibition.

Continuing with the idea of context, when you are asking someone for their opinion, it is respectful to them, and ultimately helpful in stimulating conversation, to provide some context for your questions. Ontario’s public television channel, TVO, does this effectively for an on-line forum called Pull. To set the stage for their regular on-line debates, they provide 90 second videos that they call “primers”.

I think a primer video or two, along with an on-line questionnaire, such as the one used by the National Maritime Museum of Australia, would make an excellent pairing for context-rich on-line visitor research. What do you think? It would be good to hear about your tips for on-line visitor research. Thanks!

Author: Christine Lockett

The principal of Christine Lockett Associates: Cultural Intelligence, I bring senior management experience to consulting services for museums and galleries. With The Museum Column blog I will be discussing interesting public programs, mainly exhibits, and the changing relationships among museums and the public realm.

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