University of Cambridge Museums

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Audience Research: knowing me, knowing you

Why do you choose to visit a museum? You might be there for a visit with the family, to spend quality time together in a space that can tell brilliant, multi-layered stories. You might be there for research purposes; to beef up a project you’ve been working on. You might want to visit a particular exhibition or take part in an event. Or you might simply need some peace and quiet; time to reflect amongst inspiring collections, or over a good coffee in the café.

All very good reasons for a visit, but what happens if your museum stops providing some of those things? It’s hard to understand why they would, but without knowing what visitors are there for, it’s always a possibility.

But fear not, because like many other cultural venues up and down the country, the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) is conducting Audience Research in order to better understand our audiences. The eight University of Cambridge Museums and Cambridge University Botanic Garden increasingly work together as a consortium but this research allows us to expose differences between the sites as well as spot opportunities where cross promotion and other types of working together might be appropriate. In collaboration with the Audience Agency, we run three three week waves of research across the year. We ask a host of questions: What is your main motivation for being there? Which other museums have you visited? How did you hear about it? How would you rate the following? Where have you travelled from? Your answers to these questions have a big effect on how the UCM and individual museums programme for the future. It’s an essential part of our work, meaning we can run accessible projects for different audiences, provide a means to support your research, understand who isn’t visiting the museums and what the perceived barriers are.

As I type, Audience Research is happening across the UCM right now, and it’s all thanks to a dedicated group of Volunteers who have given their time for a variety of different reasons. Some want to gain experience working in a museum environment, others enjoy the community aspect of talking to visitors and museum staff. Usually it’s a mixture of both, but importantly all of our Volunteers understand the true worth of what your answers provide to our museums, and in turn, give back to future audiences. Our researchers are trained following the standards of the Audience Agency, who support our work and report on our data. Three years of previous UCM audience research also means we have learnt a lot along the way, which we pass on to the Volunteer team. They in turn complete surveys by asking visitors questions as they are leaving the museum. All of us at the UCM are hugely appreciative of their time and expertise, and aim to make the experience a good mixture of professional museum work, as well as being an enjoyable, sociable one.

So it’s quite possible you have already given your feedback (thank you!) or if you’re visiting one of our museums next week (the research runs up to Sunday 27 March) and see an Audience Researcher approaching you, please do give them your thoughts. You will be making an impact on how our museums communicate and programme for future audiences, and who knows, next time the coffee might be the best you ever had.

Richard White, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, University of Cambridge Museums

If you are interested in volunteering to become an Audience Researcher with the UCM, please email

One comment on “Audience Research: knowing me, knowing you

  1. Pingback: What is Digital Engagement? | University of Cambridge Museums

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2016 by in Behind the Scenes, Culture, Goal 2, News, Research, Society and tagged , , , , .
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