Museum, Media, Message

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

25

Here to help: evaluation and effectiveness

Sandra Bicknell

‘Here to help’ sounds a little trite—though that is far from my intent. I genuinely believe evaluations can help—help, that is, with the effective communication between a museum (or, rather, its staff) and the museum’s audience.

One of my more awkward moments as an evaluator was when I was observing visitors to an exhibition, using a scale map to mark how individuals were using the space. I was tracking a woman and her two children when she suddenly looked round and latched on to me and my name badge. There was nothing I could do to avoid her, so I put my clip-board and map behind my back and waited for her question. ‘Is there a particular way round this [exhibition]?’ she asked. I replied that I was not sure and it was up to her. She seemed to accept this answer and went back to the children. This was all somewhat ironic considering that one of the recommendations to come from this evaluation was that a map of the exhibition together with clearly discernible sections could have been useful to the visitors. As we said:

The implementation of these ideas will help communicate the messages of an exhibition more effectively to visitors, because it gives them a conceptual framework within which to receive the information. It would also give people the ability to dip into the aspects of the exhibition that most interests them without having to search for them.

(Bicknell et al. 1991:36)


My intent

The UK is experiencing a small boom of interest in museum-based evaluation work. Like many other booms it is associated with unconditional enthusiasm, ignorance, cowboys (and cowgirls) and some hostility. I hope that the examples I am going to share with you will move us towards a common understanding of what sort of findings can come from evaluation work and which methods can be used. In this chapter I first explain evaluation in a museum context and how it fits into a general communication strategy, and then I use the findings from four case-studies to illustrate both process and consequence. Finally I synthesize the general and the specific to confirm the title ‘here to help’.

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