Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Put Down the Clipboard:Visitor Feedback as Participatory Activity

A few weeks ago, the MAH Director of Community Programs, Stacey Garcia, came to me with an idea. Stacey has been collaborating with local artists to produce a series of content-rich events that invite visitors to participate in a range of hands-on activities. The events are informal, personal, and fun, but our feedback mechanism--onsite and post-event surveys--not so much. Instead, Stacey thought, why not make the feedback experience an activity unto itself?

This past Friday, we experimented with a new feedback format at an evening event focused on poetry and book arts. The event involved over fifty artists throughout the building helping visitors make their own paper, write poems, stitch books, etc. (full description here, photos from the event here). On the ground floor, Stacey created a "Show and Tell" booth out of an old refrigerator box and some paperbacks. She painted some cardboard black and framed it to look nice. We gave people chalk and the choice of four simple prompts:
At 3rd Friday I made
At 3rd Friday I loved
At 3rd Friday I met
At 3rd Friday I learned
After making a board and taking a photo, each participant had the option to have their photo shared on Flickr or remain private (90% said yes). We have an intern, Kathryn, who emailed each participant individually to thank them for coming, shared their personal photo, and gave them the link to the rest of the photos. We used a simple paper signup list to link individuals to their photos during the event so Kathryn could tie it all together.

We don't yet know how people will respond to the emails, and we have some kinks to work out with the booth and camera setup. What we do know is that this is a vastly improved feedback system. It accomplished several things at once:

  1. It drew people in. Instead of interns with clipboards tentatively approaching visitors who were busy having fun, the booth put feedback on visitors' own terms. They came to the booth when they wanted to share, and everyone felt good about the sharing experience. 
  2. We got more feedback. About fifty people participated in the booth out of a crowd of 320--a pretty good sample size. Our typical onsite and post-event survey would attract about 20 people to opt in. 
  3. We got intriguing feedback. While I'm sure it repelled some introverts, the performative aspect of this activity encouraged many participants to thoughtfully construct and present their thoughts. I was surprised by the originality of the content and what people got out of the event. We had debated the prompt structure a bit before the event (I thought "learned" was too leading), but giving visitors the choice of prompts let them share what they wanted without too much guidance. "Loved" and "Made" were the most popular.
  4. It invited visitors to memorialize their experience. Some people showed off their handmade paper or books. Others stood in the booth with a new friend. The booth was a nice way to celebrate what participants had done--and to create a digital record that they can keep and share.
  5. It created an appealing body of stories about the event. As we try to build a brand for "3rd Friday" as an ongoing museum series, I feel like these photos, more than any other collateral, will help people understand what the event is like and what they might get out of it. We're definitely hybridizing program and marketing here, and I want to be sensitive to that and make sure people don't feel exploited. But I honestly believe that visitors telling visitors what they get out of museum experiences is the most effective and authentic way to share what happens in a community museum. It's certainly been a hit with MOMA's "I went to MOMA and..." campaign. Maybe this is good fodder for a future Museum 2.0 debate about instrumentalizing visitors' contributions for marketing purposes... you tell me. 
What creative ways have you found to solicit visitor feedback and share visitors' stories?

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