VSA Conference Recap

The Visitor Studies Association Conference, held in Albuquerque in July of 2014, presented a unique opportunity for the field to reflect and identify its past accomplishments as well as future directions for growth.

Here’s a link to my notes from the conference http://cl.ly/2P3V2H2w3P0y

In addition to getting to attend several great sessions, I also participated in three sessions at the conferences. Links to each of those presentations are included below.

First up, I participated as part of a panel on consultant-institution partnerships along with Sharisse Butler and Jessica Luke. In planning for the session we worked toward developing a continuum of partnerships that ranged from the consultant being more external to those where the consultant takes on a greater and more integral role within the institution. We also explored the continuum of sustained impacts, ranging from one-off projects or sessions, to relationships or resources that can help to build capacity over longer periods of time. I shared examples from my work with the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian – the former being a mix of a one-off project that had a more limited long-term capacity-building component, and the later being a one-time training session that also sought to develop a more lasting set of resources that could be accessed by staff long after the workshop sessions themselves had concluded. Discussion during the session was quite provocative and it was suggested that we might sometimes label something as “participatory” or “collaborative” to put a more positive spin on it when there’s not enough money or time for a team of professional evaluators to do all the data collection or analysis. Someone also questioned why we, as evaluators, are somewhat unique in our desire to build evaluation capacity in others – exhibit developers aren’t seeking to develop exhibition design skills in others. We wouldn’t expect evaluators to step in and lead tours or run educational programs at museums, so why do we expect or seek to train other museum professionals to conduct evaluations? While I found the conversation to be provocative, I still lean toward there being value in building evaluative capacity as a way to create buy-in to the process and a deeper understanding of subsequent outcomes.

Presentation Info/Link: Consultant-Institution Partnerships for Strengthening Evaluation Capacity, Thursday July 17th (Co-Presentation with Sharisse Butler and Jessica Luke): http://cl.ly/3N3q031w1E0R

Next up, I facilitated a panel with Beverly Serrell, Steve Yalowitz and Camellia Sanford – three veteran researchers who had experiences doing visitor observation studies (and other types of data collection) with new digital technology as well as more traditional methods, usually involving pen and paper. A series of questions were posed to each panelist ahead of time, and the primary objective of the session was to compare and contrast the relative strengths and weaknesses of different methodological/technological approaches to data collection. This was a fun session for me because my work was more or less done after pulling everyone’s information into the presentation and I got to sit back and enjoy the conversation while playing the role of time-keeper and discussant.

Comparing and Contrasting Digital and Paper-Based Modes of Visitor Observation, Friday July 18th (Co Presented with Beverly Serrell, Steve Yalowitz and Camellia Sanford): http://cl.ly/2e2o2B3U341X

Lastly, I co-presented along with Ruth Cohen about some of the work we’ve been doing to evaluate adult learning programs at the American Museum of Natural History. In the presentation Ruth shared an overview of the Museums’ efforts to broaden and enrich its adult learning offerings – and I shared findings from our past and present efforts to learn more about what adults want, like, and benefit most from in terms of adult learning programs.

Using Evaluation to Develop New Adult Learning Approaches in Museums, Friday July 18th (Co Presented with Ruth Cohen, AMNH): http://cl.ly/363D0t3Z3720

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