University of Cambridge Museums

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Just add unicorn: audience evaluation at the Museum of Zoology

Sarah-Jane Harknett provides an update on the Audience Evaluation Project which uses tracking surveys and exit interviews to try to measure engagement in the galleries of our 8 museums. A sample of visitors are tracked and timed while they look around a gallery. A small proportion of these visitors are asked a very brief set of questions following their visit.

Science_Festival“My fantastic team of volunteers helped us get over 100 trackings and 20 exit interviews at the Museum of Zoology before they closed to the public in early June. I spent several days analysing the lovely data before summarising it all into one document. There are thousands of pieces of information now sitting in the spreadsheet – there were 79 possible stops to make, and the time spent at each stop was recorded along with information about which cases were photographed, what provoked discussion and occasions when visitors called people over to see what they had found.

It’s interesting to see what makes people stop when they are wandering round displays – in the Museum of Zoology the top two most visited cases were the one containing shells and the leather-back turtle skeleton (although the snakes and fish were not far behind). I also looked at how long people spent at each case – the longest single stop was 120 seconds, while the average time spent per stop was 19 seconds. Some visitors we tracked seemed to know exactly what they wanted to see and made a bee line for that (several dashing straight downstairs when they arrived), other people moved like they were in a pin-ball machine, finding case after case that interested them and pinging round the gallery.


The size of the gallery made unobtrusive tracking a bit tricky, but the team were superb. The results will be used by the Museum of Zoology while they are thinking about their re-display. I’m not sure the Museum can fulfill all visitor requests from the exit interview: one person’s suggestion for improvement was to have a unicorn on display.

Tracking continues at other venues. Another batch of volunteers have been trained; they have started tracking in the Origins of the Afro Comb exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the My Hair exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It will be interesting to see how visitors respond to these two related exhibitions.”

Sarah-Jane Harknett, Outreach Organiser, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

One comment on “Just add unicorn: audience evaluation at the Museum of Zoology

  1. Pingback: Evaluating Digital Engagement | University of Cambridge Museums

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