#MEETDAY2018 #MGA2018

Created with Nokia Smart CamMEET is the annual gathering of educators, evaluators and technologists working across the cultural sector, held in conjunction with the MGA conference. The 2018 MEETDAY will be held on Monday 4 June, 9.30-5pm at the National Sports Museum, Melbourne Cricket Ground, with a morning session of keynote speaker and lightning talks, followed by an optional afternoon session of workshops and other goodies.

MEET 2018The overall theme of the day is making connections, and each Network is focusing on one of the other conference sub-themes:

  • Education – breaking barriers
  • Evaluation – championing innovation
  • Technology – places of engagement


Registration from 9am for 9.30am start

9.30 Welcome and introduction to MEET

9.35-10.15 Keynote Speaker Professor Genevieve Bell, ANU (includes question time)

Knowing our audience, knowing our tools and guiding our communities: given the current pace of change, how are we going to shape our future within the contexts of evaluation, technology and education?

10.15 Morning tea (provided)

10.45 Lightning Talks

There will around nine Lightning Talks – three from each Network. If you would like to propose a talk, complete this form by Monday 2 April. Please note that submission doesn’t necessarily mean acceptance.

12.00 Panel / wrap-up / Q&A

12.30 Lunch (provided, including tours of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the opportunity to visit the National Sports Museum)

2.00-5.00 Optional afternoon workshops:

  1. 2-3pm Easy 360 video creation – make your own 360 video in one hour! Jonny Brownbill, Museum Victoria
  2. 3-4pm Co-design – what it is and how to do it: case studies from the field Lynda Kelly, LyndaKellyNetworks / Andrew Hiskens and Linda Angeloni, State Library Victoria
  3. 4-5pm Voice to text chat interfaces – how can they be used in our institutions? Jonny Brownbill, Museum Victoria

Tours of National Sports Museum will run through the afternoon. There is a café downstairs for those who just want to chat.


To cover fees and expenses, we have priced MEET 2018 at:

  • $125 for MGA conference attendees
  • $150 non-conference attendees

If you have registered for the MGA conference go here to register and pay

If you are only attending MEETDAY go here to register and pay


  • Contact Dr Lynda Kelly, Convenor, Evaluation and Visitor Research National Network, evrnnma@gmail.com
  • Updates will be provided on the MEET website
  • Follow us on Twitter: #MEETDAY2018
  • And, go here to propose a Lightning Talk


NSM logo

MEETDAY2018 is supported by the National Sports Museum



Transformative Learning in #STEM at #ASTEN2017

TL group 1As part of the ASTEN conference in October, 2017, we had a session devoted to (you guessed it!) Transformative Learning (TL) with a focus on STEM. This post summarises the outcomes of the workshop, giving a science flavour to our discussion so far on TL.

At the beginning of the session, participants completed a feedback form asking them to describe a TL experience, then to tease out indicators they look for when visitors are having a TL experience – similar to the work we did with teachers and staff at MoAD.

As ASTEN participants are primarily based in science communication and science learning, their take on TL addressed mostly science experiences, with some synergies with the literature review of TL and STEM.

A TL STEM experience – some examples

  • The first time I saw a Bernoulli Blower exhibit in my first visit to a science centre.
  • Attending the Milan Furniture Fair and learning about European design / manufacturing … engaging with a manufacturer to develop one of my designs / products … innovative product recognised, feelings of empowerment, change, recognition.
  • Finally working out how an Archimedes screw worked … felt very much an “aha” moment when I could see exactly how it worked, and that I could make one.
  • First visit to Exploratorium, SF. Late in the afternoon, ran out of time. Lost track of my children because I was so busy, last to leave.
  • Making a water heater in our Maker Space – the heat lamp melted the tubing, water went everywhere but helped show me why hands-on is so important when forming ideas.
  • Primary school visit to Questacon – hands-on activities, I remember quite clearly visiting. One of the few excursion memories that I have.
  • Learning about air pressure and that vacuum cleaners don’t suck; the air is pushed into a space of low pressure. Changed the way I understand physics – helped with cleaning! – but the experience gave me a mindset to stop, step back, observe and see if I could explain phenomena differently.
  • Presenting shows and workshops. Became aware of how the presentation style and language used allows for an engaging, transformative experience. Learned how important story-telling was to communicate an idea.
  • Te Papa Bug Lab. Totally changed the way I saw and valued the physical / sculptural environment to immerse people in a completely unfamiliar world. WETA workshop expertise transformed an often icky topic (insects) into a magical wonderland where the humans were smaller than the bugs. Interactivity, conversation, innovation and mood creation deepened the experience for visitors of all ages.
  • Following the Copenhagen conference on climate was really influential. At the time I was working in science and really believed that in time science would steer the conversations – seeing the interplay between science, politics and culture during that time was powerful.
  • Time with a major Architect discussing informally the practice of how it connected to all the disciplines.
  • Learning the history of computer development and realising it was aligned with war (Computer History Museum, 2015). Felt shocked, looked around to see if others were experiencing the same thing.
  • Experiencing the southern night skies at Tekapo, NZ.
  • New job – steep learning curve.
  • When I was 3-4 years old visiting Queensland Museum and the turtle diorama had an interactive component (still does!), where you touched eggs o feel different temps to understand role t has in determining sex.

Indicators of a TL experience

From the feedback forms the following indicators were mentioned:

  • Making connections – cognitive, social/personal, identity, physical
  • Link it to their lives or translate into their life experiences
  • Change in behaviours or attitudes
  • Emotive response
  • Engagement – a ‘light bulb’ moment
  • “Ow wow!” – when you hear children calling out
  • Smiling, ‘wonderment’ on face, facial emotions
  • Having fun and engaging / interacting with objects
  • Noises of struggle but continued persistence
  • Lose track of time
  • Increase in dwell time
  • Focussed, moving slowly through a gallery space
  • Excitement
  • Exclamations – “that’s cool”, “come and look at this”, “I hadn’t thought of that”, “wow”
  • Anger at information presented – views and beliefs being challenged, shock
  • Open body language
  • Taking photos
  • Conversations, sharing experiences at the time or post-visit
  • Telling someone else about the changes
  • When a child and family are working together intensely at an exhibit, kids want to show parents, adult/child interaction
  • Test new learning in real life
  • Asking questions to further understand concepts
  • Come back for more

In the group report-back session we classified the indicators into a series of categories –  cognitive, behavioural, cognitive, emotional and social – as in the images below.

Thanks for participating in the session and I think we teased out some really good ideas, with some new and different takes on the subject, complementing the outcomes from the MoAD staff workshop and Canberra/ACT-based teachers.

Specific audience studies re-visited

As part of some work I’m doing am uploading a series of research reports here for easy access.

Older Audiences and Museums

IMG_20180226_114232.jpgOlder people are an important and increasing group of museum visitors, particularly in Australia. The proportion of the Australian population aged 65 years and over grew steadily during the twentieth century and is projected to grow further during this century. In 1901 there were 151,000 people aged 65 years and over living in Australia , or 4% of the population. By 1998 this number had increased to 2.3 million, or 12% of the total population. It is projected that by 2051 this will have grown to between 6 to 6.3 million, or around 24-26% of Australians.

During 2002 a collaborative study was developed and managed by the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, the Australian Museum, Sydney and Environmetrics, a private market research company in Sydney, into the needs and expectations of older visitors in order to recommend ways that museums can respond to these. The research targeted Australians aged 65 years and over and included those who currently visited and engaged with museums and those who didn’t. There were three phases to the project: an extensive literature review; a quantitative study via a telephone survey of Sydney and Canberra adults; and several qualitative projects consisting of depth interviews and discussion groups.

The published report , Energised, engaged, everywhere: Older Australians and Museums by Lynda Kelly, Gillian Savage, Peta Landman and Susan Tonkin (ISBN 0 7347 2311 3), provides comprehensive statistical and qualitative information about this group, specifically focussing on leisure habits and museum visiting. As well, a set of recommendations were made for museums to consider when programming for older audiences, listing over forty achievable things that museums can do to attract and satisfy older people that are universally applicable.

Download the report here: Older Audiences full report

Family Audiences and Museums

IMG_20180226_114254.jpgAcross the world, museums have paid considerable attention to the needs of children and families through the development of targeted exhibitions, activities and programs and as special-purpose areas. In 2004 a joint study was undertaken between the Australian Museum and the National Museum of Australia This study brought together current information about family visit experiences and made recommendations to enhance these.

There were two parts to this study: a literature review and field research. The detailed literature review includes studies spanning the past 70 years and was commissioned to obtain an up-to-date information about families; how they are defined, how they use museums and the ways that they learn. The field research included a total of 29 case study families in Sydney and Canberra who had visited either the Australian Museum or National Museum of Australia. The sample included a variety of family types with children under 12 years of age.

The report, Knowledge Quest: Australian Families Visit Museums, can be downloaded here: Knowledge Quest full report

Museum Audiences with Disabilities

IMG_20180226_114303.jpgOne in five Australians has some type of disability. People with disabilities represent a large, diverse and important audience for museums and galleries. The aim of this study, a collaboration between the Australian Museum, the National Museum of Australia and Accessible Arts was to give voice to the views of visitors with disabilities and suggest ways in which museums and galleries can better support their access needs.

Overall, it was found that people with a disability are supportive of museums and galleries, are motivated visitors and see museums and galleries as excellent environments for learning, education and social interaction. People with a disability have strong networks and often visit in groups or with friends and family. Ensuring their access needs are met offers the potential for museums to increase both visitor numbers and the diversity of their audience. In addition, by finding better ways to meet the needs of visitors with disabilities, museums and galleries will automatically be improving the visiting experience for all visitor groups.

The published report from the study, Many Voices Making Choices: museum audiences with disabilities by Peta Landman, Kiersten Fishburn, Lynda Kelly, and Susan Tonkin (ISBN 0 7347 2318 0), provides information about this audience, specifically focussing on their views about museums and museum visiting. As well, a set of recommendations were made for museums to consider when programming for these audiences, and a range of available resources are listed in the publication, which can be downloaded here: Many Voices full report

An audio transcript from the seminar held to launch the report (with instructions) can be accessed here.

The Young Adult Audience

The Pre-school audience




6P modelMy 2007 doctoral thesis investigated the question: What are the interrelationships between adult visitors’ views of learning and their learning experiences at a museum? I’m publishing it here for easy access and download (as well, I’m re-visiting some of this work for a range of different projects so wanted to have it to hand!).


Many museums around the world are reviewing the ways they are thinking about visitors and learning. Current theories of learning focus on the meaning individuals make based on their experiences — alone, within a social context and as part of a community. A critical aspect in better understanding the process of learning for individuals is to find out how people view themselves as learners across the rich array of available formal and informal learning experiences. Research has shown that when asked why they visit museums people often say “to learn” but there has been little exploration into what this means. What do museum visitors think learning is? How do visitors view themselves as learners within the context of a museum visit and does this change during and after their visit?

The research question investigated in this doctoral study was What are the interrelationships between adult visitors’ views of learning and their learning experiences at a museum? A key focus of the study was on how adults describe learning, the place of learning in their lives and where museums are situated. Other areas examined included the relationship between learning, education and entertainment, as well as the roles visitors play during a museum visit. The framework of learning identity was used to characterise how individuals describes themselves as learners within a sociocultural context, including their future views of learning and the roles learning plays in their lives.

The study was undertaken in two parts – Stage One investigated individuals’ personal philosophies and views about learning, and Stage Two explored how a museum exhibition experience provided insights into visitors’ learning identities.

It was found that participants in the study described learning in very rich and detailed ways, yet there were also a number of common ideas that emerged. It is proposed that museum learning can be framed under six interrelated categories – person, purpose, process, people, place and product – called the 6P model of museum learning. The literature review showed that visitors learn a great deal from museums across a diverse range of content areas and at many different levels. However, the method used in this study also revealed that visitors could learn more about the concept of learning as well as their own learning processes – likes, dislikes, preferred strategies – if they are encouraged to think about themselves as a learner before they engage with an exhibition.


The entire thesis can be downloaded here: FINAL THESIS FOR GRADUATION_KELLY

There are also individual chapters for download:

Co-design, co-curation, participation, crowdsourcing, etc – working with our audiences


My Cultural Object Program @austmus

As part of the Questacon work we are also looking at the issue of co-design – how to work with a variety of audiences, communities, etc in designing exhibitions and programs in a participatory way, encouraging a two-way relationship that generates positive benefits for all. These ideas (and a bit of history too!)are summarised in this post:  Ruminations on #crowdsourcing, participation and museums.

So again in the spirit of sharing, here are a range of co-design examples (in no particular order):


My Cultural Object Program @austmus

And, some co-design publications to read later:

Beyond facts and phenomena: Teaching and learning about science #TBT

heureka 2

Heureka, Finland

As part of this recent series on transformative learning and #STEM, this #throwbackthursday post revisits two articles that inspired me when undertaking my thesis (all those years ago!), while thinking about what they mean for transformative learning in 2018.

As I re-read my, somewhat battered, copy of a 1998 paper by James Bradburne, Dinosaurs and White Elephants: the Science Centre in the 21st Century, was reminded of how far we have come, yet also how so little has changed. Bradburne’s premise in this paper was that science museums need to fundamentally shift from being ‘fonts of scientific knowledge’ to showing visitors how to inquire. He identified a key number of trends impacting on science centres (and museums) and suggested that these institutions need to become a hybrid, or new learning platforms where users are considered as the starting point for effective learning. One measure of success suggested was that visitors leave “… not saying ‘I know’ but rather ‘I know how to know’” (p.119, emphasis in original).

There is an abundance of riches in this paper, so for the sake of brevity I’ll just summarise his conclusions (p.132-133):

  • Stress acquisition of new skills, not information: “These skills are largely shared by art, science and technology alike – creativity, collaboration, abstraction, thinking in terms of systems” and include finding, using, understanding and the ability to add to information
  • Turn visitors into users – find ways to embed our institutions within communities and encourage repeat use (visitation, whether physical or online) using lessons from how libraries operate
  • Think about “high value, not high volume” – find out how users learn and use this information in creating new experiences in an iterative (and design-thinking?) loop
  • Actively research visitors and share that knowledge, as well as using this knowledge to develop “effective new tools for teacher training”
  • Think global, act local – new learning platforms need to be based on what cannot be done somewhere else, using virtual communities to input to local communities and vice versa

Bradburne concluded by stating that the key to institutional survival is “… having the flexibility to respond to the needs of a wide variety of users” (p.133), and taking a leading role in informal learning by drawing on knowledge gained via research.

This led me to another paper, Perspectives on Learning Through Research on Critical Issues-Based Science Centre Exhibitions, by Erminia Pedretti (2004). In this the author talks about the new directions in science centres that go beyond ‘science as wonder’ and ‘objects as curiosities’ to an “emphasis on involvement, activity and ideas … [that include] social responsibility and the raising of social consciousness” (p.S35).

Pedretti outlines three types of science centre exhibits:

  • Experiential that enable visitors to experience phenomena
  • Pedagogical that set out to teach something
  • Critical that critically explore the nature of science, being: “… issues-based, inviting visitors to consider socioscientific material from a variety of perspectives, engage in decision-making and healthy debate of complex issues, and critique the nature and practice of science and technology … [emphasising] learning about science” (p.S36)

Pedretti concluded that critical exhibitions challenge visitors in different ways, appealing to a person’s intellect and emotions (sensibilities), enhancing learning by “… personalising subject matter, evoking emotion, stimulating dialogue and debate, and promoting reflectivity” (p.S45).

However, we know that visitors enjoy experiential exhibits, are naturally curious, like to learn (from simple facts to deep change), as well as engaging with exhibitions that make them think, so using the best elements from all three of these approaches may be the best way to develop and deliver transformative learning experiences.


Transformative Learning in #STEM: a literature review

questacon3Following from my previous post looking at further work in Transformative Learning, I have been reading some research that specifically relates to TL in STEM, which follows on neatly from previous literature, also reported on here. Three studies I found useful are summarised below.

In this context, a useful definition of a transformative experience was defined as “… a learning episode in which a student acts on the subject matter by using it in everyday experience to more fully perceive some aspect of the world and finds meaning in doing so” (Pugh, 2011, p.111).

STUDY 1: Pugh, et al, 2010. Motivation, Learning, and Transformative Experience: A Study of Deep Engagement in Science

This study, with high school biology students, researched TL in terms of how it relates to deep-level learning, with the premise that there is little evidence that TL happens outside of the classroom. It also looked at an interesting idea around how students saw themselves in relation to their ‘science identity’. Previous research cited (Roeser, et al, 2006; Roeser and Peck, 2009) found that identity plays a key role in science learning and motivation, and if the subject is perceived as relevant to their identity, particularly their science identity, students are more likely to have a TL experience. These findings are also echoed in the museum learning literature (see, for example Kelly, 2010; 2013).

The authors define a transformative experience as:

“… those experiences in which students actively use science concepts to see and experience their everyday world in meaningful, new ways” (p.2), in a way that “… yields value and an expanded perception” (p.4), and that involves “… a meaningful integration of science content into everyday experience, they are likely beneficial to successfully overcoming misconceptions and for facilitating transfer among conceptual ideas.” (p.2).

TL occurs at the interaction of “acquisition of conceptual understanding” coupled with “participation in a science discourse community” (p.2-3), with deep engagement being “critical for addressing conceptual learning in science” (p.3). This engagement is intense, emotional, behavioural, affective and cognitive, with “A realistic goal for educators may be to focus on developing engagement so that it becomes more transformative over time” (p.5).

What did they find?

  • TL is a desired goal in education but is hard to measure empirically
  • Transformative experiences could be seen as a “… continuum ranging from in-class engagement to active out-of-school engagement” (p.17)
  • Students that identified with science and who were motivated to achieve mastery of the subject were “… more likely to engage in higher levels of transformative experience” (p.19)
  • “… as students apply the concepts they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives by engaging in transformative experiences, they become more fluid and agile in thinking about these conceptions” (p.20)
  • One key outcome is the idea of seeing TL / transformative experiences as a continuum of engagement, with the critical role of science educators, in particular, inspiring and encouraging a TL experience in how they engage students with the content

STUDY 2: Girod, et al, 2010. Teaching and learning science for transformative, aesthetic experience

This paper argues that although science learning is traditionally based on conceptual change via resolving discrepancies, there is also the need to consider the importance of “art, beauty and aesthetics” (p.802). These authors draw heavily on Dewey’s philosophies around the importance of aesthetics in TL and how applicable these are to contemporary science education and learning. They argue that:

“Key outcomes for teaching and learning from the transformative, aesthetic perspective include seeing the world differently, desiring to live and act differently in the world, seeing oneself differently as a result of new learning, as well as conceptual understanding of powerful content” (p.805).

These are all outcomes that easily translate to a museum / science centre experience, as previous work on TL at the Museum of Australian Democracy identified (see this post for more).

Girod, et al’s research compared two types of teaching styles – one with the goal of transformative / aesthetic learning and the other using a more ‘traditional’ cognitive / rational frameworks as below:

instruction styles table

What did they find?

  • “Students learning for transformative, aesthetic experiences reported higher levels of interest in science and experienced greater increases in efficacy beliefs about themselves as science learners” (p.819)
  • Those in the TL / aesthetics group were more inclined to see the world differently, continue to investigate the world using ideas learned in class, and retained conceptual learning over a longer time-frame

The authors did report that while the research has limitations and further research is needed, the study does offer evidence to “… consider refocusing science education goals not only around cognitive, rational outcomes like problem-solving and conceptual understanding but to also include teaching and learning for transformative, aesthetic experience” (p.820, emphasis added).

STUDY 3: Pugh, et al, 2017. Profiles of Transformative Engagement: Identification, Description, and Relation to Learning and Instruction.

This paper addresses the question “Do science students engage with school content in their everyday out-of-school lives?”, and if so, what does that look like? The authors state that a “… positive relationship has been found between transformative experiences and levels of science learning” (p.7), identifying three essential characteristics of a transformative experience (p.5-6):

  • Motivated use – the application of school content in out-of-school contexts where application is not required
  • Expansion of perception – the process of successively seeing deeper layers of meaning as a result of using school content as a lens for viewing of ‘re-seeing’
  • Experiential value – the enrichment of everyday experience; specifically, the value attached in using science to see the world differently

It was surmised that the way students are instructed is critical to laying the foundations for a transformative experience. The instructional model used in this study was Teaching for Transformative Experiences in Science (TTES), which offers a useful way of thinking about how science-based programs could be developed in out-of-school contexts, being based on:

  1. Framing content as ideas
  2. Use of scaffolding and re-seeing
  3. Modelling transformative experiences

This study with sixth-grade earth science students in the US explored students’ transformative experiences under two different teaching conditions – one using the TTES and the other using conventional methods.

What did they find?

  • Instruction based on the TTES model (above) resulted in higher transformative engagement with science, and deeper learning
  • These students were also more likely to report seeking out opportunities to to learn more about a science-related topic both in-school and out-of-school
  • Students need some kind of scaffolding when applying content to everyday experiences and in seeing the world differently

Final thoughts

Taken together, these three studies reveal that encouraging a positive science identity (“I am a science-person”), coupled with addressing aesthetic experiences, and instruction based on an inquiry-based framework offer ways to think further about how to effectively engage students with science-based concepts, particularly in out-of-school contexts, like Questacon.



Transformative learning #reboot (and #STEM too!)

questacon2The Transformative Learning (TL) adventures continue.

I’ll be conducting a workshop with staff from Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, Canberra, to assist them develop a shared understanding of visitor learning in order to figure out what questions we then need to ask to uncover visitors’ learning experiences. The goal is for staff to be better able to design programs for visitors that promote learning within a co-design framework (more on that later…).

TL has been defined as “The process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action” (Mezirow ,1996, p.162). And, “There seems to be no doubt that transformative learning is voluntary. People may not always deliberately set out to critically question their beliefs and values; many times transformative learning is prompted by an outside event…” (Cranton, 2016, p.6).

TL is an important concept for Questacon, given its focus on STEM education across a wide variety of audiences, and at this critical point in time where we need science more than ever, institutions like science centres and museums can be that ‘voluntary, outside event’ that triggers some deep change in visitors.

In the lead-up to the workshop, this post re-visits the TL desk research undertaken as part of work with the Museum of Australian Democracy in 2017:

Over the next few days will be posting more around TL and STEM, as well as some readings on co-design as we ramp up to next week’s workshop, so follow this blog to keep updated.

Penguins, Postcards, Pledges: visitors and a “call to action” #TBT #musdigi

Audience Research

Climate Change Feedback Postcard – Stop Crime

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.


c. penguinpromises.com

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):

  1. Encourage visitors to connect emotionally with the animals
  2. Focus on specific pro-environmental behaviours and provide suggestions on how to undertake them
  3. Provide opportunities for visitors to reflect
  4. Consider visitor motivations for conservation action – egocentric rather than altruistic reasons may be more effective
  5. 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
  6. Use iconic, live animals as the focus for the action campaign
  7. 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.



Wonder, learning (and empathy) in museums

wonderWas reading an interview with the new CEO of Museums Victoria, Lynley Marshall, who talked about the sense of wonder and amazement that visitors can have at museums. Having witnessed this many times in my audience research career, I got to thinking about how museums could then design experiences that foster a sense of wonder and what that means for visitor learning outcomes.

While working in the US last year I came across this chapter, From Indifference to Activation: How Wonder Fosters Empathy In and Beyond Informal Science Centres (Ausman, et al, 2016), which contains some useful ideas about how informal science centres and museums can play a role in invoking wonder through hands-on, interpretive and social experiences, while also fostering critical thinking, empathy and activism. In their words:

“… wonder is an innate human response to the world, … an emotional state of mind … [uniting] us as thinking and feeling beings. At its core is curiosity, for without being curious, one cannot succumb to wonder. When people experience wonder, they respond emotionally. As wonder is an emotional response, and empathy relies upon sharing another’s emotions: these two are inextricably linked” (p.93).

The authors talk about wonder as being “… no longer merely an object at which to marvel; instead, it is an experience that motivates and inspires” (p.94). They report on research at the Carolina Raptor Centre and the Discovery Place that examined the impact of wonder using observations, focus groups with front-line staff and staff surveys, asking the question “When [staff] observed wonder occurring, what did it look like?” (p.96), and also what were visitors then “doing with that experience” (p.97, emphasis in original). Their conclusion was that “… igniting wonder is much like igniting a fire” (p.97) and they developed the Wonder Triangle, a very useful, and usable way, to think about how to incite wonder, as per the figure below.

wonder chapter

Ausman, et al, 2016, p.97

The triangle contains:


  • Fuel = content + capacity to capture and keep a visitor’s interest
  • Heat = emotional wonder – the Wow moment when visitors reactions are both visible or audible [also known as that Ah-hah moment] + prior knowledge, experience and personal connection
  • Oxygen = cognitive wonder to allow the fire to keep burning, the How moment when visitors ask a question or makes a supposition, creating a deeper investment in the subject which they then share with others

Another interesting idea was around the definition of wonder, with one of them being ‘to doubt’. Again, in the research they found that ‘doubtful’ visitors are more likely to experience wonder, as they need to establish a personal connection and move through doubt to curiosity to wonder to awe and become more likely to then share their experiences, leading to a potential activist mind-set.

Wonder and empathy (and activism)

There has been lots written lately about how museums need to be more empathetic and encourage action (see for example, Mike Muraswski, The Urgency of Empathy and Social Impact in Museums), and the authors have linked the idea of wonder with empathy (and then activism) in a way I had never really thought about before.

During their observations looking at wow moments, they found that these mostly occurred when another “… human was there to make or share that connection with them” (p.102). This led the authors to link wonder and empathy together: “… [the] connection between wonder and empathy is natural. When you experience a wonder moment and then share it with others (empathy), you are moving up the wonder scale to activation”. (p.106). Empathy takes wonder to a higher level as the sharing of experiences and reactions with another person can result in some response, followed by subsequent dialogue about the experience: “Taking the risk of sharing one’s wonder with another person is a vulnerable position, and yet it is a key element in the cycle of wondering and learning.” (p.106).

They conclude that:

“… when our visitors feel they are empowered with the knowledge and wonder to question and debate the science issues that face our society and our world, their collective voices are louder and stronger. We hope that in those moments they will recall the wonder they experienced as learners at our informal science centres and channel that wonder into a positive impact on our collective future” (p.111).

And isn’t that a wonder-ful thing to aspire to!


Some Empathy Readings