Picture a typical science museum on a busy Saturday. It is probably filled with highly-engaged children and their families. But what about those parents and caregivers with the children? And those adults without children? Are they engaged?
In our recent study of science museum visitors, we delved into the engagement of adults. We found that only a third of respondents felt the museum made them, as adults, feel better informed about current science issues, while half said sometimes. The remainder said no, it did not.
When we examined these respondents, we found that those who said yes were generally more engaged with the museum. They were more curious about science, more positive about the museum, joined for more philanthropic reasons, and were much more likely to say the museum met their needs.
In contrast, those who said no were less engaged with the museum, less curious about science, and more negative about the museum. They were only half as likely to say the museum was very important to their community as those who said yes, and only 9% of them said that the museum met their needs. (Those who said "somewhat" generally fell in the middle on these questions.)
So, like we recently explored with moms, the engagement of adults, as well as children, is very important to science museums. But how do you do this? In a follow-up question, we asked.
For some adults, their own engagement was a new idea. As one respondent noted, “I didn't realize one of the goals of the science center was to enlighten adults.”
But most adults were receptive to, or actively desired, adult content. They want “More adult only programs” and they want time in the museum without children. We saw several comments that echoed the frustration expressed this one: “More grownup time. I get tired of kids who think they can cut in front of you just because you're an adult. I want to try stuff, too!”
They also want exhibits to be layered with content meant for them. “Have more exhibits that work on adult interests and have the information more adult stated. There are times that I have felt as though I were being treated to a 'See Jane Run' explanation of theory.”
There was a very strong desire for current events in the science museum. A large number of respondents asked for help understanding the science behind the headlines, such as: “There aren’t any exhibits about new & emerging technology or new areas of science. I only ever hear about that stuff on TV. I would LOVE to hear about it from the museum.”
Other frequent comments were focused on the actual visitor experience. Representative comments include “place benches generously,“ “better coffee,” and “free parking!”
Additionally, there were a significant number of comments about the noise of the science museum. As one mother said, “As it is now, we can barely hear ourselves think and the whole experience gives me a headache. I dread when my son wants to go and I put it off as long as I can,” while another noted “I want to come to the Science Center, but I can't abide the noise . . .”
While engaging adults at science museums is clearly important, doing so takes thoughtful layering of content and programming, making the visit more amenable to them (even if that means installing noise-abatement devices!), and, for some, overcoming a perception that science museums are just for kids.
We would love to hear how your museum successfully engages adults, or even how you reduce noise. To share your stories, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)