Archive for January, 2015

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!

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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!

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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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The case study below highlights two summative evaluations RK&A did at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS).  Both exhibitions debuted in the new CAS building that opened in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in September 2008.  Although the two exhibitions use different interpretive methods and have different learning outcomes, the two projects together highlight the importance of exhibition introductions.

Water Is Life and Altered State: Climate Change in California [2010]

Summative evaluations of two exhibitions for a natural history museum

The California Academy of Sciences (CAS) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate two exhibitions debuting in the CAS’s new facility. One exhibition, Altered State: Climate Change in California, uses fossils, interactive technology, and live animals “to explore the science of climate change, the effects we may expect to see in our own backyard, and the steps that can be taken to mitigate these dramatic changes,” while the other exhibition, Water is Life, explores the importance and diversity of water using the Steinhart Aquarium’s Living Collection.

How did we approach this study?

We believe that each evaluation study is unique and should strongly consider the goals and objectives of the exhibition, program, or other endeavor. As such, RK&A worked closely with CAS to identify its goals and objectives for each exhibition. Water is Life was focused on visitor learning. In response, RK&A conducted a remedial evaluation to identify operational or conceptual shortcomings early in exhibition development, followed by a summative evaluation that employed a rigorous, modified pre-test/post-test design to measure visitor learning. For Altered State, CAS sought to understand what visitors did in the exhibition, as well as what they took away from their experiences; thus, RK&A conducted timing and tracking observations and in-depth exit interviews.

What did we learn?

While many findings were exhibition-specific, there were also two larger trends. First, both evaluations show that visitors had strong affective experiences in the exhibitions, although learning objectives were challenging to meet. For instance, in the Water is Life evaluation, findings show that visitors who went to the exhibition demonstrated much greater interest in and concern for the natural world than visitors who did not see the exhibition. However, there were few differences in the knowledge of visitors who went to the exhibition and those who did not.

Second, visitors need a strong physical and conceptual introduction to exhibitions. In the Water is Life remedial evaluation, some interviewees described way-finding issues, and a few interviewees specifically asked for a better introduction. Further, in Altered State, the open space exhibition design, with its multiple entry and exit points, likely contributed to low dwell times.

What are the implications of the findings?

 The evaluations are a keen reminder that exhibition introductions are imperative. They can set the conceptual stage for visitors, and if they are well-conceived and executed, they can also convey overarching concepts, connect subthemes, and present the intent of the exhibition. On a similar note, while the open exhibition design offers visitors a free-choice learning environment, introducing some structure and direction might help those seeking to understand the exhibition’s “big idea” without compromising the free-choice quality. Additionally, the studies reaffirmed that the unique value of exhibitions are the strong affective experiences they prompt.


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