A natural history museum
Exploratory needs and perceptions research to guide a museum-wide renovation.
This beloved museum was about to embark on a major building renovation and a museum-wide reinstallation of its exhibits and collections. The leadership team had developed an ambitious new vision to “reinvent” the ways the museum presents natural history. They asked Slover Linett to design and conduct a multi-pronged study to inform—and challenge—those plans: part front-end exhbit evaluation, part feasibility study, part marketplace assessment.
We devised a sequential process to bring the institution’s key audiences into a dialogue about what they desired from the museum and how they felt about its vision. We began with stakeholder interviews with the museum’s own trustees and local civic leaders, to identify areas of consensus and still-open questions about the museum’s future.
Then, in what turned out to be the most revealing step in the process, we held six off-site focus groups with the museum’s members, visitors, and non-visitors. We asked each research participant to create and bring with them a collage representing their relationship to the natural world, and those collages were a springboard into the discussions. We asked them to imagine their ideal museum devoted to the natural world, then compared those ideals to the museum’s preliminary vision. We learned some surprising and valuable things about what would excite and engage these audiences—and how they hope the museum would empower them.
We also conducted two quantitative studies: a pen-and-paper visitor survey at the museum and a telephone survey and segmentation of residents in the museum’s metropolitan area. These phases of the evaluation let us draw valid conclusions about the interests, priorities, and likely visiting behaviors of the museum’s community and help staff and trustees set realistic goals for specific target audiences.
Our final report synthesized insights about the what, how, and why of the new museum. These conclusions confirmed, extended, and revised various aspects of the draft vision and helped the museum’s leadership team set out a more concrete, action-oriented, audience-responsive vision for the project’s architects and exhibit designers.