Throughout my long audience research career and, more recently, conducting research around Transformative Learning Experiences it’s always challenge to think about how to inspire visitors to take action after they leave an exhibition, an event / program, or another kind of encounter. A recent workshop with staff at the Museum of Australian Democracy generated a range of actions (measures) we’d like to encourage visitors to take after an interaction / visit to their site as outlined here.
In a climate change exhibition I worked on at the Australian Museum, visitors were asked to leave a postcard with their thoughts about what they will now do after seeing the exhibition as outlined here: What will visitors do about climate change?
Other work uncovered transformative learning experiences as reported by visitors, ranging from learning new facts, sharing ideas with others, to some change in or a questioning of deeply-held attitudes and opinions, and therefore, transforming themselves in the process.
Although some of the above provides clues into visitors’ post-visit motivations, without following up on their actual behaviours, whether in the short or longer-term, it is a bit difficult to track changes and actions. This issue was also identified in this blog post: How do museums help people to hold on to inspiration and act? on the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice blog.
Well, there is hope! For this #throwbackthursday post I’m reporting on two readings that address this very idea – the first, a research project looking at a conservation action campaign in a South African aquarium, and the second, an example of embedding practical ways to assist visitors take immediate action within an exhibition.
Penguin Promises: encouraging aquarium visitors to take conservation action
Most wildlife tourism attractions have as their goal to encourage some kind of post-visit conservation action, yet there has been little assessment of how effective these are. Some research suggests that campaigns need to target specific behaviours, and that by making a ‘formal’ commitment or a pledge, people will be more inclined to change their behaviour.
This 2017 paper, by Judy Mann, Roy Ballantyne and Jan Packer, investigated a conservation action program at the uSkaka Sea World, South Africa, Penguin Promises, to look at this very issue: do visitors take long-term conservation action/s after a visit? At uShaka, visitors to two different exhibits (one with animals and one without) were encouraged to write a pledge on a postcard, and then contacted 12-18 months later about the outcome of their pledge.
The research found that “… 54.6% claimed they could remember their promise, and 50.3% claimed to have kept it. [and] … 49.4% of all respondents could give an example of something positive that they had done for the environment and that they attributed to their visit…” (p.7).
One key finding was that feeling an emotional connection with animals was a key influence on visitors. Interestingly in my work on visitor behaviour found that “… where available live displays are the most attractive for visitors” (Kelly, 2009). Coupled with this, work by Ausman, et al (2016) looking at wonder showed that “… wonder is strongest and deepest during interactions with animals or other human beings” (p.107).
So, why don’t people keep their promises? Again, the Mann, et al research suggested that while lack of time, money and knowledge were cited, most people just forgot, suggesting that some kind of post-visit follow up may be effective and useful for visitors.
Finally, the authors outline seven ways to promote the adoption of conservation behaviours (p.11-12):
- Encourage visitors to connect emotionally with the animals
- Focus on specific pro-environmental behaviours and provide suggestions on how to undertake them
- Provide opportunities for visitors to reflect
- Consider visitor motivations for conservation action – egocentric rather than altruistic reasons may be more effective
- Make them make an effort – encourage visitors to commit their behavioural promises to paper and provide post-visit resources to support behaviour change at home
- Use iconic, live animals as the focus for the action campaign
- Design experiences that help visitors make connections between their visit and their everyday lives
Overall, a really useful paper with a comprehensive bibliography, and it can be accessed via this link.
How do you inspire visitors to take action after they leave?
The ever-reliable Nina Simon reported on an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth and Foster Youth Museum, where they wanted visitors to “…. feel empowered to take action and know how to do so”. The great thing about this was the practical way that visitors could take something away to take action on – not big (often unachievable) ideas but a focus on what they termed “the little things” which they crowd-sourced from their exhibition partners. The final exhibit used business cards: “… the front of each card shares the action, and the back shares the contact info for the person/organisation to make it happen.”
A simple, yet more importantly, a trackable idea, that could also be applied across number of exhibition topic areas. More here.
Some final thoughts
Another take on this issue can also be found in the work of Ausman, et al, in a 2016 paper (summarised here) who suggested using the concept of wonder as a way to inspire visitors to take action. And finally, this (just in!) via Colleen Dilenschneider – Brain Wave Activity Reveals When Visitors Are Most Engaged With Exhibits – with data demonstrating what we evaluators have long-known:
“The average visitor is most engaged at the onset of the exhibit, … After three minutes, brain activity levels decrease to Beta-levels. Brain activity remains at Beta-levels throughout the balance of the exhibit, on average. … [Therefore, make] sure that if the exhibit has a critical takeaway, it is introduced at the beginning of the narrative experience when people are most engaged” (emphasis added).
Using a combination of the ideas outlined above will not only make our exhibitions more engaging for visitors, they provide the potential for a longer-term positive impact, via an achievable (for visitors) and a manageable (for museums) call-to-action.
- Ausman, M., Miler Houck, M and Corbin, R. (2016). From Indifference to Activation: How Wonder Fosters Empathy in and Beyond Informal Science Centres. In Gokcigdem, E. Fostering Empathy Through Museums. Rowman and Littlefield: London. 93-114.
- Dilenschneider, C. (2018). Brain Wave Activity Reveals When Visitors Are Most Engaged With Exhibits. Know Your Own Bone blog post.
- Kelly, L. (2009). Audience Research: Visitor Behaviour: What do people do when they visit a museum? Australia Museum blog post.
- Mann, J., Ballantyne, R. and Packer, J. (2017). Penguin Promises: encouraging aquarium visitors to take conservation action. Environmental Education Research. Accessed via the Penguin Promises website.
- Simon, N. (2017). How Do You Inspire Visitors to Take Action After They Leave? Museum 2.0 blog post.