Research in free-choice learning
Dr John Falk and Dr Lynn Dierking, National Museum of Australia, 9 July 2009
RACHAEL COGHLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Rachael Coghlan and I look after audience research and public programs here at the National Museum of Australia. Thank you for coming. This is a significant occasion. Dr John Falk and Dr Lynn Dierking are internationally recognised leaders in museum evaluation, visitor research and learning theory. They have been instrumental to the significant progress over the last ten years in our understanding of museum learning, helping us to make informed decisions about how to create the best possible exhibitions and programs for our audiences. They have helped us to think deeply about the meaning and purpose of museums, and we are privileged to have them here with us today.
John and Lynn are particularly good at building a bridge between theory and practice, and I know many of you will have questions for them. Just as we know that museum visitors learn more and return more often when they are actively engaged, we will be inviting questions from you at the end of the presentation. You should also note that we are recording the presentations today for use on our website.
Before we start, I would like to thank the generous support of today’s seminar by Museums Australia (ACT branch) and the University of Canberra’s Donald Horne Institute for Cultural Heritage. These partnerships are vital for the museums sector, and we are lucky to enjoy the support of our peers. For now I would like for you to join me in welcoming John and Lynn to the National Museum of Australia.
JOHN FALK: It’s wonderful to be here. We feel privileged to be here. Thank you all for coming today on relatively short notice. Just to give you a brief overview of what we are going to do, both Lynn and I are going to talk for about half an hour each. We have two parts to what we are going to talk about. We’re going to each talk about two different series of studies. Perhaps the misnomer was that it was implied that it was current research in free-choice learning broadly defined. It is current research that we’ve been involved with - truth in advertising.
I’m going to talk about some of the research I have been doing on identity-related motivations as well as a study that I’ve been doing, more or less continuously for more than a dozen years, at the California Science Center trying to understand broadly the long-term impact of that institution on its community. Lynn is going to talk about some of the research that she’s been doing with girls in after-school programs and free-choice learning experiences and looking long term at those impacts, as well as a particular exhibition program and how that was integrated into families’ lives.
If any of you are feeling like you desperately want to ask me a question or interrupt, feel free to do that, but we are going to have time at the end to have questions.
Historically the way we have thought about the museum experience is that, for good reasons, we have tended to compartmentalise that experience as something that happens from the moment somebody walks in the front door until the moment they leave. We have, and this is the royal ‘we’ as an industry, particularly over the last 15 or 20 years devoted considerable time and effort to try to make sense of why visitors are coming, what they do within our institution and what they take away with them.
Historically though most of that research has been contained within, figuratively and literally, the four walls of the institutions. I would argue that we actually cannot understand visitors and the experiences they have if all we do is look at and talk to people as they are inside the institution. The visitor experience starts long before they arrive.
Obviously things happen inside the box, but much of what ultimately ends up sticking in their head is caused by events that happen after they leave. So if we talk to people, as I’ve done and as have others, as they are leaving the institution and trying to understand what the meaning of this experience was in their lives, it’s not that they won’t tell you something; it’s that they can’t actually tell you anything that is really useful to you because they don’t know. It’s not that they are trying to hide things from you, but the real value and purpose of that experience often isn’t revealed to them until days, weeks, months and sometimes years later.
If we really want to make sense of the museum experience, we need to begin to pan the camera back in time and space as it were and look more broadly at that experience and how these institutions intersect with people’s lives. It begins, as it turns out, with their expectations and motivations. Many of us have always assumed that people come to museums with prior experiences; they come with prior knowledge; they have expectations and motivations for being there - and those obviously shape that experience. The way we have attempted to try and understand our institutions often is by looking at the concrete aspects of our museums or of our visitors. So we segment visitors more traditionally into demographic categories - family groups, adults and children - and we talk about them as frequent visitors or infrequent visitors. We talk about our museums in terms of their collections or they are art museums or they are history museums or they are interactive museums. All those kind of characterisations, by and large, is a valiant attempt to make this a concrete experience so that once and for all we can characterise the museum and once and for all we can characterise the visitor.
What my research is beginning to show is that that’s not a very reasonable way, and ultimately not even a very useful way to make sense of this. Literally we need to view, as challenging as it is, that each time an individual interacts with the museum it is a unique experience, and it is an ephemeral experience that is defined by that person and their needs and their interest on that day, in that place, in that time. Tomorrow the same person could go and have an entirely different experience in the same place because they are a different person and have different needs. So we can’t segment visitors based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, whether they are there as a family group or anything like that. That ultimately doesn’t buy us much - at least that’s my contention.
Why do people visit museums? Obviously, the short answer is for many, many different reasons. In fact, based on what I’ve just said, there are as many different reasons as there are people who visit museums. That said, as I have talked to now thousands of visitors both before they come as well as weeks, months and, in some cases, years later trying to understand and then unpack the motivations for the reasons people come to museums, they tend to come for five basic reasons. As I say, there are thousands of reasons that people give, but these can be organised into five big categories. I’m going to come back and talk about this classification scheme in a minute but, for the sake of argument, I have colourfully described these five groups as explorers, facilitators, experience seekers, professional hobbyists and rechargers.
Real quickly just to give you a sense of this cast of characters - they aren’t really a cast of characters, it’s a cast of motivations - they represent people’s leisure related identity needs that they are trying to exercise at that institution.
Explorers are people who believe they’re there because they are curious people and they’re looking to find new and interesting things to discover. If you ask them, ‘What is it you are trying to find out here?’ They say, ‘I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it,’ and they do. When they find something interesting to them they ‘glom’ onto that and spend a lot of time and are very curious about it. They are the kind of people who say, ‘I go to an art museum because I like art. I go to history museums because I like history. I go to science museums because I like science.’ So what science are you trying to learn? ‘Once again, it’s not that I’m trying to learn any science. I like science and I’m sure there will be something here that will interest me.’
There’s a whole group of people that we’re familiar with called facilitators, and actually the reason they’re there is for somebody else. Often they’re parents and they are there to support and facilitate the experience of their children, but they could also be adults there bringing other adults. ‘Aunt Martha is visiting from out of town. I know she likes this kind of place, so I’m going to bring Aunt Martha here, and she’ll have a grand old time.’ What do you expect to get out of it? ‘I expect that Aunt Martha will have a grand old time.’ Do you expect to learn anything? ‘I expect to learn that Aunt Martha had a grand old time. That’s why I’m here.’
There are people called experience seekers, and the interesting thing is - I confess that I began this research with the assumption that these were fairly common - I’ve discovered that they’re actually relatively uncommon. There are tourists who say, ‘I’m here in Canberra. What do I do?’ Well, you should go see the National Museum. ‘OK, I’ll go see the National Museum. Then I can say I’ve been there and done that. And when I go home I can tell people, ‘yes, I went to the National Museum, therefore I did Canberra I can put a notch on my belt and say I’ve been there, done that.’ But they by and large are motivated by the experience to be there and to see that place, because it is an iconic place within their community. There are people who bring out-of-town visitors to these places for the same reason, because they feel an identity with this as part of their community. This is obviously more common for large iconic institutions. It is less common for small institutions for these kinds of visitors to be there.
There is a group - they’re not huge but they’re important - called professional hobbyists. These are the people who show up in order to facilitate and to specifically find out new information about some aspect that they’re very deeply interested in. I like to give the example that once upon a time - but not lately - Lynn and I used to be divers. We’re still divers but we haven’t dived for a while. But before I would go diving on a tropical reef, since I don’t live in a tropical environment, I would make it a point to go to my local aquarium and literally use that as an experience to recall and freshen up my knowledge of tropical fish identification, because it was a lot easier to practice tropical fish identification when they are swimming in the tank than when you are down under the water 50 metres or whatever and things are darting by. So in that case I was a professional hobbyist when I went to that aquarium.
Then finally there are a surprisingly large number of people who go to museums for what I am calling this rejuvenation, refreshment, recharger experience, where literally it’s the getaway from it all. Surprisingly enough, there aren’t that many people who go to interactive science centres with this motivation, but there are a lot of people who go to art museums, aquariums, national parks and those kinds of places that fit that model.
This is just one example, and I put it up here to make the point. Obviously the profile for any different institution is going to vary seasonally, and it’s going to vary between institutions. This is from some of the data that I’m going to talk about later from a telephone survey of Greater Los Angeles where I was talking to people who had visited the California Science Center some time in the last five years and I was asking them to talk about the reasons they went.
What is interesting is the public didn’t have any problem segmenting the reasons they visited across these five dimensions. Ninety per cent of them could fit into one of these categories. [Shows slide] Part of the reason for throwing up this slide though is to make a point, and that point is despite the fact that in this distribution the largest percentage are facilitators and an almost equal number of explorers, there are a healthy, although not significant in the grand scheme of things, bunch of professional hobbyists, rechargers and experience seekers.
Ninety-five percent of all the people who visit the California Science Center come with children. Technically, every visitor to the California Science Center is a family visitor, but the fact that they showed up with children doesn’t mean that they are facilitators. And this is a really important point. There are an awful lot of people who use their kids as a ticket to go.
Typically, the way that we have segmented audiences - and I hate to say this, if there are any marketing people in the crowd - is that it has really been marketing driven research, and by and large there has been a tendency to believe what people say superficially. So if I asked people, ‘Why did you come to the museum today?’ people give a range of answers. If they are there with children, they are inclined to say, ‘I’m here because of my children’. Some people say, ‘I’m here to learn’. Some people give lots of different reasons. But if we really want to understand what motivates people, you can’t just superficially ask them why they’re here, you have to go deeper than that.
This research that I’m talking about is based much deeper and what I would like to believe are more serious implications in terms of the true motivations people have for their visit. Again, by analogy, if you walked into a restaurant and did an interview of all the people sitting in that restaurant and asked them, ‘Why are you here today?’ how many of the people sitting in that restaurant would volunteer that the reason they are there today is because they are hungry? Not many. They would give you reasons like, ‘I like the food,’ or ‘it’s convenient,’ or ‘I like the view,’ or ‘I like the wait staff,’ or whatever. It would be assumed, implied that they are hungry. That’s why they are at a restaurant.
In a very analogous way virtually all these people are here to learn something - some overtly, some not so overtly; some learning light and some learning deep. But learning is implicit in their reason for showing up. Once again, none of my categories distinguish between educational learning and non-learning types, because everybody is there for one reason or another for that purpose.
These explanations, as it turns out, help to provide meaningful ways to segment visitors at all kinds of museums. To date, most of the data has been collected in the US, but there’s been comparable data collected in the UK; there’s comparable data collected here in Australia; there’s comparable data now that we’ve collected in Medellin, Columbia, just a useful outlier point. It’s like your typical Western middle-class kind of audience. And these categories seem to work across a wide range of institutions. Perhaps more importantly is that not only can you segment audiences this way, you can segment audiences any way. You could segment them demographically; you could segment the audience in this auditorium on the colour of the clothes that they are wearing. We can do that statistically, but whether that provides anything useful is a whole other question.
What is interesting though is that this way of segmenting audiences tells you something about how they will actually behave in the museum, and it actually does a reasonable job of qualitatively predicting the kinds of memories and experiences that they will have. People with comparable kinds of identity-related visit motivations use the experience in comparable ways and make sense of the experience in comparable ways. For example, this is data that I collected from zoos and aquariums. Two visitors, both of whom stopped at a gorilla exhibit, and when we talked with them three months later - I am paraphrasing but this is the gist of what they said:
So tell me about your experience.
So two family visitors, but how they made sense of that experience was qualitatively different based on whether in the first case they were a facilitator and in the second case they were an explorer.
More to the point, again this is research from the California Science Center, and this is looking at the very narrow slice of learning. This is literally an exhibit on human biology and trying to understand and measure how much human biology did these folks learn. [Slide shown] This is as they walked into the permanent exhibit. This is as they were walking out of the exhibit. Explorers, facilitators, no big difference, right? This is actually two years later. This group basically went back to the baseline, although arguably with this sample size this is probably not significant but if I have a larger sample size that might be significant. But clearly this difference is significant. So depending on what their reasons were, these people were there to learn for themselves, and what they learned stuck; whereas this group was there to facilitate the learning of others and although in the short term the ideas were there but, since that was not the purpose of their visit, they forgot about that stuff. That wasn’t ultimately important to them, and there was nothing that they could do to reinforce it.
It turns out that this model is not only useful for predicting why people come and what they do but it also provides insights into looking at why people don’t come to museums. Historically we have come up with lots of explanations for why people don’t come to museums. And I will tell you that most of the explanations, some of which I have spun, have to do with traditional notions of comfort, race and ethnicity and all of that good stuff. But here’s a simplified way of saying it: people come to museums because they believe that these are places that will satisfy specific leisure needs. And those specific leisure needs, as it turns out, have to do with those five reasons that I gave. It’s not because these are the only things that museums can support. It’s because as a society, by and large, we have defined culturally - socio-culturally we have said museums are good for these things. So people perceive that if I have one of these needs I can go to a museum. Why do people not go? Because they don’t perceive that either museums can in fact support that. They have no reason to believe that they have ever had any experience that would suggest that it is a good place to be to facilitate their family experiences; or that they are not good places for satisfying their own curiosity; or for some reason they are not even aware that there is such a place called the museum that could support those things.
The wonder of these five categories is these are not unique to museum goers. We all as humans are curious; we all as humans have hobbies and interests; we all as humans have families and other people that we are trying to support and facilitate; we all try and do different things in our lives that have new experiences; we’re all looking for ways to get away from the hassles of the daily world. But there is only a subset of people who think of museums as places specifically that will help them satisfy those needs.
So the moral of the story is if we want to increase the number of people who think that museums are good places to go, how do we get more people to think of these institutions as places that could satisfy those needs? Then the hard job is when they get there, how do you ensure that that actually happens for them?
I’m going to switch gears now and talk about this study that I began in 1996 and have been intermittently conducting for the last 12 years. There were a bunch of research questions but the big ones I’m going to focus on at the moment are: Does the California Science Center facilitate short- and long-term science learning? And, if so, what is the nature of this learning? How successful has the California Science center been in accomplishing its mission to enhance the science and technology understanding … of Greater Los Angeles? Those are the kinds of basic goals that most institutions have; you remove the word ‘science’ and fill in the blank with whatever kind of institution you have.
As I tried to conceptualise this study 15 years ago there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I actually, to pat myself on the back, had some useful insights into how I was going to go about achieving this very daunting task. The bad news was, of course, I didn’t have infinite insight. There were a lot of things I should have done and should have thought about 15 years ago when I started organising this study that I didn’t think about. And today I look back and say, ‘God I wish I would have done this and I wish I would have done that,’ but I didn’t. So there you have it.
Basically the grand scheme of the study - and I really did envision this as a decade-long study which was going to be supported in grand style by this institution, which it wasn’t. Ultimately the funding institution’s supported funding ran out after a year and a half. So I will say that virtually all the other studies that have been done subsequently have come from various grants that I, and in some cases the institution, have gotten but we have used for this purpose. The study was conceptualised as a series of integrated studies where there would be some studies that were literally ‘inside out’. That is, we would talk to people in the institution and try to follow them, understand what they did there and literally track them over time to try and see if we can figure out what that impact is. The ‘outside in’ studies, which is the opposite, was to talk to a lot of people outside in the community and see if we can have a vision of what this institution looks like as we try and situate it in the lives of people as we talk to them outside in the community.
Needless to say, in the next five to ten minutes I’m not going to give you all the details of the study, but here are some really important statistics. First of all - and I’ve just been told that my numbers are wrong by people at the California Science Center when I sent them this - currently their story is that they get 1.4 million visitors a year. They come from all over Greater Los Angeles, and I’ve been told that if you count Greater Los Angeles it’s 15 million people, not 10 million people. But as of 2009, and literally we collected a series of city-wide random telephone surveys - the obnoxious people who call you at 7 o’clock and want you to talk to them - one year before the new California Science Center opened, one year after it opened, and then again ten years after it opened. It opened its doors as a new institution in December 1998.
But in this most recent survey 41 per cent of the adults in Los Angeles said that they had been to the California Science Center within the last five years. That’s a staggering number. And they claimed that on average they had been there three times in the last five years. That is an amazing penetration in a large community. Twelve per cent indicated they had been there in the last year. Again, we might think this 41 per cent number is dubious but, within the realm that people might lie, at least they were going to likely remember what they did in the last 12 months. So even if we assume that maybe there is some inflation there, even if only eight per cent - so even if it was 50 per cent inflated - of Greater Los Angeles went to the California Science Center within the last year, that’s an amazing statistic in and of itself in terms of the impact that institution is having on its community.
Well, that’s great. That’s the gross number, but what about in terms of actually supporting public understanding of science? So earlier in the study before we talked about the California Science Center we asked people to self report: ‘basically how informed you feel you are about science and what is the evidence that you were informed about science?’ And for that, you see that I neglected to include that baseline study and that’s part of the asterisk - it gets ugly - the asterisk briefly is that the predecessor institution to the new California Science Center had been around in LA since 1912. So we used the old name and it had been around Southern California forever. So whereas I thought I was being clever and had really baseline information, in fact I had no baseline information. So the baseline is from after being open one year versus being open for a decade. But you can still see the same basic trends that the people who are the most informed are likely to have gone to the California Science Center, and you can see that there is a significant increase over a ten-year period in that data. Again, this is evidence that this institution is making an impact on its community.
I generated a list of 18 different possible learning outcomes that visitors could have, and I am not going to read them to you but you can see that they range from up the top, ‘The visit reminded me of several things about science and technology I had forgotten,’ and at the bottom, ‘I learned at least one thing that I did not know.’ And in between are behaviour changes. What is interesting is that the secondmost commonly cited thing is that literally people are saying that their behaviour changed, which is amazing, as opposed to their attitude changed.
The wonderful thing about that top one is that people have long postulated, including us, that really what people learn in museums is what they sort of already know. In other words, it’s not that people come in tabula rasa, don’t know anything and now they walk out knowing something; and it’s not even that they come in and by and large are using this as a classroom to become schooled in some topic; but that what literally they come away knowing is more about stuff that they sort of already knew.
The final thing I was going to talk about is: how do you actually measure something like that, because there is always an attribution issue. How would you really know that they actually learnt something there as opposed to some place else? I was clever enough to come up with this idea of creating essentially the equivalent of a radioactive tracer. If you know anything about biology, a tracer like a radioactive isotope gets put into the body. It doesn’t affect the body but you can see things going on in the body that you couldn’t normally see. So I tried to come up with something that was the equivalent of a radioactive tracer. That’s an iconic exhibit that was created at the California Science Center. It goes by the name of Tess. It’s a 50-foot animatronic lady who gives this whole spiel and because, God bless him, the curator of this exhibit was a human physiologist, he decided what the world really needed to know about was homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a topic that is taught in high school biology, and virtually everybody learns it in high school biology but nobody really knows it. So a quick show of hands: how many people in this audience could confidently give me a definition of homeostasis? Not very many. OK.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a baseline in that original data that I collected in 1998 before the institution opened but I did collect data as people walked in the front door of the California Science Center. I also looked to try to figure out how many people actually go to this exhibit. It turns out that 80 per cent who visit the California Science Center go to that exhibit and 80 per cent of those people as they walk out the door can actually define homeostasis. But in 1998 only seven per cent of the people who walked into the California Science Center, which was a self-selected population, could define homeostasis. So even the visitors to the California Science Center, the baseline is only seven per cent, and if I had had the wisdom to collect this data before the Science Center opened, I’m going to guess that that number was about four or five per cent. It’s still a significant change. In one year the number went up to 10 per cent who could define homeostasis - that’s significant. By 2009, 19 per cent of the population of Los Angeles could define homeostasis. There’s no reason. There’s been no big push in the public media for the world to know homeostasis.
But what is so fascinating is when you ask people where they learned it, 64 per cent of the people say they learned it in school - which at some level is true, right? - and 10 per cent attribute the California Science Center. But there is a significant correlation between those who can define it and those who have been to the California Science Center; and a significant correlation between even those who have heard of the word, let alone be able to define it. So attribution in terms is always an issue, because we don’t learn anything in one place at one time. But we now have some data that would suggest yes, we can see. Is it important whether homeostasis was learned or not? That’s not important.
What the evidence shows is that when I can show that there has been a relationship between learning and science in general and this institution, and learning specifically any particular idea and this institution, then we can say without a doubt this is an institution that is having an impact on its community.
Take it away, Lynn. [applause]
LYNN DIERKING: Hello everyone. It’s wonderful to be here in Canberra again. We were realising that this was our third visit but it’s been a long time in between the second and third visit. But it’s wonderful to be back here. Our friends in Brisbane warned us that it was going to be very cold here, but I just want you to know that we were feeling quite comfortable. Winter in Canberra is nothing like winter in Oregon and certainly nothing like winter on the east coast of the US where we used to live. But at any rate it’s a delight to be here.
I’m going to talk about two projects and interestingly they are also looking long term at experiences but, because of the nature of the projects, they are quite different in terms of how we are looking at them. Both of them, and this is really important, are retrospective studies where we are talking to people after the experience and talking to them about their perceptions of the long-term impacts.
The first project is a family-based project and let me tell you a little bit about it. This project it took place at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana in the US. Back in 2001 this museum decided that, despite the fact that they were a children’s museum, they wanted to redefine themselves as focusing on family learning - and I can tell you more about that in a moment. The bottom line is they thought - and we did too - that this was a simple thing to do, but actually we discovered that it was far more involved than we had thought.
Interestingly, unlike many children’s museums, this children’s museum has a collection. Because of the fascination and relationship that the director had to China, it also has the largest display of juvenile and actually family dinosaur fossils in the US. They own one of the few dinosaur eggs where you can actually see the embryo inside. They have a teenage dinosaur and they actually have mother dinosaurs along with baby dinosaurs which, if you think about it, if you are trying to become a family learning-based children’s museum, it’s wonderful that you have a family of dinosaurs. The idea around this exhibition was they wanted to immerse people in the sights, smells and feelings of what it was like in the Cretaceous period.
A little thing that you should know about me is that I love dinosaurs. I don’t know how I became so interested in them, because I saw my first real dinosaur skeleton when I was about 25. But I was always fascinated by them; I always loved fossils. One of the dreams I’d always had is wouldn’t it be cool if I could fly over a moment in the Cretaceous and I could hear, see and experience what it was like safely above Tyrannosaurus Rex. But I’ll tell you this exhibit gets pretty close. The exhibit created these diorama spaces, and every 30 minutes it goes through a day cycle. There’s a lightning storm, a thunderstorm - which thinking about young children there are some issues related to that - but there’s this real rich immersive experience.
Then around these dioramas there are a variety of more in-depth interactive experiences. There’s a dig site where you can actually dig for dinosaurs. There are all sorts of interactive stations. Some of those are the typical sitting down and doing something on a computer. There’s a great experience where you get to design a dinosaur and make different choices, and then you get to figure out if your dinosaur would actually survive or not. Because this was about families, the space where this is doesn’t just have one chair, and doesn’t just speak to one person being there, it was set up so there’s this very comfy, curving chair that invites more than one person to be a part of that experience.
Some of those interactive stations are puzzles where you sit down at a table. There’s also first person interpretation. There’s a paleontologist that comes through on occasion, that’ll take you on that kind of experience. There’s also a place where you can go in and talk to a curator about how they actually find the dinosaurs, and so forth.
Along with the exhibition though there was a real effort to create programming as well and, in fact, to mix up the notion of where the exhibit started and where programming ended. There was a lot of first person interpretation in the exhibit itself. But there were classes for children - which I never got to do but I really wanted to - there were camp-ins where you go to sleep with the dinosaurs. There were some day trips where they took people out to look at sites in nearby places. They even did some summer trips where you could go out west and actually dig dinosaurs.
And really important, this was the first exhibition after that strategic plan to focus on families where very purposely from the very beginning we - and I say ‘we’ because myself and a couple of other people, because this study was done when I was still at the Institute for Learning Innovation, actually were members of the team. So we played the role of researchers but also we were part of the team and helped think about how that information could be used.
I probably should share with you the way we were conceiving of family learning. Our notion of this was that it was a special kind of free-choice learning related to both the way that families interact, talk together and share experiences. It’s also about taking something away that one can tangibly say, ‘I’ve learned this in this museum.’ And because families are very social, it was also about this notion of reinforcing family identity and history. This is guided very much by family’s needs and interests.
John and I haven’t had the opportunity but we’ve been talking about - his categories for motivational needs are very focused on individuals - trying to look at those needs across social groups and seeing how those needs get negotiated. I’m sure that embedded in those needs and interests are many of the categories that he found.
Basically, what family learning is all about is learning that families do together when they’re interested in something, curious about something, and they do it across the lifespan of the family.
So the research questions that we had are that we were going to go back a couple of years after this exhibition had opened and say: how was this exhibit, its interpretive programs that I’ve described, and the additional in-depth experiences integrated into the lives of families? Was there any evidence that there were any impacts? Also, we were very curious if visitors had noticed. We’ve had several conversations today at the Museum - and I’m sure in your own institutions, if you’re not from here, you make these decisions to change as an organisation, to change your focus or to reinvent yourself. The question that the Children’s Museum had is: did anyone notice? Did those families notice that this was a different place than it had been; that we’ve tried to make this change in terms of not being so focused on children alone?
The approach that we took was to do in-depth, semi-structured phone interviews. These were 15-20 minutes long, and the sample included families who’d participated in an in-depth assessment that we had actually done of this exhibition about a year after it opened. These were people who we asked them at the time: would you be willing to be re-contacted? So we had contact information for them. And then we also were able to include in the sample families who’d actually participated in some of those in-depth experiences. So we had a mix of people. Those groups weren’t necessarily totally independent of one another; there were people who’d visited the exhibit that had participated in an in-depth program. Certainly most of the people who’d participated in an in-depth program had been to the exhibition.
By the way, the other important thing to know - and I understand that’s the case actually for this institution also - there is a very high number of people in Indianapolis that are return visitors and use the Children’s Museum very frequently. I think 45 per cent of their audience are return visitors.
We talked to adults, so the sample size was 48 adults. But the total, if you counted all of the family members, was 144. These were people who had visited the exhibition and/or participated in one or more of the programs three months to a year before.
What did we find out? First of all - and this is sort of a message that John was communicating, but I’ll reinforce it again - we tend to think about what do people take away from the experience and what have we done for them, versus thinking that people come to our institutions and they use us to accomplish the things that they want to accomplish. So one of the things that was really, really interesting was totally unprompted. People talked about the use of this exhibition as a family resource. They talked about how it was a wonderful place for them to interact with their children. Some of the adults talked about that facilitator role: ‘Johnny or Sally loves dinosaurs, and I wanted to take them there.’ But there are also a large number of adults that said, ‘You know what I really liked about that exhibit was that I could learn as well.’
Something I didn’t share with you is that the whole design had invited collaborative learning but also single adult learning. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit, and this is where I could kind of get the feeling like I was in the Cretaceous. There were tunnels you could crawl underneath, and come up in, and you were in the middle of the diorama. Those tunnels were made wide enough that an adult and a kid could crawl together.
AUDIENCE: Even an Indiana adult.
LYNN DIERKING: Yeah, even an Indiana adult! [laughter] That might be pushing it. And I can attest it was also inviting enough that an adult by herself could crawl in and have that experience.
Actually, in another place - you know the old-fashioned viewers - they have viewers set up so that you could look more closely at the dinosaurs in the dioramas. There were viewers that were adult height and there were viewers that were kid height. They were close together so that adults and kids could look at the same thing together and talk about what they were seeing. So there was a real effort to encourage collaboration.
The other place that was great was there was an area where you could actually get in the nest of a dinosaur - remember that family theme - and where you could dress up either as a paleontologist or as a dinosaur complete with tail. They had two sizes. So you could be an adult and you could dress up like a dinosaur - I won’t tell you who did that - and then you could also dress up like a paleontologist, and a kid could be a paleontologist. There was a lot of choice and opportunity.
People talked a lot - and we had also observed in the in-depth study a lot of exhibit focused conversation with a lot of families reading, describing, talking, questioning and connecting the experience to life. There were just some great examples where we used, for example, children’s hands and adults’ hands and then a dinosaur footprint for Bucky, the teenage juvenile, and an adult dinosaur - ways for people to be thinking about those differences in size.
People talked about really enjoying the exhibition and feeling like it contributed to the family either learning something new or, as John was saying, reinforcing something that they’d already seen. Once again, in part this was because they had this wonderful opportunity because they had juvenile dinosaurs, but there were a lot of adults who said, ‘I mean, I guess I always thought there were young dinosaurs and baby dinosaurs. They had to come from somewhere,’ but actually seeing a tangible skeleton brought that to life even more.’ People said, ‘We read the Maiasaur book and we knew that there were eggs and stuff, but then all of a sudden there’s adults.’ They loved seeing the progression. A quarter of the adults felt that the child family increased or reinforced their knowledge.
They talked a great deal, and I think this is important as we think about experiences we provide, about staff or the person who came along. We were talking about Aunt Martha or whoever she was. But that often brought memorability to the moment. It helped people remember. That made it a special sort of event. They talked a lot about interactions with staff. It was a great facilitator. ‘The person who was in the curator lab really helped me think about how you dig out a dinosaur.’ So that piece was very important.
What was really interesting is that a lot of adults talked about the sense that family learning was a part of the experience. But I want to make a caveat that they didn’t tend to use that term; they talked about being together; they sometimes talked about learning together but the notion of family learning wasn’t necessarily one of the ways they talked about it.
They talked a lot - and of course we were encouraging this because we were talking to them much later - about the extension of the experience. They talked about conversations that they had later, other things that they had done, the fact that they went back to the exhibit several times, and they also talked about the fact that they shared the experience with people who had not been there. All of these are things that we have an idea are a part of the experience, but this really helped us to see that that was definitely the case.
As I said, families did not use the term ‘family learning’ without prompting, but they talked about interactivity. They actually used the word ‘hands on’, which just as another little aside, over the years since John and I started doing research, that wasn’t a term that people really had in their vernacular, but it’s very much a term that people understand. They talked a lot about appealing to learners of all ages. ‘There was something I could do here.’ And they talked a lot once again about that adult learning.
A little caveat to that: there are several children’s museums that are realising that the decision maker for most visits to children’s museums are adults and that they do need to be thinking more about how they can appeal to those adults. If you’re an adult and you’re thinking about taking your child to a museum, you might think sometimes, ‘Well, I’ll go to the children’s museum, and that will be great for them,’ but if you’re not a facilitator or if you’re not feeling particularly generous that weekend - those museums are realising, ‘We need to offer something to the adults so they’ll want to come because of their own learning as well as their kids’ learning.’
They talked a lot about both the pre-visit and the post-visit experiences. I didn’t mention this but there is a web site where you could do some planning for your visit before you arrived, and that seemed really important. The bottom line is that they felt that the interpretation and programming that was a part of the exhibit contributed to them better understanding something about dinosaurs but also having an enjoyable, quality family experience. That’s really what’s important as we think about these experiences.
I’m going to switch to my other study and do a very quick overview of it as I am just about out of time. This is changing perspective quite a bit. This is a study about young women who have participated in either after school, sometimes museum based, experiences, and our effort by myself and a colleague at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We have a National Science Foundation grant from the US National Science Foundation to try to track down these young women who participated in programs at least five to ten years ago to see if there’s any evidence that this has had an influence on them. And something that I’m really excited about is that we’re looking both at the impact in terms of education and careers - what I call the usual suspects - but we’re also looking at hobbies and habits of mind. Because we’re looking so long term, some of these young women are parents and we can even talk to them about whether this experience had any influence on them, thinking about their parenting and the importance of science.
So the question that we’re asking is: ‘What role do these free-choice experiences play in girls’ interest, engagement and participation in science communities, hobbies and careers?’ We’re really interested in how much these young women have taken science in as part of the way they think about themselves and identify themselves. We’re talking, not so much about science content, but would this person think of themselves as a science-interested, science-engaged person? The other question that we’re really interested in is: ‘What role do the significant adults who are a part of this program play?’ Also in a few cases where parents were involved with the program: ‘Did they play a role in the impacts that we see?’ We’re using a community of practice framework. For those of you who may not familiar with that, it’s this notion that identity and community are very much connected and that an individual changes, learns and evolves by participating in community, and that Ideally the community changes as a result of the participation of the individual.
There are three elements that are really critical when you’re thinking about community of practice. First, there’s generally a domain of knowledge that you’re interested in, and in our case we have focused in on science and I would say technology, engineering and mathematics broadly defined. Second, you are also really concerned about the community of people who care about and are engaged in the domain. Third, there’s the shared practices that you develop and feel make you a part of this community. That all sounds very abstract but, for those of you that design programs, you’re thinking about: What am I going to have people do? What kind of feeling do I want people to have being a part of this program? And what are these shared practices that they’re going to engage in around whatever the topic of the program is. That’s really the essence of community of practice.
Where we’ve used it in trying to understand the impact of it on these young women is trying to look at the domain of science in particular to see if we can see impacts there, look at the community that was created both at the moment of the program but also the community that these young women are now engaged in - if they are - and then also whether they left with any sense of the practice of, in this case, being a scientist and whether they continue to engage in that practice now.
Very quickly, we are recruiting young women through five programs that were national in focus, that have been evaluated and that have been in place for at least 15 to 20 years. So we wanted to find stable programs. We wanted to find programs where we knew they were very successful. What we are trying to do initially, is just show what impacts we might see under the best of circumstances. This is not a definitive study; it really is a best-case scenario. We’re just trying to get a sense of: ‘In the best programs with the most engaged young women, do we see any impacts?’ If we don’t see any impacts at that stage, then doing this larger, national study is going to be tough.
These programs - which don’t have a lot meaning here but just to give you a sense - were selected because they deal with girls at different ages or a couple of the programs involve families. One of the programs had a research experience that young women participated in. One was focused on identifying a community problem and working on a focus. There were very different communities of practice created so that we can tease out and look at the influence of those communities of practice.
There are five research phases and we are in the middle of investigation two, so that’s why it’s preliminary results. We started out the study by talking to some young women about science and about their lives so we could hear the way they talk about it. We used those findings to develop a web-based survey, which we are now administering to a selection of women who participated in each of these programs.
In the next phase we are going to do life history/life story interviews and potentially visit some of the communities. Because we’re using community of practice in a more qualitative approach, one part of the study is to have young women look at our results - young women who weren’t in the study - and give us a sense of whether they feel that the ideas and interpretations that we’ve made are valid. It’s called a ‘member check’ in the community of practice. We’ve decided to do one other member check, which is we are going to find some women who are engaged in science out in their grown-up lives and who had nothing to do with any of these programs - people who are scientists or maybe someone who’s the president of their local astronomy club so it’s more of an avocation but they’re very science-engaged, different folks. We’re going to have them look at the findings and tell us whether there is credence to the fact that maybe they had an experience like this. So even though it’s a qualitative study, we’re trying to do some checking. Then based on those checking experiences we’re going to create some case studies of the way these programs have influenced young women.
Let me just tell you very quickly about what we’ve done in the first phase to create the web-based survey. We used a data-collecting technique that John and colleagues at the Institute created called ‘Personal meaning mapping’. That’s how we did those initial interviews to hear young women talk about their experiences. We used this approach and did it in two phases where we sat down with young women and the first thing we did was we gave them a piece of paper that had ‘me’ in the middle of it. We asked them to write, draw, do anything on that paper that would help describe them. We were a little uneasy about this at first. We weren’t quite sure whether this was going to resonate very well. We forgot that a lot of these women - they’ve been about 18 to 26 or 27 at this point and once they realise, ‘You really want me to write down about me?’ They love it. We’ve had a range. One young woman drew a picture of mashed potatoes, and that same young woman had just become engaged so she drew a picture of an engagement ring. They’re writing down lots of stuff about themselves.
We interviewed them after they’ve made that map and just talked to them a little bit about ‘me’ and do a little bit of probing. Then we moved that paper aside and we give them another piece of paper that has the program that they participated in in the middle, and we asked them to do the same thing - write down all the things that you think about. Then we talked to them about that. And then we put the maps together, because we’re interested in ‘me’ and identity and the science impacts, and we’re trying to see what the relationship between the two maps are.
We ended up talking to women aged between 20 to 29, who had had the experience 10 to 15 years prior. What we found first of all was that this technique was a great way to talk to them about the role of science in their lives without directly saying, ‘Can you tell me about the role of science in your life?’ because of course they would have looked at us - appropriately - like we were crazy. In terms of the maps, particularly in the map about the program, there wasn’t a lot of specific science content but a lot about the processes they engaged in and a lot of details about what they did.
One of the programs was around girl scouting, and this particular group went on a lot of outdoor field trips. Their scout leader loved geology. They took a lot of trips and talked a lot about seeing rocks and geology. In fact, by the way, she said that later helped her - she was a history major in college so she didn’t pursue science, but she said, ‘When I took the geology course that I had to take as one of my core courses, I could remember what those rocks looked like, and that really helped me in this geology class. It made it real to me.’
What we’ve ended up doing in terms of these results is seeing that there are impacts that are very science related, particularly to people who are now engaged in science, and also a series of outcomes that are more related to more general outcomes like interest. For women in science now, they talk about the fact that in some cases the program, depending on their age, helped develop an interest; for many of them it re-informed or reinforced an interest in science that they already had.
Something that I think is going to be really important, and we’re probing this in our further study, is they talked a lot about the community. They talked about both facilitators and adult leaders, but they talked about how it was great to be with other girls who liked science. Along with this came this notion it was great to be with other girls and to be able to be smart, so there was some of that conversation going on.
Interestingly, girls participated in some of these programs at the high school age and they actually were using the program to see - they thought they were interested in science but they wanted to see, ‘What are these scientists like?’ One young woman talked about the fact that she had gone to a summer program at the University of Washington in Seattle, and her sole intent was to see whether the female scientists there had lives, because she wanted to have children, she likes to read. Actually the second thing she wrote on her personal map is that ‘I’m a well rounded person.’ By the way, she had just finished a doctorate in physics at University of Oregon. She said, ‘I read, I garden, I sew.’ It was really important to her to have a life. So she was using this program more as a way to see, ‘What is the community like that I might become a part of?’
However, what’s really cool, I think, is that people who have not chosen, at least currently, in their life trajectory to go towards science also talked about outcomes. Many of these programs, by the way, focused on poor communities or minority communities, where people aren’t as often engaged in at least science. They talked about how much the program expanded their world and sense of self. There was one young woman who lives in Oakland, California, and she said, ‘You know, I go hiking now,’ and she said, ‘Nobody in my neighborhood goes hiking’ - so this sense of an expanded world. Once again the young women talked about it helping them with future science courses and helped them to develop interests and hobbies. A lot of people also talked about self-esteem and self-efficacy, and that the program helped them develop leadership skills.
Interestingly, some of these programs had very purposeful ways that young women, who started out maybe in middle school as a participant in the program, in high school became a facilitator of middle school kids. There was a purposeful effort to build in these leadership opportunities. This just tells you where we are [slide shown] that we’re in the middle of the web-based survey.
I’m going to stop there, and then we can take some questions. By the way, I just want to say that it is great to have comfy chairs up front that we can sit in [laughter]. It is wonderful.
JOHN FALK: Yes. We feel really privileged. [applause]
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Bobby Sarini and I’m a PhD student at the Centre for Public Awareness and Science at ANU [Australian National University]. John, I had a question for you which was about the values people have in relation to museums. You mentioned that visit decisions are actually driven by how people perceive the value of a museum. I wondered if you’d done any research or if you’d had a look at what the research is saying about where people develop those senses of values.
JOHN FALK: The short answer is I haven’t done a lot, but that never stopped me from giving an opinion. In a sense what I’m hypothesising at this point is: where did people get the idea that I could go to this place and do this? In a sense, what I am suggesting that I believe - if I understand your question correctly and maybe I’m not - is that there is a perception that as I wake up on a Saturday morning and I’m trying to figure out what I want to do today, I run through a list of needs, and this isn’t totally conscious, to be honest. But subconsciously I’m trying to figure out, ‘So, what should I do today? Well, maybe today would be a good day to do something with the kids. I haven’t been a good parent lately.’ So, what can I do with the kids? And then I’m running through a list of potential options of where I can be a good facilitator.
And if, at least in the US - and this is where socioeconomics and history come in - I come from a certain socio-economic strata and have had a certain personal history - in fact the best predictor of what somebody does in their leisure time as an adult is what they did as a child in their leisure time. So if I came from a family that was inclined to think that this was an option, a museum is likely to pop up on my list of possible things I could do, and then I have to make a series of other cost-benefit decisions about whether that works.
How does that happen that the public has those perceptions? I sort of envision this as a feedback loop. After I’ve gone to the museum in order to take my kids there, I go home and I tell my friends and family. They say, ‘What did you do this weekend?’ I say, ‘Well, I went to the museum and had a great time with my kids. By the way, it would be a great place for you to take your kids too. They’d have a wonderful time there.’ So in a sense part of the outcome of a museum experience is that it changes the person’s own sense of identity by and large - I have reinforced that I’m a good parent. But it also communicates out to the greater society that there are these places out there called museums that are good places where you can be a good parent, and that’s just one example.
It’s not as if the museum is necessarily advertising, ‘Come here. Be a good parent,’ though some do. But in society we have a sense of: what are these institutions and what do they afford? Some institutions communicate that they afford being good places to take good places to take kids, like children’s museums and science centers. Art museums by and large are not perceived as great places for taking kids, but art museums are perceived as great places for doing other things. Somehow out there in the ether there is this perception. What I haven’t done is the research to look at that more deeply.
QUESTION: My name is Mia Thornton and I’m a PhD candidate at ANU, and I also work here at the Museum in the education section. I was just wondering if, in your research, you had any observations to make about the impact of digital media on people’s motivations or experiences of museums and if you think that changes their motivations, particularly their off-site experiences. I’m thinking about things like social media - Flickr, et cetera - if you had any comments to make about that.
LYNN DIERKING: I can start there with a couple of things. One is that I think that the whole social networking/social media world is still very unexplored and unused by many museums. In fact, there is a tremendous fear of them. We have been visiting some institutions that are afraid that they are going to be critiqued by the public, and it’s going to be out there, and the whole world is going to see it. The truth is that the public can do that already. It makes more sense maybe to try to think about how you can use these media to extend experiences, start experiences ahead of time and reach new audiences that are perhaps not using them.
I would say that there is also a tendency to think about, ‘Oh, we need to have’ - I was mentioning these interactives and exhibitions. Pretty much across the board - even by the way talking to youth about it - they will talk about the fact that they sit at a computer all the time or they can do that at home. So I think that what we should really be exploring in our institutions is how to use these tools as real tools for learning more or for extending learning rather than as a product in and of itself. Because we have been so focused sometimes just on the object or the experience we’ve said, ‘We’ll just use that to show people the object or the experience,’ rather than saying, ‘How can that be a tool to help someone better understand or connect to the objects?’ And then I think that social networking piece is very unexplored.
JOHN FALK: The other comment I’ll make - and this is probably not a big surprise - is that what little data there is would suggest that the majority of the public does use digital media in relationship to museums. Most people are still using it primarily to find out what the hours are, how to get directions there, to get a sense of what new exhibits might be there.
The statistics that I’m aware of, despite the desire to drive people back to the web and other sources after a visit, are still pretty abysmal. Less than ten percent of the public is following up experiences by going back to the web. That’s a real challenge. Again, as I commented, not only to make sense of these experiences do we need to pan the camera back in time and space to effectively make the most of what we have to offer, but we have to somehow be a larger part of people’s lives and not just the little slice that happens that one or two hours out of their lifetime that they happen to be in your institution. But figuring out how to crack that nut is still out there.
QUESTION: Graham Walker from the ANU. It’s interesting to note that you saw changes in behaviour after the visit to the Science Center. Did you get any data as to what kind of behaviours? And did you see any links from the motivation segments through to those different behaviours?
JOHN FALK: The data that I showed is, of course, generic self-report data. I was as surprised as the next person to see how high that was. As I said, I literally created 18 different outcome statements one of which was ‘what I did at the Science Center changed my behaviors relative to science or technology’. Since this was a close-ended survey, that was the question, they said ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and there is the data. It was really stunning that it was so high.
There have been other studies that we have done where we have literally tried to more directly track behaviour change when that was considered to be a desired outcome of an experience, particularly a lot of the research done in zoos and aquariums where they have a very overt effort to want to change the public’s environmental behaviours. Those results are less than encouraging by and large. The evidence is that relatively few people, if any, are changing their behaviors long term based on what they do at a zoo or aquarium. Despite the fact that zoos, aquariums and other kind of comparable eco-tourism experiences, there is pretty good data that the public by and large exits those experiences quite cranked up to do good things. But in the absence of any reinforcing experiences, they don’t do much. They don’t know how and they don’t know where. Again, that data is tantalising but I don’t know what it means, to be honest, at the moment. I’m not sure what kinds of behaviours they were referring to.
LYNN DIERKING: We have in some of our studies - there was an exhibit that was about women’s health and there seemed to be a change in the fact that women did a monthly breast exam as a result of that exhibit and, interestingly, there was actually an interactive in that exhibit that was more of a physical one that showed you how to do it. That’s an important piece.
JOHN FALK: I was involved with an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum - five million visitors a year - which was designed to tell the public about ecosystems and at the end of that exhibit there was a little segue where, ‘If you’re interested in doing something about the environment, here are some numbers that you can call,’ and I gave them a code. A condition for having the Conservation Group be listed on there was that they would try and keep track of how many people called, and they would ask, ‘What caused you to call?’
There was a significant jump in the first year in phone calls, many of which were attributed to this. But what percentage of the five million people a year who visited and actually made the phone call? I don’t know. I’m going to guess that it’s pretty small. But, on the other hand, those conservation institutions saw nearly a doubling in the number of phone calls that they got to volunteer to be part of their effort. Again, I think the good news is that the data would suggest that museums generically can affect behaviour change, but it’s not 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time; it’s more like 15 to 20 per cent of the people, although once again I was surprised by that data.
QUESTION: Steve Spear from the Australian National Botanic Gardens. There is a lot of research talking about motivation and learning in science centres, children’s museums and art galleries. From a botanic gardens or public gardens point of view in America, you partly answered the question in the last question, but I was interested in any research that looks at motivation to visit public gardens or botanic gardens, and also that question about behaviour change after leaving the gardens.
JOHN FALK: There have been a couple of studies. In fact, there’s been some research done by Jan Packer and Roy Ballantyne here in Australia [at the University of Queensland] on motivations for going to botanical gardens. This is one of those times where that recharger category turns out to be really high. So there are a lot of people going to botanical gardens just to get away because they’re wonderful, peaceful, lovely places to sit. By and large, the goal in life of those people is not to change their behaviour other than that their behaviour by being there is being changed. So they have a very different view of what behaviour change is. They might say they’ve changed their behaviour but it’s not necessarily what you had in mind.
LYNN DIERKING: I have a student back on the east coast at the University of Delaware who is in the public horticulture program there. She’s actually doing a national survey looking at the youth piece and the kind of programming that botanic gardens are doing with youth. It’s not the public visiting, but it’s the kinds of ways that they’re engaging youth in public gardens. I’d be happy to share her name with you, and you could be on the look out for that. She’s in the midst of doing the study right now.
QUESTION: My name is Helena, and I’m from the National Portrait Gallery. Given that you mentioned there’s no sense in looking at audience segments along family and ordered like that, I’m just curious about that line that you said about how we understand that families don’t come to art galleries so often and, given that learning is implicit in all environments, I’m curious where that comment came from.
JOHN FALK: Once again, the caveat is disregard at least 70 per cent of everything I say. I’m prone to hyperbole. Families do obviously go to art galleries. I would say in general if you created a continuum and had the public rate these on family friendly environments, art museums would fall somewhere lower on that continuum than do science centers and children’s museums. So that’s not to say that families don’t go to art galleries. But they are generally not perceived as the first place you think of - unless if you happen to be a hard-core art person, then of course this is a family place to go. But in terms of the broader public that would not necessarily be the perception. I know there are a lot of art museums that are working very hard to change those perceptions and have had various levels of success. Some have been successful and some have been less successful. I don’t mean to cast aspersion.
LYNN DIERKING: If he has time, he could probably insult everyone in this room.
JOHN FALK: To know me is to love me.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Sheree and I’m in private practice as a change management consultant here in Canberra, and an ex-Oregonian so welcome. I grew up in art galleries and art museums in the United States, and again it’s what you said before: your family values influence your behaviour as an adult, so I’m not going to be able to move away from that.
I want to go back to the gentleman who was talking about the botanical gardens. I’m doing some research at the moment based around a program that was running recently in London called ‘Slow Down London’. I just wanted to share that with the audience - you guys know about it already, I’m sure - where they were looking at trying to get people to slow down their lifestyle, and linking in art museums and botanical gardens as an option for people to go to visit. And of course my first question was: who’s researching the impact of those visits? Thanks for what you’ve shared today. It’s been really valuable.
LYNN DIERKING: I think that that notion of the recharger is going to be more and more - there is such a hectic pace to life that I think that’s going to be an increasingly sought outcome of these places.
QUESTION: Sue Stockerman of the Australian National University. First of all, thank you both very much for a fascinating talk and insight into your projects, which as usual are challenging us and stimulating. My question is for Lynn: your project with the girls, you followed them up a long time afterwards. How hard was it to find them?
LYNN DIERKING: Well actually how hard is it finding them at this moment because we’re in the middle of the study and investigation. We planned for about six months and we are finding it challenging in some ways to track down young women.
We are using social media though. We’ve created a Facebook for the project that’s helped quite a bit. Some of the projects already have Facebooks. Also anyone who participates in the survey, we’re saying, ‘If you have other friends that you’ve kept in touch with,’ please let them know.
The issue about that - and this is why we’ve said all along that this is not the definitive study - is clearly there are going to be some sampling issues in terms of who’s responding. One of the other criteria for the five programs that we chose is that they actually had a database that would help us, but it’s been the most challenging part of the study to date.
QUESTION: I’m amazed you found any.
JOHN FALK: As we are going to the next question, I’ll come back to an asterisk that I gave at the very beginning: this is the very fine-print warning label on the bottom which basically says - and I’m talking about five identities - be forewarned the world is truly much more complex than that. People often have multiple identities, and not everybody on any given day fits into those identities. But it is my hope and certainly my current observation that about 60 to 65 per cent of people 60 to 65 per cent of the time can be made sense of through this model. If you do the math and if you know your elementary statistics, that’s about half the people half the time. Right?
LYNN DIERKING: And some people have mixed profiles too.
JOHN FALK: But my point is that if we can even make reasonable predictions about half the visitors we’re way ahead of where we were before - where we could make reasonable predictions about none of our visitors or a very small percentage. But I don’t want to give the impression that somehow the world is that cut and dried and that simple. It’s not the case.
LYNN DIERKING: Oh come on, you want to tick off the box.
JOHN FALK: I’d like to, but I can’t.
QUESTION: This is a quick one. Em Balamy from Questacon, and this is a question for Lynn about the dinosaur exhibit, and apologies if you did actually mention this - I was also focused on processing something else if you did - but you said one of the questions you were asking is whether people recognised that the institution had changed its strategy. I just wondered what the result was, whether people had noticed.
LYNN DIERKING: I’m sorry it was implicit but I didn’t make it explicit. Actually, they had noticed, and in particular they commented that they loved the fact that there were things that the adults could do and that they really felt interestingly that that exhibit was different. I don’t think they had a sense that the whole institution was different. But thank you for reminding me that I didn’t answer that question.
RACHAEL COGHLAN: Thank you everyone. Thanks for coming and especially thank you to John and Lynn for your insightful presentations and your generous answers to all our questions. I’d like to thank the ACT branch of Museums Australia again. They’ve asked me to mention that next Thursday they’re hosting a talk by Diana Davis at the National Portrait Gallery looking at the national review of visual arts education and its implications for cultural institutions.
As Lynn mentioned, you’re all invited to afternoon tea down in the Hall, and that’s being provided by the Museums Australia evaluation and visitor research special interest group [EVRSIG]. I’m also the president of the EVRSIG and I wanted to mention that we’re hoping to start a discussion on the Museum’s 3.0 social networking site about today’s presentation. So please hook on there, have a look, and share your thoughts and insights from today. Could you join me once again in thanking Dr John Falk and Dr Lynn Dierking. [applause]
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Date published: 29 July 2009