Panel discussion continued: ITP+ Aswan

Rebecca Horton, International Training Programme Coordinator

On Thursday 25th October, Petrie and Manchester Museum curator’s, Anna Garnett and Campbell Price, and British Museum interpretation team members, Stuart Frost and Jane Batty led a panel discussion on audience surveys and evaluation methods at the Nubia Museum. In our previous blog we shared their introductions and examples of methods used in their museums. Below are the questions asked by participants and answers presented not only by the panel but by ITP Fellow facilitators and workshop participants.

How can we attract 20 – 40 year old audiences who are not families? 

  • Create a focus group of your target audience and conduct a group interview, asking them what your institution is / is not currently attracting them with. Based on their responses create a programme of events which will appeal to them.
  • In the UK younger audiences like evening events including guest lectures, creative events, and receptions.
  • If you can create a programme of events, or activities your focus group has requested, hold them on a regular basis (e.g. once a month on the same night each month) to encourage repeat visiting.
  • Advertise your institution and any special programmes on social media.

How can we attract teenagers?

  • Start a youth forum where groups of teenagers can meet with museum staff. In the youth forum give teenagers the authority to say what they would like to see your museum. Act on what members of the youth forum say and give them responsibilities which will help shape future museum activities.
  • Think of your museum as a social space in order to get teenagers into the building. Museums are beautiful social settings as they contain at least one of the following: meeting rooms, cafes, garden / outdoor space, large indoor spaces.  In the first instance be creative and think about what would attract teenagers to the museum, if the museum did not contain objects. An example, not specifically for teen audiences but to demonstrate the scope for using your museum as a social space came from Anna Garnett at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology; upon request the museum was used as a space for an evening of ‘speed dating’. At the event museum flyers were handed out in the hope that attendees to the event would visit the museum again, to see the collection.
  • Create partnerships will colleges in the local area.

How do you survey audiences about a museum that does not currently exist? 

  • Ask people what museums and galleries they go and why, to help shape the design and content of your future museum.
  • Create a list of potential themes which could be included in your museum and ask people to rate their interest in them.
  • When surveying people, create an ‘opt in’ element whereby if survey participants choose to opt in you can follow up from the survey will a phone call to discuss their answers with them further, or ask them to join a focus group.
  • Create a twitter account for your museum and a hastag so that you can easily track people’s opinions as your museum develops.
  • Survey people at the airport  where you will receive feedback from a wide demographic.

How long is Manchester Museum closed for and how will you maintain the profile of this museum in the meantime? 

Manchester Museum is closed for 3 years and the staff are carrying out the following work to ensure the museum maintains a presence in the sector during this time:

  • Touring exhibitions and the collection
  • Improving the museum’s online catalogue
  • Taking objects out to local communities and schools

How do you use visitor research?

  • Find a middle ground between what your audience say they want and what your organisation’s strengths and ambitions are. Answer the questions: what do we want to say? What do audiences want to hear? Put the answers into a Venn Diagram and find the overlap.
  • Visitor research is a tool to understand what different groups think and can be used to decide how your museum’s goals and meet your audiences’ goals.

How can you work with people who are not passionate about working in museums?

  • Attempt to find common ground, are they passionate about something which they can focus their energy one? Can you find a shared goal?
  • Meet for coffee to discuss ideas about your museum. In the UK colleagues go on day trips or attend social events together to bond and motivate each other.
  • Campbell Price describes the role of a curator as being an ‘enthusiastic performer’ – be passionate, be confident in what your museum has to offer and show it off… this passion can be infectious.
  • Conduct visitor research, the data from this research cannot be denied and can be a very useful tool to convince people to take action.

When is the right time to refurbish a gallery?

  •  Each gallery is different – some age well and some do not – often you have to act as you see the situation.
  • Ultimately it will always come down to funding. If you think a gallery needs refurbishing but do not have the funds you can make ‘light touches’: insert new panels for a fresh look and improved text; find new stories within the permanent display and insert temporary supporting material e.g. archival; create gateway objects and change the colour of the fabric beneath them so that they stand out.

How can you survey audiences? 

  • Put a comments book at the end of a gallery or at the exit of your museum for visitors to write in. Create an excel spreadsheet and consistently type out the comments made each day. Makes changes based on the comments made and your expert knowledge.
  • Create a ballot box where visitors can write a comment on a piece of paper, or fill in a survey anonymously, fold it up and put it in a box. Often anonymity leads to more honest answers.
  • Use survey monkey – a cheap online platform for creating your own surveys for participants to complete online. Survey monkey helps you to interpret the answers to your questions.
  • Collecting data from visitors can be time consuming for museum staff who often have many responsibilities and tight deadlines but is a fulfilling and rewarding activity. Ask volunteers to gather data from visitors in the galleries (asking 1-2 questions in person or asking them to fill out a survey) and work with them to interpret it together.