Sunday, July 11, 2010

Formative Evaluations

My last project at the DIA was just as fun and interesting as everything else I had been working on all summer, and I'm a little disappointed that I didn't have more time to get involved with it.

Museum evaluation is actually very interesting to me.  I like to know how the visitors perceive the museum-- is it meeting their needs?  Their expectations?  Are they enjoying themselves?  Are they actually learning anything?  Is our message being received by the public?  And I find evaluation to be tied very closely to education, as the answers to the above questions are generally addressed by an educator.

The DIA appears to take evaluation very seriously.  They have their own evaluation department that works with many areas of the museum (staff engagement surveys to membership evaluations and visitor surveys). 

My last project involved formative evaluations of some labels for an upcoming exhibition called, "Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries".  I wish I were going to be in town for it-- it sounds pretty cool. 

The DIA actually tests every label before it goes up on the wall.  More specifically, they test interpretive labels and texts.  Those labels that just describe the artwork don't really change.  I love this.  I love the idea of presenting the draft of the label to the public, asking if the text works for them.  It just makes so much sense.  And honestly, it's not that much work.  I know it sounds really labor intensive to test every single label, but it's just not that bad.

All of the necessary supplies for label evaluations

Each draft label is printed out on regular paper and taped to a wall in the museum (frankly, in the scope of this entire project, I was most nervous about taping things to the walls of the DIA) and then 10 visitors are asked to read the label(s) and answer some questions about what they read.  Generally, 2 labels are tested each time so it goes pretty quickly.

The draft label on the wall, along with sample artworks

For two days, I was charged with standing near the Rivera Court, temporarily mounting the draft labels, and interviewing 10 people per day about their thoughts on the texts.  I really liked it.

To some, I'm sure this sounds like a painful task, but I really enjoyed for a couple of reasons.  First, I got to talk to visitors.  I love talking to visitors.  A buddy and colleague of mine, who works at another museum said, "I take my employee badge off when I walk through the galleries so no one will ask me anything".  We could not be more different in that respect.  In his defense, he's only been working at his current museum for a few months, so he doesn't really have the knowledge base to feel comfortable answering visitors' questions.  I, on the other hand, have been coming to the DIA for the better part of my lifetime and can tell you where the bathrooms are without blinking.

As a "prize" for participating, each visitor gets a postcard of an artwork in the DIA.

One of my "hobbies" while at the DIA this summer, was to walk around the galleries when I had some down time, and listen to people's conversations.  It sounds creepy, but I'm interested in what they are saying about the art and about the museum.  I like listening to how adults talk about art with kids, and how people engage with each other in conversations about art.

So it was a real treat for me to stand in the hallway and ask visitors questions.  Plus, I was able to give directions to elevators and bathrooms all day.

The other thing I liked about this project was seeing the results.  Because each label is only read and evaluated by 10 people, it's possible to see the results very quickly.  For example, after about 6 interviews, I was able to find a pattern and see that people had trouble understanding the third paragraph of a certain label. 

It's instant evaluation gratification and I loved it.