Formative Evaluation #reboot

ROM image 1Thinking lots about formative evaluation, rapid prototyping and the like while we’re busy collecting visitor responses to reconfiguring some areas of the museum. Came across a Facebook post from my Canadian mate, W. Ryan Dodge, reporting on #ROMBeta, a formative evaluation project, where visitors give feedback in a dedicated space and in an easy way, put simply: Your ideas shaping your museum.

In my 2005 paper, Evaluation, Research and Communities of Practice: Program Evaluation in Museums, formative evaluation was described as:

“… [occurring] during the development and production phases [of an exhibition] to test physical exhibition components, such as text, graphics, object placement and interactives. Undertaking formative evaluation during the development stage using mock-ups of proposed exhibits, text panels and labels, as well as other communication tools, allows the findings to be incorporated into the finished product and to ‘… spot designs that do not work or communicate before it is too late to improve them’ (Screven, 1990, p.41). Repetitive methodologies are used to incorporate results from each study until the developers are satisfied with the item/s being tested. Smaller-scale samples of people are involved, using semi-structured interviews in conjunction with cued and non-cued observations (Griggs, 1981; McManus, 1991; Screven, 1990). Another useful technique is workshopping ideas and mock-ups with staff and special interest groups.” (Kelly, 2005, p.57-58).

ROM image 5In today’s digital world the fundamental nature of formative evaluation has changed – we can now get quick feedback online though easy-to-design and easy-to-upload surveys as well as via social media sites (Facebook and Twitter work well), or even through visitors’ mobile devices with voting apps, and a myriad of other kinds of tools. I believe, however, that good old-fashioned Post-it notes, pencils and sticky dots still manage to do an effective and fast job in formative testing, and we are certainly finding this in our round of feedback and testing. Also planning to take the #ROMBeta idea further here and apply it to a very large study I will be conducting later this year so will keep you posted.

ROM image 4Finally, in the spirit of #FF, here’s some relevant hashtags and museum evaluation folks to follow on Twitter:

Formative Evaluation References

  • Diamond, J. (1999). Practical Evaluation Guide: tools for museums and other informal educational settings. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
  • Griggs, S. (1981). Formative Evaluation of Exhibits at the British Museum (Natural History). Curator 24(3), pp.189-201.
  • Kelly, L. 2005. Evaluation, Research and Communities of Practice: Program Evaluation in Museums. Archival Science, 4(1-2), pp.45-69.
  • McManus, P. (1991). Towards Understanding the Needs of Museum Visitors. in Lord, G. and Lord, B. (eds) The Manual of Museum Planning. London: HMSO, pp.35-52.
  • Screven, C. (1990). Uses of Evaluation Before, During and After Exhibit Design, ILVS Review 1/2, pp.36-66.
  • Screven, C. (1995). Visitor-based exhibit planning: a question of survival. in Scott, C. (ed) Evaluation and Visitor Research in Museums: Towards 2000. Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, pp.81-82.
  • Taylor, S. (ed). (1991). Try It! Improving exhibits through formative evaluation. Washington D.C.: Association for Science and Technology Centres.

All images courtesy of Ryan Dodge’s Facebook page!


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