Research and evaluation are often confused. When is a piece of research an ‘evaluation’ and when it is something else? Evaluation as a concept has been used in museums as a blanket expression to refer to investigation and analysis carried out before, during and after a process, which has until recently often tended to be the exhibition process. Thus ‘evaluation’ might refer to work that is exploratory in nature and open-ended in its focus, such as for example general attitudes to themes for exhibitions, but might equally refer to work carried out to test detailed specific ideas, such as words and images for text panels.
Korn has suggested that ‘evaluation’ is the systematic collection of data and information about the characteristics, activities and outcomes of an exhibition or public programme (educational or leisure session, event) that is useful in making decisions about the programme’s continuation or improvement. ‘Research’, on the other hand, involves the generation of new knowledge and the exploration of hypotheses, which, while not necessarily providing immediately useful information, does offer material for the development of theories (Korn, 1989:221). Both processes use the same methodologies: questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and observations, and, although Korn’s definitions are useful, in practice it is sometimes difficult to separate the two concepts. The major difference is in the objective of the work, in that evaluation is driven by the need for information for specific action in the short term, while research is stimulated by the need to know more for professional or personal awareness and for the development of conceptual frameworks (Munley, 1992).
Munley (1986) has identified five purposes for what she calls ‘museum audience studies’. These are: justification of the value of the institution itself, or of its exhibitions or public programmes; information-gathering to aid in long-term planning; assistance in the formulation of new exhibitions or programmes; assessment of the effectiveness of existing exhibitions and programmes; and increased general understanding of how people use museums through the process of research and the construction of theories. The first two reasons, justification and information-gathering, require marketing and demographic studies; the next two, formulation and assessment of programmes, require