Improving Visitor Evaluation at the British Museum

Sponsor: The British Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation
Student Team: Karla Cuellar, Erinn Jambor, Parshon Sorornejad, Samuel Talpey
Abstract: The purpose of this project was to collaborate with the Interpretation Team at the British Museum to streamline the process of visitor evaluation. We reviewed best practices and technologies used in visitor evaluation by museums in general and the British Museum in particular. We developed an innovative toolkit for conducting visitor evaluation studies and visualizing the results in easy and intuitive ways. We used a temporary display room, Room 3, as the baseline for our approach. The team devised a README file to instruct the Museum staff and volunteers how to bridge the tools together. We recommend the British Museum use tools like Microsoft Excel and Visio and SurveyJS to obtain the necessary materials to gather, analyze, and visualize data using our prototype toolkit application.
Link: Improving Visitor Evaluation at the British Museum Final Report

Executive Summary

Museums are using visitor experience and audience studies to learn more about visitor interests and expectations so they can improve the entire visitor experience and enhance learning. The British Museum aims to better understand the impact that the Museum has on its visitors and to do so, it requires better and more practical tracking tools that would also allow them to analyze this data. For larger galleries and special exhibitions, the Museum typically hires outside consultants to conduct evaluations using best practices. Many other smaller evaluations are conducted in-house by staff, students, and volunteers. Due to a lack of resources and technology, most of these in-house evaluations use pen-and-paper methods to collect observational and exit survey data. These methods necessitate cumbersome and time-consuming data entry and analysis. Thus, the Museum is seeking an innovative digital tool to help streamline this process of data collection, analysis, and visualization. The goal of this project was to develop this tool. Our project had two objectives:

    1. Review best practices and available technologies used in museum visitor evaluation
    2. Develop and suggest an innovative toolkit for use in easily conducting visitor evaluation studies and visualizing the gathered data

We used an understanding of visitor evaluation and tracking techniques as well as software available across multiple platforms to complete these objectives.

We first sought information on visitor observation and tracking methods and potential software tools used by museums to analyze and visualize gathered data. Originally, we set out to conduct interviews with experts in the field of visitor studies to gather their insight on potential tools or ideas for innovative evaluation tools. However, given the circumstances of COVID-19, our research was limited to reviewing previous evaluation studies conducted by the British Museum and peer reviewed literature written by museum and visitor evaluation experts.

We identified multiple methods, including Bluetooth, GPS, LIDAR sensors, radio frequency identification (RFID), ultra-wideband (UWB), and ultrasound, as possible tools that the British Museum could use to track visitors. None of these tools would be a realistic option for the Museum, however, due to their lack of accessibility, cost, and difficulty to implement and maintain (Montanes, Rodriguez, & Prieto, 2013).

Once data is collected, there are many different options for visualizing visitor movement data depending on the desired analysis. One way visitor movements can be shown is through having each visitor be represented by a different color when their path is tracked. This shows the complete movement of each visitor, nor the holding power of each object or area. Heat maps are another way visitor movement can be visualized. Heat maps are beneficial because they intuitively and concisely show the holding power of areas and objects. Another way to visualize tracking data is by using decay curves or other analytical graphs. Decay curves can show the dwell time of the visitors and how long they remained in the exhibit.

Following our review of best practices, we obtained information on the current protocols that the Museum staff and volunteers follow for their visitor evaluation studies. The most pressing issue with the Museum’s current visitor evaluation system is that the pen-and-paper evaluation sheets must be completed by hand and then manually input into a system for data visualization. This method of visitor evaluation leads to several intermediate steps that are required for data to be gathered, processed, and then visually depicted for accurate understanding. Thus, we aimed for finding improved methods that would expedite transition between data entry and data visualization. To complete this task, we opted to focus on a small-scale example to create a foundation for developing and testing tools that could be used in a larger scale setting. Therefore, we targeted Room 3 as the baseline to develop and test the toolkit.

Using the gathered information from our research on the Museum’s current practices, we developed a set of design criteria. We needed a toolkit that would be able to handle all aspects of visitor evaluation, including the gathering and analysis of data pertaining to interviews, observations, and visitor tracking. Most importantly, the Museum desired tools that would not only streamline the process of gathering and analyzing data, but also visualizing the data so that the entirety of the Museum staff would understand the information. To do so, we needed to find tools that were easily accessible to both our team and the Museum.

Due to the Museum’s relatively low budget on software, we required tools that were inexpensive and/or readily available on almost all devices. In the case of the British Museum, the Microsoft Office Suite is available on all of their systems, which meshed well with our design criteria and solved the issue of both budget and availability for features such as designing floor plans. It was essential that we devised a toolkit that was not only easily manipulated, but that could be picked up and used by all Museum staff and volunteers.

Microsoft Visio was explored as a potential software for use in streamlining the process of gathering and visualizing tracking data. Visio provides a simplistic toolkit that can be used to create floor plans in a short amount of time. The program uses a scaled measuring system to allow the user to make designs as accurate as possible. Visio’s ease of use may be useful for the Museum, for it provides the Interpretation Team with a platform to design, create, and modify floor plans for its different galleries and exhibits. Although Visio has a function that allows data to be attributed to different objects in a floor plan, it does not provide an intuitive or visually exciting way of representing the data.

Microsoft Power Map was explored as a possibility for creating dynamic 3D maps that display data in an intuitive way over existing floor plans. This is because Power Map provides more insight than a 2D map and better visual representation of information. It allows for spatial and temporal data to be visible on custom maps created with images of floor plans. Ideally, this tool provides the Museum with an innovative and different way of presenting the information they seek with their tracking studies for their own analysis and evaluations.

Additionally, we explored another important aspect of visitor evaluation, which includes a better way of conducting exit interviews and surveys digitally. Multiple survey tools were considered and compared according to criteria discussed verbally on multiple occasions with Stuart Frost. We considered that the three best options are Survey Monkey, Survey Legend, and Survey Anyplace.

However, as we moved towards integrating spatial tracking with volunteer observations, we learned of SurveyJS. SurveyJS is an online tool that allows for surveys and forms to be added into a website or app by producing code that can be easily implemented into the backend code of the web application. It allows for:

  • Different options of question formatting that can be edited at any point
  • Offline collection of data if the application running the survey allows for it
  • Unlimited responses that can be exported if the application allows for it
  • No cost to the Museum

Most importantly, SurveyJS allowed us to potentially incorporate observations and surveys into a tracking application. Given these advantages, we selected this tool moving forward.

Development of the toolkit and a unifying application changed in scope multiple times throughout this project, eventually becoming a prototype for our toolkit application thanks to new information. In order to use the toolkit as a cohesive unit, it was designed as a static webpage that displays all the information and tools necessary for tracking.

The app was designed with modularity in mind, such that users can change the survey or floor plan within the tool with ease; all a user must do is move the proper files (e.g. image, coordinates, survey) into the same folder as the application, or into a file for storing said information. This way, users require no technical knowledge to be able to use the toolkit. The application is also able to upload the results of a tracking study to a spreadsheet at the user’s request, preventing the need for manual entry of observations and exit interview results. As the app is only a prototype, it is restricted in some ways. For example, the tool is designed to upload one study at a time, i.e., the user must create and insert new floor plans for every room they wish to study. Once the tools were assembled and operational, the team devised a README file (Appendix A) to instruct the Museum staff and volunteers on how to prepare and use the suggested tools for future evaluation studies. In addition to in-line commenting within the code itself, so as to improve readability and comprehension for future editors, the README document also provides information on how to utilize the application and its accompanying tools.