A museum can dazzle and fascinate those that walk through its doors. However, how does a museum get people to come inside? Can a museum use commercial methods of data mining to get people inside? While many of the things a company will do may seem unethical and downright creepy, does this same weirdness apply to the trusted institution that is a museum? In this week’s blog I wish to discuss the pros and cons of using patrons’ data and how we can go about collecting and using this data in an effective way that is more helpful and wont be viewed as creepy.

In the commercial world, people freak when they realize just how much their technology is “following them.” On the Today Show, Jeff Rossen asks the live audience if they were aware their service providers were able to follow them. Many did not. They were shocked and wary about the companies possession of their data and many past recordings. In general, with the advent of hackers and hacking, people are more cautious than ever about giving out their personal information, like credit card information and birthdays. However, these same people admitted that they would cave if they felt that the benefits outweighed the risk.

People do not like to feel marketed and to have their information bundled and sold as a commodity. There is an extreme issue of non-transparency. When giving personal information to a company or website an uncertainty exists of whether the information given will be sold to a third party or not. This uncertainty continues to grow as the commercial world continues to lack boundaries to what they are willing to do. With little to no federal laws to protect against data farming, there is almost no line that will not be crossed. With that said, using these technologies in a museum might not have that same effect of turning people off.

A museum is viewed as one of the most trusted of public institutions. There is a transparency that can be seen throughout. People view the museum as a holder of truth and can’t fathom that anyone in a museum would try to do them harm. Therefore, the argument can be made that people will be more trusting that any information collected by the museum will not be divulged to random third parties and that everything will be used for the benefit of the museum, which is in essence, also, for the benefit of the community at large.

However, not all information needs to be gathered in creepy ways. While observation and tracking do involve actions that can be viewed negatively, those are not the only ways that information can be ascertained. There are other ways of gathering visitor feedback with the full knowledge and consent of the patrons. There are surveys that can be taken at the exit which visitors can rate their experiences, positive or negative. We can even add a suggestion option in which they can suggest whatever they think would make the next visitors experience even better. Then there is also the possibility of conducting exit interviews in the exhibit – sometimes very candidly – asking them what they felt about the exhibit. While this is usually one on one, or even one on two, sometimes we want to get a group of people to gauge their varied experiences and thus focus groups are created. Focus groups can sometimes last for hours, yet in those meetings the peoples views can legitimately be dealt with, and any issues resolved.

There are many ways to efficiently use all types of data. Quantitative data tells us the raw numbers –how many people visited the museum, how many people visited the online websites, how many people tagged or posted about the museum. All this data and more can be quantified and used as a guide for future interactions. As discussed in this week’s breakout groups, quantitative information can be useful for planning family events and estimating how many people might visit a certain event or exhibit based off past quantitative data. By knowing the raw demographics, we can know whether our target audience is visiting in the numbers we thought they might. If according to the data we see that for whatever unknown reason the numbers don’t add up, then we can use qualitative data – learned from the different type of information evaluations mentioned in the previous paragraph – to understand why the numbers aren’t the same and maybe what we can do to achieve the desired outcome.

But this is not the only way to improve or troubleshoot our exhibits. Museums have come up with tests to check into how each exhibit is holding up. These three tests examine the exhibit in three crucial phases: at the beginning, or front end, when ideas are still being put together and nothing is set in stone; at the middle, or the formative, when there is a test on the program and its development on whether it will work and the people will come use it; or lastly, the summative, which is similar to an exit survey where the question is asked did the exhibit work and did the viewers take away the message intended.

When people visit a museum they want to see that there is a framework in place for their visit. (They may choose to opt out of using the guided framework, but they want their own options.) When each person has his/ her own reasons for coming to the museum it becomes hard to satisfy each and every person with their own experience. If a person seeking one experience in the museum visits and gets that experience it is a sign of a good visitor experience, e.g., a person who visited to relax and leaves recharged. However, a sign of an excellent visitor experience is someone who came in for one experience and received that experience in addition to receiving a second one, that in the visitors mind was completely unexpected and unplanned. For example, if a father visits the MOMA to teach his child what art means, he becomes the facilitator, if at the same time he relaxes because of the calm and serene environment that is around him he also becomes a Recharger. Thus receiving an excellent visitor experience.

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