Conducting Audience Research at the Charles Dickens Museum in 2024


Sponsor: Charles Dickens Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Cindy Sughrue and Jordan Evans
Student Team: Ryan Dalton, Trevor Mohlman, Nikolaos Pallis, Jared Revell
Abstract: Like other museums in London and elsewhere, the Charles Dickens Museum suffered a dramatic decline in attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but museum attendance has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. Building on prior research, our study aimed to understand how visitor demographics, interests, and expectations and community engagement have evolved since the pandemic. Through interviews and observations, we identified visitor characteristics, local perceptions, and barriers to attendance. The vast majority of visitors to the Dickens Museum are immensely satisfied, but there are still opportunities to improve the visitor experience. We recommend enhancing accessibility, targeted marketing, and improving the labels to increase legibility.

Conducting Audience Research at the Charles Dickens Museum in 2024,

Presentation-Conducting Audience Research at the Charles Dickens Museum in 2024

Executive Summary

Background and Methods

Museums are a staple of education and entertainment across a wide range of visitor demographics, and they can be driving forces for tourism and economic growth for their local community. The Charles Dickens Museum, a heritage house in London, has commissioned a team of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to follow up on a previous visitor study, completed by another WPI team in 2022, as part of their efforts to remain aware of their audience’s experience and expectations.

The main goal of the project was to determine the demographic characteristics, interests, and expectations of visitors to the Charles Dickens Museum, and how those characteristics have evolved since the COVID-19 pandemic. The team identified three main objectives: interview and observe current visitors to see how they interact with the museum; determine levels of awareness and engagement of the local community; and complete comparative analysis with the 2022 study.


Visitor Demographics

The team collected demographic information from exit interviews. Based on our findings, about 88% of participants identified as White or White British, and about 70% of participants stated they were from the UK. Furthermore, approximately 78% of participants were aged 45 or older, while the gender distribution among participants was relatively even, with about 54% identifying as female.

Visitor Experience

Visitors overwhelmingly had a positive experience at the museum, with 98% of visitors reporting that they had a “good” or “excellent” experience, and more than 95% of visitors also remarking that they would recommend the museum as a place to visit. Dickens’s study was a standout space, with 23% of visitor responses mentioning the room or the writing desk inside as one of the highlights of their visit. Other favorite rooms included the Kitchen, the Dining Room, and the Bedrooms. Visitors also enjoyed getting a sense of Dickens’s life and their conversations with room stewards.

Observations and exit interviews also collected visitor feedback about how the museum could potentially improve. About a quarter of visitors had no suggestions for improvement. Some of the feedback we received included: requests for an increased focus on Dickens’s books; issues with the audio guide; difficulties reading certain labels or written artifacts; and requests for the museum to include more biographical information on Dickens. The team also received feedback suited to potential future exhibitions, such as an exhibit on modern adaptations of Dickens’s work, or on the women in Dickens’s life, especially his wife.

Community Involvement

Out of the 24 people surveyed, 70% were interested in visiting the Charles Dickens Museum, with more than 50% stating that a local discount or a special event and/or exhibition would motivate them to visit. 56% of the interviewees held a positive view of Charles Dickens, with no negative opinions being reported. Lastly, the average age of the interviewees was seen to be younger than that of the exit interviewees, and more than 40% expressed that they rely on the Internet as a source for local activities, while 25% rely on word of mouth, indicating possible avenues that the museum can explore to expand their audience to this younger demographic.


Audio Tour

Many visitors were unaware of the audio tour both prior to their visit and during the purchasing of their tickets. We recommend that the museum increase billing of the audio tour on their website and during ticket purchases, including a notice to bring headphones or earbuds if visitors plan on using the guide. We also recommend including more technological support for the audio guide, such as on the audio guide platform or in the museum map.

There were also some issues with connectivity to the audio tour, especially in the basement. The team recommends ensuring that the Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to support the audio guide in all rooms, and that visitors be advised to connect to Wi-Fi when they begin using the audio guide.

Labels and Transcription

Many visitors expressed their difficulty reading and understanding handwritten letters and documents displayed due to unclear handwriting and low lighting. We recommend providing complete transcriptions of these written artifacts and increasing the brightness or contrast of each label in order to enhance readability.

Several visitors were confused with the origin of certain artifacts, and some expressed their desire for more historical and biographical context. To distinguish which items were owned by Dickens and which are more representative of a Victorian atmosphere, we recommend increased labeling, clearly indicating artifact origins. In addition, we recommend the promotion and wider distribution of the handout that includes historical information on Dickens, or its integration into the audio guide QR code system.

Lastly, we recommend increasing signposting of the desired path through the museum, as well as adding labels to rooms, as a means of aiding visitors in navigation.

Awareness of Museum and Programs

Many visitors discovered the museum through third party platforms rather than its own social media or website. To enhance outreach efforts, the team recommends the museum establish a dynamic social media presence, including content such as exhibits or interactive features, targeting a younger demographic.

Moreover, there appeared to be a lack of awareness among visitors regarding certain museum events and programs, which are not prominently advertised within the museum or on their website. The museum provides guided tours and offers its venue for private parties, providing a unique opportunity to engage with audiences. These promotions are not easily accessible on the museum website, so we recommend the museum improve the visibility of these promotions on their website and social media to showcase these events. Additionally, we recommend putting more flyers onsite at the museum about these events in high traffic areas such as the tearoom or gift shop. Implementing these recommendations will allow the museum to maximize its influence on the public and potentially increase visitation across new audiences.