I’ve always loved solving puzzles. And to me, people are the most fascinating puzzle of all. Perhaps that’s why I studied two people-focused topics as an undergraduate- biological anthropology and history. Not only was I curious to learn about how our evolutionary past has shaped human behavior, but I also wanted to understand how our cultural experiences affect those behaviors.
To this point, one of the great things about museums is that they bring people together to share ideas and learn from one another. I’ve always thought of museums as some of the most innovative and fun places to spend my time. They’re also fascinating places to explore people. Where else can you encounter a blend of different age groups, cultural histories, educational backgrounds, learning styles, hands-on experiences, fascinating artifacts and ideas?
I like to think of evaluation as having a continuous set of “people puzzles” to solve. How do people behave in and use museums? What motivates their behaviors? What does learning look like in a museum? How can a museum craft meaningful experiences for the people that walk through its doors? What do those experiences look like?
The solutions to these puzzles are plentiful and ever-changing and that’s what I love about them. As someone who’s relatively new to the field, I’m excited to have the chance to observe and interpret peoples’ often mysterious behaviors to help museums continually create experiences that are truly responsive to their visitors’ needs.
But perhaps most importantly, as a new evaluator, I’m excited by the opportunity to help those that work in museums learn to continually ask this ever-evolving set of questions themselves. Because underlying our field of people watching and data analyzing is the idea that it’s perfectly alright to not have the solutions, as long as you’re willing to ask questions in order to uncover them and learn from mistakes along the way.
So, although as an evaluator I may never be able to definitively solve these people puzzles, I can help museums and their visitors understand and relate to each other in new and unanticipated ways.