Using visitor research to plan quality public programs

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Using visitor research to plan quality public programs Lynda Kelly, Head of Audience Research

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Masterclass given at the Museums and Galleries Services Queensland conference in Spetember 2007. I blogged about the conference here -

Transcript of Using visitor research to plan quality public programs

  • 1. Using visitor research to plan quality public programs Lynda Kelly, Head of Audience Research


  • What is audience research?
  • How is it done?
  • What has it told us?
  • How do we use it?

Coverage 3.

  • Purpose of audience research:
    • Who uses audience research
    • What have they done
    • What have they used it for
    • Feedback/questions

Exercise 1 4.

  • It gives us data about:
    • leisure patterns: who , where,why
    • what people want from a visit
    • what they do when they visit
    • prior interests and knowledge
    • satisfaction
    • whatthey learn and takeaway

Why do audience research? 5.

  • Find out visitor mix:
    • locals, tourists (Austn, O/s), age, social grouping
  • Visiting patterns:
    • weekdays, weekends, seasonal
    • helps to plan programs, opening hours
  • Track advertising and marketing


  • For use in:
    • promotion and marketing
    • grant applications
    • grant acquittals
    • decision making
    • programming
    • improvements and change
    • seeking funding (e.g. Councils, Ministry, Federal agencies, others)


  • Before embarking on anything there are a number of questions we need to ask

Doing audience research 8.

  • What information do we already have?
  • What are the gaps in our information?
  • Who will use the information?
  • What will the information be used for?
  • What will be the consequences if we dont get the information?


  • Whodo we need to get the information from?
  • Howcan we get the information?
  • Whatmethods will we use?
  • How muchwill we invest : cost vs. benefit

Then ask 10.

  • What does this mean for your institutions??

Implications 1 11.

  • Methods:
    • What types of audience research are you aware of/used?
    • Feedback/questions

Exercise 2 12.

  • Structuredsurveys, questionnaires
  • Usually closed questions (e.g. yes/no, rating scales, agree/disagree)
  • Results often presented as percentages, frequency counts
  • Givesstatistical measures :
    • extrapolateto general population
    • trend data : over time and across programs and/or venues

Quantitative research 13.

  • demographics
  • where else they visit
  • how they find out
  • satisfaction
  • what stood out
  • things theyd tell others
  • messages retained, meanings made

Visitor surveys 14.

  • Focuseson peoples own recounts and meaning sma de
  • Through :
    • in-depth interviews
    • case studies
    • observation/tracking
    • focus groups
    • community consultation
  • Results are interpretations

Qualitative research 15.

  • What research methods might be suitable?
  • How can it be done effectively and efficiently?

Implications 2 16.

  • Visitor Motivation:
    • Why do people visit museums?
    • Who visits your institutions - profiles

Exercise 3 17.

  • more highly educated
  • education quals in arts, humanities
  • aged between 30 and 50 OR primary school aged children
  • visit with families, other social groups
  • higher socio-economic class
  • visited museums as children

Museum visitors 18.

  • most open to new ideas
  • value social experiences
  • value learning
  • extroverted

museum kinds of people 19.

  • they visit them to learn

Why visit museums? 20.

  • aworthwhile leisure activity
  • do something with family, group
  • beingchallenged
  • actively participate in new experiences
  • personal satisfaction and self esteem
  • fun and entertainment

Motivations also include 21.

  • 77% visit to experience something new
  • 71% visit for entertainment
  • 71% for learning
  • 70% for interests of children/family
  • 64% worthwhile leisure
  • 57% special events I must see or do
  • 56% recommended by others

AM research found 22.

  • How will you factor visitor motivation into programs and services?

Implications 3 23.

  • Visitor needs:
    • What do visitors want when they visit a museum?

Exercise 4 24.

  • People have strong views about what they want from a museum visit

Wants 25.

  • Experiencesthat are :
    • hands-on, active
    • sensory
    • memorable, withsomething to take away
  • Learningthat :
    • goes fromfamiliar to unfamiliar concepts
    • is controlled by them
    • cater sfor all levelsand styles
    • isnew

They want 26.

  • Exhibit s :
    • to touch and explore
    • not overloaded with words & information
    • that can get up close to
    • with staff there to answer questions
    • that are realistic
    • relaxing spaces to take it all in
    • that encourage talking/sharing amongst groups


  • AM research has found that visitors have specific interests and information needs about collection items

Collections 28.

  • What is it made of?
  • How is it used?
  • What is it used for?
  • How often is it used?
  • What is the symbolism of it?
  • How old is it?
  • Is it still used today?If not, what is?
  • Who were/are the people and what are their stories?

Anthropology collections 29.

  • What is it?
    • scientific name
    • everyday name/description
  • Where did it come from:
    • and when was it found
    • distribution
  • The museum things:
    • how is it preserved
    • why is it in a museum? what is it used for?
  • What is it related to thats familiar to me?

Natural history collections 30.

  • How will you factor these needs into programming?

Implications 4 31.

  • Visitor behaviour:
    • What have you noticed about how visitors behave in your institutions?
    • What data do you have to support this?

Exercise 5 32.

  • What do people do when they visit a museum?
    • unfortunately, the news is not good

Visitor behaviour 33.

  • spend little time at exhibition components
  • seldom read labels
  • stop at less than half of exhibits
  • use trial and error for interactives
  • children use interactives
  • attention decreases sharply after half hour

Visitors typically 34.

  • visitors do what they want to do
  • they skip many elements: visit about one-third and
  • spend usually less than twenty minutes in exhibitions

Timing/tracking data shows 35.

  • showcases and dioramas attractive
  • live materialmostattractive
  • visual strategies key in retaining information
  • items other than text panels stopped at
  • use many different examples for small number of messages

AM research shows 36.

  • How will you factor visitor behaviour findings into programming?

Implications 5 37.

  • Visitor learning:
    • What is learning?
    • What theories are currently in use in museum learning?
    • How do you think people learn?
    • What data do you have?

Exercise 6 38.

    • unique to an individual & shared
    • dependant on context
    • lifelong & lifewide
    • immediate & happens over time
    • active process of reflection
    • chosen based on interests & preferences
    • shaped by prior knowledge & experience
    • making meaning & new connections
    • creative & innovative
    • enjoyable

Learning defined 39.

  • Learning is an essential part of being human; linked to our identity & sense of self:
    • we all have an intrinsic desire to learn
  • Learning is about change:
    • surface learning (new facts, skills)
    • deep learning (changing as a person)


  • school
  • museums, galleries,
  • cultural institutions
  • libraries
  • internet
  • environment/nature
  • life


  • doing something
  • hands-on
  • objects & tools
  • cognitive & physical
  • surface & deep
  • motivation
  • interests
  • enjoyment
  • change
  • choice
  • family
  • friends, colleagues, work
  • accompanying adults
  • community
  • professionals:
    • museum staff
    • teachers
  • prior knowledge, experience
  • role
  • gender
  • cultural background
  • lived history
  • personal interest
  • personal change
  • meaning making
  • seeing in different way
  • facts & ideas
  • short & long-term
  • linking
  • outcomes
  • meaning making
  • change


  • Expanding your knowledge, a new aspect on life (Interview #11)
  • Finding your place in the world. Engaging with the world in a way to discover more about it and make sense of things. Thats the big picture (Interview #40)
  • Being able to put pieces of information together[to]draw conclusions (Interview #71)
  • New things that add to your body of knowledge (Interview #78)


  • Visit manager
  • Museum expert
  • Learning-facilitator

43. Visit manager Liz .Lets look down the back; check if theres anything down there we need to see. Liz .Shall we go and have a look back there? We might find something that you like Paul. 44. Museum expert Rox . How do they catch them, Mum? I wonder what they put them in a bottle for? Mary . So you can see them, cos the backs are white, so you can see them better. Tara .Eoww, disgusting! Look at the little bugs with a needle through them. Liz .Well thats just to hold them in place. Art .Thats from India again. Dot . I know, I wonder where they find them. Just walking along? Art . I dont know, probably dug up from somewhere. Caves, mines, it doesnt say. 45. Learner-facilitator Kay .Come and look at this. What is that? Wheres that from Zeke? Zeke .Bali. Kay .Yes, good boy. Zeke . I knew that. Kay .How did you know that? Zeke . Because it has all these on it Javanese and Balinese[reading from text]in the second line. Ill tell you why I knew it was Balinese, because I saw those little gold things in Bali. 46. PURPOSE Obviously[learning is]something thats not boring, something thats not passive, so its more of an active thing Something where you choose to be involved, that youre interested in doing.(Interview Transcript 3.1, 22/11/00) 47. PEOPLE sometimes wed bounce off something of interest to ourselves, then wed look at it a bit more, wander off. Then wed come together a few times to have a look at things.I also learned a bit more about my friends. I didnt know they had an interest in[tattoos]either, and you sort of learn more of what theyre about as well .(Interview Transcript 3.4, 24/02/01) 48. SHARING LEARNING Rick . Hey Kate look at these ones, hows that for a shell? Kate . Thats an unusual one. Toni . Thats beautiful. Kate . Were shells alive, are shells alive? Rick . Theyve got things inside them. Toni . Molluscs in them. Kate . But are the actual shells alive? Toni . No. Rick . Theyre a shell. Toni . I think the shell is the shell of the mollusc thatoriginally lived in them, like a snail. Kate . So theyre part of something? Toni . Theyre part of something that was, yes. 49.

  • Libraries
  • Museums, galleries, other cultural institutions
  • University, school, formal education
  • Internet
  • Holiday destinations, the environment

PLACE 50. Ed . Look at the seahorses. Cath . Like the one in the salt water. Bree . Theyre just so cute and they swim along Ed . Id hate to be bitten by these fish, look atthe teeth! Cath . But they dont normally attack.When wego to Port Stephens next week we shouldgo and find the white seahorses. Wouldntthat be mad if we see one and we go, thatsa white seahorse. The guys going to justlook at us[and go]how do you know that! PLACE 51. PROCESS

  • Opening the mind to new experience (Interview #4)
  • Acquiring new knowledge and applying that (Interview #5)
  • Expanding your knowledge about an area by a variety of means (Interview #11)
  • A hands-on experience where[a person]can be involved with something, must be experiential(F3)
  • Growth, development, change(F2)


  • A new way of looking at something new facts, an interaction(Interview #28)
  • The application of knowledge to new circumstances (Interview #55)
  • Enhancing my understanding of the world and acting on that understanding(C5)
  • Taking in what you see around you and using that in your everyday life(C4)

53. Deep change You have this stereotype about people whove got tattoos and it really gives you a different perspective on it I probably just thought it was an abuse to your body, sort of, beforehand ... And since then, like, when people have piercings I just look at it, not stare at it, and think about where they got it, what sort of thing they had done .(Interview Transcript 3.4, 24/02/01) 54. Linking to past, present & future life experiences

  • Kate . Are they stick insects?
  • Toni . Some of them are. Thats at the end of LordHowe Island, Balls Pyramid.
  • Kate . Did we sail past that?
  • Toni . We didnt sail past that but we flew nearby. Youcould see it from the top of the mountain Daddyclimbed. Look at the frogs. Look at the size ofthose. Not like our piddly little ones.
  • Kate . Like that small one?[points]
  • Toni . Ours would be like that.


  • What aspects of museum learning will be useful / used by you in programming?

Implications 6 56.

  • Planning quality public programs:
    • Five takeaways
    • Feedback/questions

Exercise 7 57.

  • All audiences want
    • Respect for them as individuals
    • Choice
    • Welcoming atmosphere from trained, aware, friendly, knowledgeable staff:
      • both front & back of house
    • See themselves reflected in programs, exhibitions, collections& staffing:
      • the work of the museum
    • Active & varied learning experiences:
      • group-based & individual
    • Involvement
    • A contemporary experience:
      • in communication & interpretation modes
      • content/issues that are relevant & current

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