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The lead article for this month's issue of @the Bradbury.

Collaboration for Ongoing Visitor Experience Studies

Data

As a result of the Museum’s participation in a national pilot program—the Collaboration for Ongoing Visitor Experience Studies (COVES)—staff began in July 2016 to ask our visitors to take an online survey. The purpose of the survey was to collect consistent data across several U.S. science centers. and museums So far, COVES has reported almost 6,000 responses, 300 of which were collected at our Museum.

Not only do we get to learn more about who visits our Museum, but we also get to compare our data with statistics from other science centers and museums—an apples-to-apples comparison.

After 12 months of data collection, the statistics from the 20 pilot-program locations make it is obvious that our Museum visitors differ in significant ways from visitors to other locations.

Note: These data are from general public visitors only, and exclude school and other formal groups. We were also visited by 143 school groups, eight VIP groups on behalf of the Laboratory, 57 Lab-sponsored events, and 32 tour groups (both personal and commercial).

Why people visit

Compared with the aggregate COVES data, the data from our Museum show that more than half of our surveyed visitors (53 percent) saw their visit as an educational experience for themselves. In contrast, this was true for only 8 percent of visitors when all the locations were considered. In the overall survey, for the question asking why people visit, the choice that got the most responses (37 percent) was “To spend time together as a group/family.” That was true for only 12 percent of the answers our visitors gave.

Come here often?

Consistent with data gathered at the Museum before COVES, most of our visitors were shown to be here for the first time. For 91 percent of our visitors, this was their first visit, compared with 55 percent of the visitors represented by the aggregated responses.

Are you from around here?

Previous data showed that while some of our visitors are local, more are not. The COVES survey supports that finding, with 75 percent of Museum respondents indicating, “My group included out-of-towners only,” compared with 27 percent as a whole. Groups of only locals made up more than half (55 percent) of the groups represented by all data collected, while that was true of only 6 percent of our visitor groups.

Our mature audience

While the age of the largest percentage of visitors (62 percent) to all the locations was between 25 and 44, our visitors were much older, with the majority (75 percent) indicating they were 45 or older. Interestingly, while the percent of groups indicating a member had a disability was fairly consistent (7 percent in general versus 6 percent for our visitors), a Museum visitor’s disability was much more likely to be one that affects mobility (67 percent versus 43 percent in general). Our visitors were also three times more likely to have an auditory disability than visitors to science centers and museums in general (28 percent versus 10 percent).

Got kids with you?

Possibly because of our average visitor’s age, our visitor groups do not include many children. In the aggregate, responses indicated that only 27 percent of visiting groups were made up of adults only, compared with 78 percent of the groups visiting our Museum. And when there were children in a group, those children tended to be older. While the aggregate data indicated that 10 percent of the visiting children were 13 to 17 years old, that age group made up 32 percent of the children visiting our Museum.

Education

In general, our visitor population has earned more graduate degrees than the average person participating in the study. The response to having a graduate degree was 31 percent overall compared with 46 percent at our Museum, which perhaps resulted in fewer people here (10 percent of the responses) indicating they had only “some college” (compared with 18 percent of visitors represented by the aggregated data).

Other demographics

In general, a greater number of men are visitors here than is usual for these types of venues. Those filling out the survey here were 52 percent male versus 35 percent of visitors at all the locations included in the study. While our visitors were less likely to report their income (28 percent here preferred not to say, versus 20 percent in general), the only real income difference was for those earning less than $25,000 a year. Overall, 7 percent of visitors fell into that category, versus only 2 percent for us.

How we are the same as other science centers and museums?

While the data from the above categories highlight how our results differed from the average, our results were consistent in many ways with data from other locations. This includes visitor assessments, on a 10-point scale, of such things as educational quality (9.1 on average and 9.2 for us), entertainment quality (9 versus 8.6), and exhibits being in working order (8.8 on average versus 8.9 for us), although we did slightly better than average on staff helpfulness (9.2 on average versus 9.8 for us).

Only time will tell whether these assessments will remain consistent. We will use this feedback to make improvements in the Museum experience.

We would like to extend our thanks to the many people who helped by consenting to the survey.

Representatives at the Museum of Science in Boston and the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, Illinois, lead COVES.

Check out the rest of this month's issue.