I bookmarked a guest post on Museum 2.0 a month ago. Now I feel guilty for not circling back to it sooner. Nina Simon invited Martin Brandt Djupdræt, a manager at Danish museum, to write about how his organization has all the decision makers interact with visitors as part of their audience research effort.
Their approach is super simple, though a little time consuming. A member of management approaches a random visitor and asks if they can follow the visitor around to observe where they go in the museum and what they interact with. Three weeks later they give the visitor a call and ask:
• why they chose this museum,
• what they noticed especially during the visit,
• whether they interacted with anyone, and
• whether they had talked to anyone about the museum after the visit, and what about
Every decision maker in the organization seems to be required to participate, from management to curators. Djupdræt says the goal is to get managers up and away from their desks interacting with people with whom they wouldn’t normally come in contact.
As you might imagine, what the managers and curators were sure people valued about the museum wasn’t quite accurate. Even those with more direct contact with visitors were surprised by what they learned.
The curators were surprised by how important other parts of the museum besides the historical content were for the visitor. The F&B manager and the head of HR were surprised by how many objects and stories the visitors were absorbed in. This has also given us insights into the work of our colleagues and made us appreciate their work to a larger extent. Now we all have useful and inspiring stories about visitors’ choices and the impact the museum had on them.
Another observation was the importance of food and drink. In our trackings we could see how much time the visitors spent on the museum’s eating places and the great social importance these breaks had. Something we learned about food through the interviews was that the guests consider the food at the museum as part of the museum’s storytelling. This insight has encouraged us to focus on food and food history as a priority topic at the museum, and a colleague is going to work particularly with that subject.
Visitors have always been a focus for the management, but the research have personalized our audience and they are discussed differently now. As the head of finance described it: “I normally look at whether a task is well done, financially possible and efficient, but now I also consider more seriously how a visitor would feel and react to the changes we plan.”
I especially wanted to include that last section as a reminder that measuring success by efficiency and expense doesn’t necessarily equate to providing a fulfilling experience.
One thing Djupdræt didn’t cover that I was curious about was why they waited three weeks to follow up. I didn’t know if that was a social practice in Denmark where it was rude to immediately survey people about their experience or if it was calculated to see how much of the visitor experience still made an impression three week later.
The whole article is a reminder not to depend entirely on surveys as an evaluation tool. Yes, it is an important practice to have people in the back office interacting directly in a focused manner with the people the organization serves, but there is also the shift of perspective this practice brings. You would assume a food and beverage manager would have fairly extensive interactions with visitors and would be paying close attention to trends. That person at the Djupdræt’s museum still found themselves surprised by some of the insights they gained.