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Summary Report

Page history last edited by youngsre 12 years, 8 months ago

Participatory Audience Engagement: Final Evaluations, Reflections, Recommendations


Goals of the Projects:

  • Get visitors to share their voices in an already “polyphonic” space.
  • Re-emphasize and reinforce Vortexhibition’s central themes (i.e., the multiplicity of voices, sharing of the collection, artworks in conversation with one another) – especially the ways in which they relate to visitor participation.


Methods of Evaluation:

  • Observation, often (but not entirely) by facilitators
  • Counting and comparisons: visitation, materials consumed, observable visitor behaviors
  • Exit interviews
  • Debrief / reflection times: between Saturday and Sunday, within teams, and as a class


Evaluation Findings:

  • Not everyone participated actively, but surprising numbers of visitors did so.
  • A larger proportion participated in subtler ways: watching activities, asking about them, attending to activity elements.
  • Visitors responded better to non-written explanations of the activities - active facilitation or a visual output (the “Xavier” Flickr stream) worked better than written instructions.
  • Slightly more visitors seemed to participate actively by creating their own content than by modifying or building upon someone else’s, but the collaborative aspects of the projects still worked.
  • The location and structure of the activities, particularly their visibility and placement in relation to one another, had discernable effects on visitor participation.
  • Similarly, some artworks were easier to “activate” than others – another strong opportunity for pilot testing in the future.
  • Facilitation works: the more human attention a visitor received at an activity, the more actively they participated.
  • Simplicity works: too many activities in the gallery at once (especially related ones), or too many steps or options for participation, can put some visitors off.
  • The participants during this weekend were entirely comfortable sharing themselves in the museum, whether with personal stories, unexpected conversation, or surprising insights about the art.
  • Nearly all interviewed visitors participated in the activities in some way.
  • Nearly all interviewed visitors welcomed the inclusion of participatory elements in their museum visit.
  • Many interviewed visitors were able to explicitly articulate the goals of the activities themselves, goals of the exhibit as highlighted by the activities, and/or how their own participation created new insights or other benefits.


Limitations of the Projects & Evaluations:

  • Time and preparation: the short timeline of the project limited opportunities for pilot testing, more rigorous evaluation, and deeper communication with Henry staff – all of which could have made for stronger activities.
  • Low visitation: low numbers on weekend days made it difficult to assess the activities thoroughly or to experiment with different configurations (e.g., facilitated versus unfacilitated, changing locations within the gallery, etc.).
  • Non-representative visitors: our friends, family, and classmates made up a huge proportion of the Henry’s visitors during the project. These visitors had atypically low barriers to participation in museums and their behaviors were particularly difficult to evaluate unobtrusively.
  • Facilitation can be difficult and time consuming: we realize that highly facilitated experiences may not work in the future, given the Henry’s current staffing.



  • Plan participatory activities with the same care as other activities: ample time for planning, clear communication, testing, and reflection.
  • Conversely, be willing to experiment when creating participatory elements: change the visual design or interaction plan in the middle of the project, try different ways of describing the desired behaviors or outcomes, switch locations.
  • Many visitors seem eager to share their ideas and stories with the Henry; fostering those connections by encouraging visitor participation could be mutually beneficial.
  • Be mindful of the audience: are the target visitors for a project “typical” Henry visitors, a group with special investment in the project, or a different population altogether? Try to identify and minimize all visitors’ barriers to participation by creating multiple avenues to contribute.
  • Identify the right balance between structure and freedom for each participatory activity. Create enough scaffolding to help visitors have the kinds of experiences you want them to have, but not so much that they can’t leave you pleasantly surprised with what they generate.

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