25th Anniversary ButterflyAs I have shared in other posts, I value the concept and four actions associated with Intentional Practice. Of the four quadrants that comprise Intentional Practice—Plan, Align, Evaluate, and Reflect—Align is the most complex, and it comes with baggage; tons and tons of it.

At its essence, alignment requires that staff examine all of their work and actions in context of the Impact the museum would like to achieve (as depicted in the center of the Cycle). This examination includes considering what they could continue doing because it helps them achieve their intended impact, what they could change because the project falls short of achieving intended results, or what they might stop doing because results do not support the museum’s intended impact. I have witnessed museums struggling with Alignment because invariably they may need to make some very difficult decisions, and change is inevitable as a result of decision making. And most humans (me included) have trouble with change. Just when things seem to be going well, BAM—something happens and I need to respond by changing Cycle of practice alignsomething.

Alignment can also become complex and difficult because people’s emotions are involved; and when emotions are involved, decision making is a struggle and met with resistance. Among the three possible actions mentioned above, to stop doing something is the most challenging and truly heart wrenching. Before people accept that they may need to stop doing something, their first reaction is to dismiss the evidence and exclaim, “That can’t be true; the evaluation must be wrong.” The next response is a very lucid, logical, rational explanation of how great the program really is—it is the public that needs retooling. Then there is panic and all kinds of thoughts begin to run wild—“How can I stop doing this program (that I love)? How can I stop doing this program that is part of the museum’s tradition?   What will I tell the funder? I know this program takes significant resources, but I love doing this program (and so does the funder). If I stop doing this program, what will I do with the void that is created? What will my colleagues say about the fact that I am doing one less program? What will I do instead?” Complicating matters is the feeling of embarrassment that begins to emerge—a very strong emotion.

One of the reasons people become embarrassed is because they think that others may perceive that the program failed and failure is still embarrassing in the museum community even though so many have written about the value of failure as a way to learn. As an example of how complicated these situations can be, one day an educator called to lament that she was aware that one of the very important programs that the museum had been doing for years was not going as well as it once had. She knew, in her heart, that she needed to reinvent it or drop it all together. Her greatest fear was her director who loved this program. The educator was aware that the program attracted a tiny slice of the public the museum intended to serve, and her annual review was in a few months and she feared that dropping the program, or even changing it would reflect poorly on her, even though it was the right thing to do.

Even though many lament with frustration, “We continue to do things the way we have always done them because it is the way we have always done them,” when there is an opportunity to try something different to reach a better outcome, analyze a situation to stimulate progress, or accept reality and put a program to rest—there is an internal struggle—not in the organization, but a personal struggle. In the Cycle of Intentional Practice, the Align quadrant is the one quadrant that goes deep—becomes personal. Everyone wants to strengthen their museum by aligning what they do with the impact they want to achieve, yet doing so requires a tough-as-nails approach, a relentless focus on the desired result rather than personal feelings about a program, and a recognition that change is inevitable and a complex fact of life.

RK&A’s work with the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is today’s featured project on the Museum Education Monitor’s (MEM) social media sites!  RK&A has been working with the Perez Art Museum Miami since 2013 to evaluate its Knight School Program, a single-visit program designed to serve all third grade students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.  We began our work together by helping staff articulate and clarify student outcomes and indicators.  The program intends to enhance students’ critical thinking skills related to observing and interpreting works of art.  We are now in the process of conducting a formative evaluation  that will identify the strengths and areas in need of improvement, before finally conducting a summative evaluation in 2015.

Check out the MEM posting for some additional information by visiting these social media sites today!

Web– http://www.mccastle.com/Public/Default.aspx

Facebook– http://www.facebook.com/Museum.Education.Monitor

Twitter– http://twitter.com/mchriscastle

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/mchriscastle/

YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/user/MChrisC54

FORUM Blog– http://forum.mccastle.com/

 

25th Anniversary ButterflyWorking in research and evaluation, you become very skeptical of words like “data-driven” and “research-based.” To evaluators, it is quite flattering that these words are so buzzworthy—yes, we want our research and evaluation work to be important, used, and even desired! However, even though these buzzwords grab attention, they can be misleading. For instance, when we talk about data and research at RK&A, we mean original, first-hand data and research, such as interviews, questionnaires, and surveys with museum visitors.

This was on my mind as I recently had the opportunity to help my CARE (Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation) colleague Liz Kunz Kollmann review session proposals for the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting. Liz, as CARE’s representative for the National Program Committee, was charged with reviewing sessions in the Education, Curation, & Evaluation track (all 141 sessions!) along with fellow National Program Committee members in education and curation. Given that audience research and evaluation can be part of many AAM tracks (marketing, development, exhibit design, etc.), Liz recruited some CARE members to help her review sessions in other tracks to see if there were any sessions outside of our designated track that CARE should advocate for.

I volunteered to review sessions in the tracks Development & Membership and Finance & Administration. I had expected to encounter a lot of buzzwords since the AAM session proposals include a description that must be appropriate for display on the AAM website, mobile app, and other published meeting materials. So, I wasn’t surprised but I was struck by the heavy use of terms like “data-driven” and “research-based” (e.g., data-driven strategies for membership recruitment and research-based programming) and was stymied in trying to determine whether these sessions were relevant to CARE—what data is driving the decisions and is it really of interest to CARE members?

Certainly I am not dismissive of research or data that isn’t “original.” There are many definitions of research and data that are applicable to certain scenarios and within certain fields. For instance, arts-based research is a completely valid field of research within art education when conducted well. However, I am biased to collecting original data from visitors first-hand, which is why terminology like “data-driven” and “research-based” makes my ears perk up—because these words prompt many questions for me about the type of data and research and its appropriateness to inform said decisions and practices. Through our work at RK&A, we truly want practitioners to make decisions that are data-driven; that is the greatest outcome of our work! However, we also want our clients to be skilled users and consumers of data and evaluation so much so that their ears perk up at the very mention of “data”—for hopefully, they, too, have become savvy digesters of the language as well as the meaning behind the data when talking about research and evaluation.

Check out our Buzzword Bingo below inspired by Dilbert: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-10-25/  Warning: this Bingo is informed by RK&A’s professional experience and is not based on original data.  Maybe with the help of our museum colleagues, we can make it “research-based.”  Please share your buzzwords!

Reflection 19 blog v4

The case study below is from a summative evaluation RK&A completed for the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico.  Based in Manati, Puerto Rico, the Conservation Trust runs a Citizen Science program for local residents.

Citizen Science [2010]

A summative program evaluation with a nature conservancy

The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico collaborated with RK&A to study the impact of its Citizen Science program, a NSF-funded project designed to involve local Spanish-speaking citizens in scientific research that contributes to growing knowledge about the Trust’s biodiversity and land management efforts. The Citizen Science program underwent formative evaluation in 2009 and summative evaluation in 2010. Summative evaluation is discussed here.

How did we approach this study?

Summative evaluation was guided by four impacts developed using NSF’s Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects. These included that participants will: use and understand the scientific method; experience and understand the purpose of scientific rigor; develop a sense of ownership for the Reserve; and realize that the research in which they participate has wide application to decisions made about conserving the Reserve’s flora and fauna. To explore these impacts, RK&A collected 343 standardized questionnaires, conducted 39 in-depth interviews, and conducted three case studies with participants who have a high level of program involvement.

What did we learn?

In all areas where the Trust hoped to achieve impact with participants, gains were made. Findings show that participants self-reported moderate gains in their knowledge and awareness of flora and fauna and scientific processes; interestingly, those who participated in programs with live animal interaction self-reported greater gains. Some also acknowledged attitude and behavior changes as a result of program participation. Findings further demonstrate that a majority of participants felt the Reserve is relevant and valuable to them and Puerto Rico, honing and developing their sense of pride and ownership. Finally, some participants also recognized the application and value of the research in which they participated. Findings also raised some potential barriers to achieving impact, such as the average participants’ brief, often isolated exposure to a specific research project; as well as the fact that many participants entered the program with prior knowledge and interests that might limit the program’s potential to facilitate significant learning gains.

 What are the implications of the findings?

A review of Citizen Science projects found that very few have formally assessed the impact of participants’ experiences.[1] This study sought to contribute to knowledge in this area by exploring participants’ experiences through the lens of the four program impacts mentioned above. Some findings are consistent with those of other Citizen Science studies, such as the fact that participants exhibited more gains in content knowledge than process skills, and many participants enter with prior interest in and knowledge of science and conservation. Other findings suggest that animal interaction and small group size positively influenced participants’ experiences and perceptions of learning. Collectively, findings suggest implications for program design, including the importance of bridging participants’ experiences so they envision their contribution as part of a greater goal.

[1] Bonney, R., Ballard, H., Jordan, R., McCallie, E., Phillips, T., Shirk, J., & Wilderman, C. C. (2009a). Public participation in scientific research: Defining the field and assessing its potential for informal science education. A CAISE inquiry group report. Washington, D.C.: Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE).

25th Anniversary ButterflyA recent Telegraph article announced that the chairman of Arts Council England thinks there should be a one-hour photo ban (on selfies in particular) in art galleries. My first reaction was: “This is an interesting and absolutely horrible idea.” I see how a photo ban could be conceived as a strategy to enhance the visitor experience—I have certainly muttered to myself in annoyance when there are so many people taking photos of an artwork that I can’t get close enough to see it (or if I feel brazen enough to make my way to the front so I can see it, I feel bad for ruining everyone’s photo). However, if this one-hour photo ban were to go through, I see it creating a lot more negative visitor experiences than positive ones when you put yourself in the shoes of the security guard—the person who has to enforce the rule.

Let me step back a moment and say that I owe my current professional career to my work as a security guard. In addition to many other roles as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, I guarded galleries and certainly learned a lot about visitor experiences. As someone who wanted to work in a museum, I found that I, as a security guard, had the power to either make or break the quality of a visitor’s experience. Tell visitors about Peggy’s many artist lovers while standing in her bedroom—make their visit and even their day. Ask a visitor to leave her bag in a locker or coatroom—incite anger to the point of someone asking for a refund and never setting foot in the museum. It was a humbling experience to say the least and completely transformed my thinking about the work I wanted to do for museums.

Now jumping back to the policy at hand…when reading the article, I first imagined how this would work on the ground.  I immediately empathized with the poor security guards who would have to enforce this policy (as did a Hyperallergic author who commented on this policy). Yes, perhaps signage would alert visitors to the ban, but from evaluation we know that it would go largely unnoticed. Therefore, my predictor is that the first awareness a visitor would have of the policy is when a security guard tells him or her not to take a photo. No matter how friendly a security guard may be, being told not to do something can create an embarrassing situation. How the visitor then reacts to feeling embarrassed is another story. Does he argue with the guard? Just continue to take pictures anyway? Does he internalize it and feel awful for the rest of the day? Any way it plays out will generally result in a negative experience for the visitor as well as those around him.

The chairman’s comparison of this no-photo policy and the “quiet car” is a perfect analogy in my opinion. As a frequent train rider, I love the concept of the quiet car, and I choose to sit in it more often than not. It works well when everyone knows they are in the quiet car. The trouble is, typically, there is one person who doesn’t know, which puts a negative pallor on everyone else’s experience in the quiet car. Most quiet cars have a sign, sometimes the lights are dimmer than other cars, and sometimes the conductor will announce which car is the quiet car. Perfect—except non-regular riders do not notice the signs, subtle lighting cues, or are aware what car they are in (am I in the first car?). Therefore, when the un-knowing person is encountered by a fellow quiet-car rider or conductor about a rule-breaking cell phone conversation, the ensuing interaction often doesn’t go well. I have seen and heard about everything—from a New Jersey Transit rider being escorted off the train by police after starting a fight with a confronting rider, to an Amtrak rider construing the conductor’s request as him telling her she “has a big mouth.” For these reasons, I find myself avoiding the quiet car lately because I end up being more frustrated than relieved and feeling more negative than positive. From what I have seen as security guard, evaluator, and expert train rider, more negative than positive visitor experiences might result from this potential photo-ban policy.

Photo from the Fortune article, "The Cult of the Amtrak Quiet Car," an interesting read for quiet care devotees and those unaware: http://fortune.com/2014/09/17/amtrak-quiet-car/

Photo from the Fortune article, “The Cult of the Amtrak Quiet Car,” an interesting read for both quiet car devotees and those completely unaware: http://fortune.com/2014/09/17/amtrak-quiet-car/

 

The case study below is from a project RK&A did with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL and highlights the importance of iterative testing.

Future Energy Chicago Simulation [2013]

An evaluation of a multimedia simulation for a science museum

Between 2012 and 2013, RK&A conducted four rounds of formative evaluation of the Future Energy Chicago simulation for the Museum of Science and Industry in collaboration with the design firm Potion. In the simulation, up to five teams compete against each other in five games: Future House, Future Car, Future Neighborhood, Future Power, and Future Transportation. In the games, players have to make decisions that challenge them to think about energy production and usage, and they receive badges as rewards for selecting energy-efficient choices.

How did we approach this study?

RK&A included primarily middle school youth (home school groups, etc.) in testing, as they are the target audience for Future Energy Chicago. Each round of evaluation explored unique issues relevant to a particular design phase. In the first round of evaluation, RK&A tested three-dimensional paper prototypes of each game to explore middle school youth’s understanding of the concepts presented. In the next two rounds (alpha and alpha prime), RK&A tested the games on touch-screen monitors to explore each game’s functionality as well as youth’s motivations and learning, including a badge system aimed at rewarding youth’s energy-efficient choices. In the last round of evaluation, RK&A tested the games using a combination of multi-touch and projection technology that closely mirrored the final simulation environment. For each round of evaluation, RK&A staff conducted observations and interviews with middle school youth who played the games.

What did we learn?

Each round of evaluation revealed successes and challenges of the Future Energy Chicago games that MSI staff and Potion designers used to improve the games’ functionality and messaging. Throughout testing, findings revealed three key characteristics of the game that were compelling to middle school youth—variety of energy choices, opportunities to design aspects of their energy environment, and challenging energy problems to solve. Findings also revealed that youth’s prior knowledge and experiences with energy choices highly influenced the choices they made and the messages they took away from each game. A consistent challenge throughout testing was helping youth understand the idea of trade-offs in energy choices (comfort or cost versus saving energy). A badge system was implemented to address this issue, as well as to incentivize youth to select energy-efficient choices.

What are the implications?

This study underscores the importance of iterative testing when evaluating a complex digital learning environment. Not only did MSI staff and Potion designers need to understand barriers to effectively using the games, including the intuitiveness of the technology, the Museum needed to understand what about the simulation motivated youth’s game play and effectively empowered them to make smart energy choices as the future residents of Chicago. Further, RK&A facilitated reflective discussions between rounds of testing that enabled MSI staff and designers to apply the study findings and recommendations to the next round of testing, ultimately improving the overall functionality and effectiveness of Future Energy Chicago.

25th Anniversary ButterflyThe most challenging evaluation report I’ve written consisted of 17 PowerPoint slides. The slides didn’t pull the most salient findings from a larger report; the slides were the report! I remember how difficult it was to start out with the idea of writing less from qualitative data. While I had to present major trends, I feared the format might rob the data of its nuance (17 PowerPoint slides obviously require brevity). The process was challenging and at times frustrating, but in the end I felt extremely gratified. Not only was the report thorough, it was exactly what the client wanted, and it was usable.

As evaluators, we toe the line between social science research, application and usability. As researchers, we must analyze and present the data as they appear. Sometimes, especially in the case of qualitative reports, this can lead to an overwhelming amount of dense narrative. This acceptable reporting style in evaluation practice is our default. Given the number of reports we write each year, having guidelines is efficient and freeing. We can focus on the analysis, giving us plenty of time to get to know and understand the data, to tease out the wonderful complexity that comes from open-ended interviews. As researchers, the presentation takes a backseat to analysis and digging into data.

However most of the time we are writing a report that will be shared with other researchers; it is a document that will be read by userspaper-stack-300x251museum staff who may share the findings with other staff or the board. Overwhelming amounts of dense narrative may not be useful; not because our audience can’t understand it, but because often the meaning is packed and needs to be untangled. I would guess what clients want and need is something they can refer to repeatedly, something they can look at to remind themselves, “Visitors aren’t interested in reading long labels,” or “Visitors enjoy interactive exhibits.” As researchers, presentation may be secondary, but as evaluators, presentation must be a primary consideration.

As my experience with the PowerPoint report (and many other reports since then) taught me, it can be tough to stray from a well-intentioned template. A shorter report or a more visual report doesn’t take less time to analyze or less time to write. In fact, writing a short report takes more time because I have to eliminate the dense narrative and find the essence, as I might with a long report. I also have to change the way I think about presentation. I have to think about presentation!

At RK&A, we like to look at our report template to see what we can do to improve it – new ways to highlight key findings or call out visitor quotations. Not all of our ideas work out in the long run, but it is good to think about different ways to present information. At the end of the day, though, what our report looks like for any given project comes from a client’s needs—and not from professional standards. And I learned that when I wrote those 17 PowerPoint slides!

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