Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Evaluation at Indianopolis

Mathew Caines, Playful culture: B-movie bingo at the Indianopolis Museum of Art, The Guardian

Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, director of interpretation, media and evaluation, on putting the museum visitor first – by inviting them for brunch

What can you tell us about the Indianapolis Museum of Art?

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the US, with a collection spanning 5,000 years. It also boasts lush gardens, a contemporary art park, a greenhouse and two historic houses. Whether you’re an art fan, nature lover, architecture buff, a family or researcher, there’s something for everybody at the IMA.

The museum is currently in the process of finalising a new strategic plan, the focus of which is the visitor. We’re homing in on the need to develop engaging experiences for our audiences through innovative programming and interactivity, informed by extensive audience research and evaluation.

What does your role as director of interpretation, media and evaluation entail?

I oversee a group of nine full-time staff members as well as a number of part-time data collectors. The department is organised into four main areas: interpretation, media (photography and audio-visual content), editorial and publications, and audience research and evaluation. The team is responsible for the development of analogue and digital interpretive content and experiences for our guests. Audience research and evaluation also plays a key role in the process.

What does good research look like in the context of the museum?

Audience research and evaluation is fundamental and guides us in making a number of key decisions. We use a variety of methods in our research, including surveys, interviews, observation, focus groups and prototype and usability testing. The team continues to design these types of interactive feedback experiences for visitors, which allows for people to to express their points of view in creative and rewarding ways.

We generally conduct four different types of research at the IMA:

  1. Exit surveys: the main objective of these studies is to understand who our visitors are, why they come to the IMA, what they do once they’re here and how satisfied they are with their experience. Results, for example, have helped inform some of the programming and interpretation strategies we’ve adopted across campus. They also aid in implementing initiatives that improve the level of comfort of the visitors, for example more resting opportunities, better orientation tools and better visitor services staff training.
  2. Non-visitors studies: the objective here is to understand what the barriers are to visiting the museum. We also occasionally consult non-visitors during exhibition-planning to see what exhibitions might be more appealing to them.
  3. Exhibition and programme summative evaluations: we do this to understand who visits the temporary exhibitions and takes part in specific programmes. Through this we can also measure satisfaction and check if the specific outcomes of a programme or exhibition have been met, so that changes can be made in subsequent iterations.
  4. Exhibition formative, front-end and remedial evaluation: these studies occur with visitors on-site and/or online. These help us to better understand what visitors or potential ones know about a specific exhibition subject, what they’re interested in learning about and doing in the exhibition, their interests and preferences for content, their views on titles and branding, and what interpretation tools they prefer engaging with to explore a given topic. We also test analogue and digital activities at various stages of the development process to guarantee that the final product is intuitive and easy to use.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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