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  • R E P O R T O F F I N D I N G S & R E C O M M E N D A T I O N S F O R T HE F I E LD M U S E U M

    What Makes a Great Museum Experience and How Can Technology Help? Visitor Research and Segmentation for The Field Museums Grainger Initiatives

    November 7, 2014

    Karlene Hanko, PhD

    Sarah Lee

    Nnenna Okeke

    Slover Linett Audience Research Inc.

  • What Makes a Great Museum Experience and How Can Technology Help?

    Visitor Research and Segmentation for The Field Museums Grainger Initiatives

    Report of findings & recommendations

    November 7, 2014

    Prepared by:

    Karlene Hanko, PhD

    Sarah Lee

    Nnenna Okeke

    Slover Linett Audience Research Inc.

    20132014 Field Museum of Natural History

    All rights reserved.

    1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496


    4147 N. Ravenswood Ave. #302, Chicago, IL 60613


    @sloverlinett Twitter


  • Dear museum colleagues,

    In 2012 The Field Museum received a generous gift from The Grainger Foundation for a set of digital

    initiatives that would cover everything from CT scanners for scientific research to improvements to the

    building's Wi-Fi system. To determine how we should use the funds earmarked for exhibits, we decided

    to do a visitor study. It was a unique opportunity. As museums around the country have increased their

    use of digital technologies, we've seen more and more studies on the subject. But the majority of these

    have been focused on a particular project, type of technology, or kind of visitor.

    We now had a chance to do something bigger. To know what visitors wanted to do with digital

    technologies in a natural history museum, we first needed to know what they wanted to do, in

    general. We needed to understand their fundamental motivations for coming to our museum.

    Depending on who we spoke with, such a study was either superfluous (because we already knew the

    answers) or undoable (because we would never know the answers). The people at Slover Linett, however,

    had good ideas on how such a study could be useful and doable.

    Within its many findings, one common thread runs through the report. Visitors see the museum as a

    facility that they are paying for, in order to have certain kinds of experiences. And while they view the

    museum as an authority, and respect our scientific expertise, they don't care about what the museum

    wants to give them through these experiences. They care about what they want to get out of them.

    The good news is that the two sets of goals map onto each other so closely. Putting the visitor at the very

    center of our efforts does not compromise the museum's mission; it is our mission. The more closely we

    listen to our visitors and respect their wishes, the better we will be at creating engaging, rewarding, and

    meaningful experiencesbroadening our audience and increasing our success.

    My Field Museum colleagues and I welcome any comments, questions, or ideas. I can be reached at



    Matt Matcuk

    Exhibition Development Director

    The Field Museum

  • Acknowledgements

    The authors wish to thank the entire Field Museum team for its vision and colleagueship

    throughout the Grainger initiatives research effort. Our special thanks go to Matt Matcuk,

    Exhibition Development Director; Jaap Hoogstraten, Director of Exhibitions; Alvaro Amat,

    Exhibition Design Director; Ashlan Falletta-Cowden, Evaluator; Beth Crownover, Director of

    Education; Meg Keslosky, Director of Communications; and Patience Baach, Evaluator.

    Were also grateful to anthropologist Shayna Silverstein, now a faculty member at Northwestern

    University, who collaborated with us on the qualitative data collection, and our Slover Linett

    colleagues Peter Linett, Chairman & Chief Idea Officer, and Jennifer Benoit-Bryan, Research

    Analyst, for their contributions to this report.

    We welcome questions and comments on this report and ideas for advancing the lines of inquiry

    explored here. Please email the authors at hello@SLaudienceresearch.com.

    Karlene Hanko, PhD

    Senior Researcher

    Slover Linett Audience Research


    Sarah Lee

    Vice President

    Slover Linett Audience Research


    Nnenna Okeke

    Research Analyst

    Slover Linett Audience Research



  • 1.

    executive summary

    Introduction & objectives

    In 2012, The Field Museum received a major grant from The Grainger Foundation to help the

    institution take a leap forward in digital engagement. The grant was organized around five

    initiatives: technology infrastructure, digital imaging of collection objects, planning for the

    Museums new Digital Learning Lab, digital technologies for exhibits, and the development of new

    offerings for the museums far-flung online and mobile audiences. Despite that breadth, The Field

    Museum leadership team wanted to ensure that all of these technological investments would be

    closely and organically tied to the museums core productthe experience of visiting its

    exhibitions in Chicago. The museum set out to develop a set of general, evolving, and visitor-centric

    principles to guide the deployment of new technology in the museum experience. Eager to avoid

    the cart-before-the-horse thinking that sometimes accompanies technological innovation in the

    museum fieldthe rush to stay relevant by incorporating digital tools and experiences before its

    clear what needs theyre meant to fill or what strategic vision theyre designed to supportthe

    exhibitions team proposed to begin with a broad, exploratory visitor study to understand, first, what

    visitors are hoping to experience when they come to The Field Museum and, second, how

    technology might support those ideal experiences.

    When the museum approached Slover Linett with this sequence of research questions in mind, we

    were enthusiastic. The informal learning field spends a fair amount of time articulating its own

    ideals and goals for the museum experience1; less attention is paid, typically, to the ideals of the

    visitors themselves. So this was an opportunity to step back and learn something newor perhaps

    confirm what is already knownabout visitors motivations and desired experiences in the natural

    history context and to think afresh about how digital technology can help bring those experiences

    to life. That latter question, we soon realized, would yield both direct and indirect answers in this

    research: direct, because we would ask visitors about their technology preferences; and indirect,

    because identifying visitors ideal museum experiences would give The Field Museum staff a new

    1 Chief among those ideals and goals, of course, is learning. An excellent appraisal of the state of the field from that

    perspective is Learning Science in Informal Environments, National Research Council (2009).

  • 2.

    basis for brainstorming additional ways that technology could be used to help foster those desired

    experiences, even where the visitors themselves may not have imagined a digital component.


    In the last decade or so, the literature on the role of digital engagement and other technology-

    based approaches in museum work has become increasingly forward-looking and provocative,

    addressing theoretical and practical questions raised by touchscreens, mobile content, social media,

    digitization and open-source sharing, augmented reality, gaming and gamification, the internet of

    things, and other developments. Although much of that literature still consists of evaluation

    reports focused on particular digital programs or tools used in specific exhibitions, the last few years

    have brought a number of bigger-picture studies, overviews and thought-pieces. Wyman et al.

    (2011) outline the changes that have occurred in public expectations, museums storytelling

    strategies, the physical and virtual spaces in which museum experiences take place, and in

    technology itself, observing that digital interactivity can and should be used to cultivate a more

    multi-vocal, less top-down vision of museum authority. Alexander (2014) sounds a related note,

    emphasizing the ability of digital tools to support visitors creativity and sense of play,

    transform[ing] visitors into participants rather than passive observers.

    There have also been a number of recent studies in the wider museum literature that have

    identified distinct visitor types or segments within the visiting population. In perhaps the most

    recent of these, Pekarik et al. (2014) propose that visitors fall into one of four experience

    preference categories, prioritizing either ideas, people, objects, or physical engagementa

    taxonomy with rich implications for digital design and strategy, though the authors didnt pursue

    them in detail. Earlier, Falk (2009) argued that museum visitors motivations for attending (and by

    extension, the kinds of experiences they seek at the museum) depend on their identities as visitors,