What makes a museum experience particularly meaningful for children and adults? We have to admit, we are rather obsessed with this question.
As we mentioned in our last post, while our field-wide survey work has helped us identify explicit motivations for visiting museums, our more qualitative client work has helped us suss out the types of experiences adults have found most meaningful, or even transformative. It turns out that what people said they explicitly wanted wasn’t always the same as what they found meaningful.
This year, working with 40 children’s museums, we had an opportunity to dig even deeper into those meaningful experiences for adults, while also trying to understand what makes an experience memorable and meaningful for very young children. It had also been five years since our last field-wide study of children’s museums, so we thought it was an opportune time to check in and see if there had been any shifts in the visitor base at these museums.
So what were our initial questions as we designed this research? We boiled it down to these:
- Has the children’s museum audience shifted in the past five years?
- What do visitors perceive the role of the children’s museum to be?
- How do explicit motivations and desires differ from what visitors actually value in experiences?
- Why do some children and adults have particularly meaningful experiences in museums?
- How have some museum experiences changed visitors? What are the common themes, and how can museums “stack the deck” to help more visitors, both children and adults, have meaningful, even transformational, museum experiences?
Our research doesn’t definitively answer all of these questions, but it does give us some greater insights, pushes our thinking even further, and raises new questions (of course!).
This study required a combination of survey questions, some of which we had used in the past, as well as two carefully crafted open-ended questions. Forty children’s museums joined us for the ride and willingly sent out survey requests to their e-mail lists and via their social media outlets. Over 8,400 respondents took time to respond to the survey.
Over the next few months, we’ll share with you our initial findings, give you a peek into our thought process as we conducted our initial analysis, and, at the end, we hope you’ll help us figure out where the research should go next, as we uncover even more questions along the way.
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