At People, Places & Design Research, we’re not a typical audience research company. We specialize exclusively in audience research for museums, aquariums, and other interpretive organizations, with a background of Environmental Psychology to understand visitor experiences and behavior. Using research to inform planning, here’s a synopsis of our conceptual approach:
- We believe that a researcher/evaluator is part of a team. We act as a resource to the team about audiences, and sometimes serve as a facilitator for team decisions concerning visitor experiences. We do not believe that a researcher/ evaluator makes decisions for the team.
- All research and evaluation activities can be “forward-going” in the sense that the research can inform decisions before they are made. Even summative evaluation (conducted after an exhibition opens to the public) can be forward-going in the sense that it can inform institutional planning about how a team achieved its goals, suggesting fine-tuning or non-structural revisions of an exhibition, as well as providing useful data for fundraising on the next round of projects.
- Our perspective is about problem-solving. Audience research produces clearer results when it is tied in directly with objectives to be achieved and problems to be solved.
- Audience research has two primary outcomes: it provides “hard data” and it informs the intuitions of project team members (exhibit developers, designers, and administrators).
- To be most insightful, audience research for planning and development should be multi-faceted – ideally using two or more research methods and involving various perspectives. The outcome should not be one person’s opinion but a synthesis of a variety of points of view.
- The most useful research produces quantitative as well as qualitative information to inform decision-making. Qualitative information about visitor experiences is often the most appealing, but it is subject to many potential biases (e.g., seeing what you want to see in the open-ended comments of a small sample of people, being swayed by idiosyncratic experiences). Quantitative information and analysis is essential in most evaluations, although the precision of quantitative data can be misleading, depending on how good the measurement tools are. In practice, both are helpful to give substance and meaning to the results.
- Evaluation must recognize variation in the audience – we avoid the trap of creating an “average” or “typical visitor” by investigating potential differences across age groups, racial groups, special-interest audiences, or other appropriate dimensions. Ideally, variation in the audience (segmentation) should be based on systematic audience analysis and applied to exhibit development as well as audience development.
Interested? Our approach makes it clear that we work within the parameters of your planning process – helping to identify and solve problems, and informing decisions in a timely manner. We invite you to call or write to discuss your needs and interests.
It’s an interesting challenge to investigate potential audiences before a new museum is built. Here, using preview materials, a wide range of people were interviewed at the Hartford Public Library (and other sites) to explore their awareness, interests, and perceptions of the new Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration.