The science of A to B

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Ever feel like someone’s following you?  This spring, here at the museum, you might just get that sensation.  In February, we initiated a “Guest Observation Study” and have been shadowing people during their time here. This is to get information on how our guests experience the museum.

We’re asking questions like: Where do people go in the museum?  How long do they spend here and in individual galleries?  Which paths do they take? Where are people reaching out to staff with questions and who are those staff members — Security guards?  Guest services? Shop or café staff?

A preliminary look at collected data has revealed some interesting and sometimes surprising patterns.  While looking at a map, one might mentally plan a tour that makes perfect logical sense: “We’ll start with this gallery on the first floor, then go up the stairs here, walk down the hall and catch the exhibition in this gallery and then on our way to the Chinese House, we’ll go down these other stairs and peek in at the Art and Nature Center.”

However, in reality, as guests make their way through the museum, often they’ll deviate from their planned path in ways that might appear random or nonsensical, following a curly-cue route, retracing steps, going back and forth between several artworks, or jumping from one level to another– the three-dimensional experience of moving in space is quite different than drawing a simple “Point A to B to C” line on a map.  We find guests exploring spaces that capture their attention unexpectedly, or discovering artwork that calls for quiet contemplation or comparison, and encountering objects that spark conversations with a friend.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola

Photo by Kathy Tarantola

A second part of the study will involve a series of “secret shoppers,” who will visit the museum anonymously and evaluate their experience, with an emphasis on the level of service they receive throughout.  The reports generated will highlight where we’re hitting high notes as well as indicate those areas that could be tweaked or improved.

Collected data will be used to inform decisions at all levels, from the signage we use to direct guests, to placement of certain objects and even to decisions regarding our future expansion.  We’ll be investigating what we can do to foster a sense of exploration, particularly of those galleries that might be less visited.  What can we do to encourage more random exploration?  What can we do to bring clarity where there might be a little confusion?  We’ll be looking at how the study can help improve the overall experience for guests in ways both large and small.

Want to participate?  We’d love your feedback on your visit to PEM.  How did your visit exceed expectations?  What surprised you the most?  Where can you identify areas for improvement?  And on your next visit, be on the lookout for signs indicating the our observation study is underway.  It could be your footsteps we’re following.

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