Whole Garden and West Gallery exhibition [2013]

(Read the full report)

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) contracted RK&A to study visitors’ experiences in the current West Gallery exhibition. However, after an initial meeting, USBG recognized that any changes to the West Gallery should be intentional and done in the context of staff’s aspirations for the whole Garden experience; thus, the study evolved into a more holistic endeavor with two main goals: (1) collect data about visitors’ experiences in the West Gallery exhibition to inform redesign of the Gallery; and (2) study visitors’ experiences in the whole Garden in the context of the newly-articulated visitor impact statement: Inspired by the welcoming, sensory, and restorative experience, visitors appreciate the diversity of plants, value the essential connection between plants and people, and embrace plant stewardship.

How did we approach this study?

RK&A facilitated a series of planning workshops with USBG staff to help them articulate the impact they aspire to achieve with their audiences. An Impact Framework resulted from these workshops. The Framework articulates the impact statement above, as well as audience outcomes and indicators which make the impact statement concrete and measurable. Guided by the Impact Framework, RK&A conducted an audience research study, employing four methods to explore West Gallery experiences and the Garden’s intended impact: (1) a standardized questionnaire; (2) in-depth interviews; (3) focused observations and interviews in the West Gallery; and (4) focus groups with teachers. Following the audience research study, RK&A facilitated two Using Evaluation Results workshops to help staff reflect on findings and develop action steps moving forward.

What did we learn?

The audience research study revealed many rich findings related to the Whole Garden, its audiences, and the West Gallery exhibition specifically, including visitor types that the Garden can use to inform their decision making (see full report for details). Study findings revealed that visitors’ experiences are, in some ways, well aligned with the Garden’s desired impact and, in other ways, not as well aligned. Specifically, staff used study findings to brainstorm more cohesive interpretive themes for the Whole Garden and West Gallery exhibition. Looking forward, USBG staff has two great opportunities to leverage these themes for an upcoming Garden-wide interpretive planning project and Conservatory Room evaluation.

What are the implications of the findings?

This project highlights the all-important link between planning and evaluation. Too often, evaluation is conducted in a vacuum (one program or exhibition at a time) as opposed to considering the organization’s aspirations for impacting the visitor. USBG staff recognized the need to consider changes to the West Gallery exhibition in the context of their intentions for the Whole Garden experience. In doing so, they now have baseline information about their audiences in the context of the impact they hope to achieve. This information helps USBG staff understand the alignment between their aspirations and visitors’ experiences and how they might need to change their practice to achieve greater impact.

When I read Emily’s reflection on comfort zone at the end of December, my first feeling was that of understanding.   As a parent of a now almost 2-year-old, I could relate to her story. Parenting really did force me to explore my comfort zone, learning zone, and definitely that panic zone too—although I try to avoid that as much as possible. Ironically, it was while operating in my learning zone as a parent—trying to keep myself ahead of the curve and away from that panic zone—that I came to another level of understanding of these zones through association.

I had just finished s book called “The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (Aside: Strategically placing those parenting books that I may not have sought out on my own in the children’s section right where all the kids gather to play is smart design). On page 12 of the Whole-Brain Child is a very simple image that I found clever at first and have found extremely compelling the more I have thought about. The image depicts a woman happily floating down a river between the banks of chaos and rigidity. In the book, the authors are describing a state they call integration. They write:

SiegelRiverImagine a peaceful river running through the countryside. That’s your river of well-being. Whenever you’re in the water, peacefully floating in your canoe, you feel like you’re generally in a good relationship with the world around you. You have a clear understanding of yourself, other people, and your life. You can be flexible and adjust when situations change. You’re stable and at peace.

The authors go on to describe the troubles encountered as one approaches the two banks of the river, which represent opposites. Chaos is where there is lack control; imagine “tumultuous rapids.” By contrast, rigidity is where there is too much control, and as the authors describe, the “water smells stagnant.” The image, both literal and the one they conjured through their writing, was very powerful to me. I could vividly sense what integration means to them. It also made me think about how this clever image and analogy could relate to so many aspects of my work.

My first association with Emily’s post was this image because I could easily imagine the river as the learning zone. In this scenario, one bank of the river is the comfort zone—I see Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party … good food, wine, and company. By contrast, over in the panic zone, I am seeing Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa banked on shore—nothing I want to be anywhere near. But my mind quickly left my new art historical river of comfort / learning/ and panic zones, to jump onto a second association—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Kim Hermanson’s piece on flow experience in The Educational Role of the Museum (see “Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: Why Does One Want to Learn?”). And before I could get too transfixed reminiscing about how much I adored this article in grad school, then I was off thinking about how Siegel and Bryson’s analogy could be used to talk about the state required for innovation or creativity to happen.

Associations and associative thinking are so powerful. Sometimes they make you feel like you are taking a trip down memory lane. Other times it is like your own personal muse has arrived to show you new ways of looking at something. Anytime I am fortunate to have these moments, I am reminded to keep my mind and eyes open to what the world can show me (and how much is out there to know).

Intentional Museum is happy to announce its second student blogging competition! We believe that tomorrow’s museum professionals will shape and change the field through their unique perspectives and new ideas, and, because of that; there is a lot we can learn from students. New voices keep us on our toes and encourage us to consider alternate viewpoints.

We think a lot about intentional practice and would like to hear how students think about intentional practice and the impact it can have on the visitor experience. To that end, we ask that you reflect on the following question: Through your intentional practice, how do you help museums enrich the lives of others?

Perhaps you find joy in drafting a collections care plan, ensuring that objects and artifacts are around for many generations. Maybe you spend your time thinking about how museums can better use digital opportunities or social media to expand their reach beyond the traditional walls. From museum education to exhibitions, visitor services to administration, regardless of your focus, we want to hear from you. We often reflect on our professional experiences on Intentional Museum, but we appreciate the personal connection. We want your blogs to tell a story, to speak about your experience, and to highlight your unique insight into the museum field.


  • Bloggers must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree or certificate program and have an interest in museum practice.
  • Blogs should be no longer than 500 words and written in a conversational style. Avoid jargon and academic language to ensure clarity.
  • You are welcome to share how the work of others has influenced your practice, but this isn’t required. If you include quotes, be sure to include citations.
  • We have no idea what the winning blogs will look like – if you look through our past posts, you will see we tell stories, share academic insights, and sometimes we are funny. We want to hear your story, so let your passion show.
  • Check your work carefully for spelling and accuracy. While no one is perfect, winning blogs will be error free.
  • Email your entry to sigmond@randikorn.com by 5:00pm (EST), Friday, March 13, 2015.

RK&A staff will review all entries and publish the top one or two responses on the Intentional Museum blog. Winners will be notified and announced at the end of March. Winning blog posts will be shared with our readers in April and May 2015. Winners will also receive a copy of one of our favorite museum books, Stephen Weil’s Making Museums Matter, with a personalized note from Randi.

How to Enter:

  • One (1) entry per blogger, please.
  • Send your blog as a Word document attached to an email.
  • Include your name, school, degree program and expected graduation date in the body of the email, with the subject line “Intentional Museum Blog Competition.”
  • Please do not include your name/identifying information as a header to your blog entry. Each entry will be assigned a number to ensure unbiased review.
  • Email your entry to sigmond@randikorn.com by 5:00pm (EST), Friday, March 13, 2015.

 Other Important Information:

  • RK&A reserves the right to edit winning blog entries for content and length.
  • Winners will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to respond with their contact information for book delivery.
  • Books will only be mailed to those in the United States and will be sent via the US Postal Service no later than May 1, 2015.
  • If a winner does not respond in the allotted timeframe, an alternate winner will take his/her place.
  • Winners will be asked to submit a picture of themselves for publication with their blog.

Still have questions? Contact us at sigmond@randikorn.com, or ask in the comments!

Summative Evaluation of Cyberchase: The Chase is On! [2008]

(Read the full report)

Children’s Museum of Houston (CMH) contracted with Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate the National Science Foundation-funded exhibition Cyberchase: The Chase is On! The exhibition used a popular children’s television show as an entry point to convey two key exhibition messages—“Math is a way of thinking and everyone can be successful at it,” as well as “We use math every day.” The Museum developed the exhibition for travel; thus, data for the summative evaluation were collected in two locations: Children’s Museum of Houston and the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York.

 How did we approach this study?

RK&A combined three data collection strategies in order to generate both quantitative and qualitative data for analysis. Evaluators used these strategies to assess visitors’ experiences in the exhibition, including visitors’ use of the exhibits, visitors’ understanding of the exhibition as a whole, and the level of engagement fostered by select exhibits. Methodologies included: timing and tracking observations of visitors between the ages of 5 and 10, cued exit interviews of both adults and children, and stationed observations at two exhibits.

 What did we learn?

Data from the timing and tracking observations showed that the median time visitors spent in the exhibition was seven minutes. However, while the time spent was relatively short, observational data revealed that the exhibits fostered interactive experiences for both adults and children. For instance, timing and tracking observations showed that more than two-thirds of all visitors were coached by an adult. Further, stationed observations demonstrated that activities at the two observed exhibits were often shared or collaborative experiences, with adults either participating in or leading the activities. Findings from the interviews further contextualized this data, revealing that both children and adults were able to extract meaning from these experiences. One-half of adult interviewees spoke about the exhibition’s main idea in terms of math; similarly, slightly less than one-half of children interviewed recalled doing something math-related in the exhibition (without prompting from the interviewer).

What are the implications of the findings?

Overall, Cyberchase successfully promoted interactions between adults and children and effectively conveyed proposed themes. Math is a difficult concept to incorporate in an exhibition; however, the familiarity of the Cyberchase television show coupled with the highly interactive nature of the exhibits allowed visitors to actively engage with these demanding concepts. In addition to incorporating videos, computers, and low-tech interactive components, most exhibits created challenges for children to complete, allowing children to leave the exhibition with a sense of accomplishment for having finished a task. Notably, adults often participated in these challenges, increasing children’s understanding of and interaction with the exhibits. Both children and adults understood the theme of Cyberchase and enjoyed the interactive experience, indicating that using a familiar concept as an entry point and incorporating simple, user-friendly components in an exhibition can nurture meaningful learning experiences in the museum.

I know we promised you a new post in our Intentional Practice series today, but intentional thought takes time! Sorry for the delay – we promise to share a new Intentional Practice post soon!

Presenting dataEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend Stephanie Evergreen’s Presenting Data Effectively workshop at The Evaluator’s Institute. The workshop offered logical advice so your work will stand out from the rest (you know those Microsoft default colors? Ditch them!), and a chance to talk to evaluators who work outside the museum field. I learned so many things that I can’t wait to try in my work; each night I wanted to go home and practice what I learned.

However, the biggest take-away wasn’t a new type of graph to try or the websites that can help me pick complimentary colors for reports. It was a very simple reminder: Although we have five senses, we take in information first and foremost with our eyes. After realizing this, I reflected a bit on my work and my process. Yes, I take time to organize reports so that they make sense – the data dictates the most logical way to organize the report; for example, I often organize trends from most to least pervasive. But, working with qualitative data as often as I do, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how to best visually present essential data or how to present information using graphics and colors so report results are easier for clients to see. And then I was reminded: We take in information first with our eyes.

So, since it is January and a time for resolutions, I resolve to make 2015 the year I keep report visuals in mind. Here’s to a more visually pleasant 2015!

Cycle of Intentional PracticeWith a new year upon us and all sorts of possibilities—most of them unknown at this time—our blog entries will take on a slightly different flavor. We intend to remain true to the name of this blog, the Intentional Museum, by presenting a monthly series on Intentional Practice in museums. Throughout this series, we’ll discuss how we see intentional practice emerging in our work with clients as well as investigate how professionals working in different areas of the museum field think about intentionality. In addition to reflecting on how we see intentional practice emerging in our clients’ work, we’ll interview people from a range of museums and areas of the profession and talk with them about how they infuse intentional practice into their thinking, actions, and aspirations. Perhaps we will be reaching out to some of you!

As we embark on 2015, it might be useful to recall the meaning of intentionality. When my interest in intentionality surfaced, I did a little background research to learn about its origins. Little known to me at the time, the word “intentionality” has deep philosophical roots. Timothy Crane, a professor of philosophy in Cambridge who is best known for his work on intentionality, credits Franz Brentano for reintroducing the concept in 1874; it derives from the Medieval Latin. Brentano’s Thesis, as it is known, “can be expressed by saying that one cannot believe, wish, or hope without believing or wishing something.” Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of “intend” is “to direct the mind on,” which harkens back to Brentano’s original explanation of intentionality noted as “the direction of the mind on an object.” These above definitions are considered scholastic definitions, although I feel like they suggest that when the mind is focusing attention on something (a concept or even intended impact) it is possible to move mountains, which doesn’t sound very scholastic. I can feel the intensity of Brentano’s Thesis, and it is with that intensity that I have come to appreciate intentionality and its power to help museums achieve their aspirations.

After digging a bit deeper, I discovered that the way I apply the term in my practice with museums is more similar to how the field of social cognition defines and uses the term. In 2001 Bertrum F. Malle, Louis J. Moses, and Dare A. Baldwin edited a book called Intentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social Cognition. And according to the Psychology Wiki, which provides different uses of the term, the following use is offered under social cognition: “Human perceivers consider a behavior intentional when it appears purposeful or done intentionally—that is, based on reasons (beliefs, desires) and performed with skill and awareness.” The social cognition use of the term aligns well with all that I have attached onto intentionality, for example, the notion of intentional practice, the four quadrants—all comprised of actions, and (of course) Impact. I believe intentionality is required practice if museums are going to make a difference in the quality of people’s lives, which is how I define “impact.” Without an intense focus on taking actions to achieve a well-defined end result, the end result will be difficult to achieve; ahhhh, if only impact would just magically appear . . . .

We’ll publish a new post in our Intentional Practice series once a month, on the third Wednesday of each month. Stay tuned for the next post on January 21st!



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