RK&A conducted a multi-method summative evaluation of walk-in museum visitors’ experiences to Q?rius at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Q?rius, an interactive and experimental learning space that places the unique assets of NMNH—the science, researchers, and collections—front and center in visitors’ minds to inspire questions about the natural world and the scientific research that NMNH scientists conduct around the globe.
How did we approach this study?
Q?rius is designed as a flexible space for walk-in museum visitors; as a programming space and display space, it invites visitors to ask questions and experience ideas and specimens by using the tools of science. The scope of the evaluation specifically targeted walk-in youth and adult visitors to Q?rius. At the beginning of the project, RK&A facilitated a workshop with staff to identify the intended results of Q?rius (e.g., outcomes) as well as specific evidence to indicate achievement of an outcome (e.g., indicators). Outcomes and indicators became the foundation for the evaluation and its four data collection methods: timing and tracking observations, ethnographies, interviews, and questionnaires.
What did we learn?
Walk-in youth and adult visitors to Q?rius enjoyed their experiences. At a basic level, visitors appreciated that Q?rius offers hands-on opportunities and activities that invite them to experience authentic processes, tools, and real objects for natural history research. As a new type of learning space that is so different from other, more traditional learning spaces at NMNH (e.g., exhibitions), Q?rius is doing very well by its intended outcomes. Highest achievement was for the outcome: “Youth and adults value the opportunity to engage with authentic processes & tools and use objects of natural history research.” Interviews indicate that 93 percent enjoyed using natural history objects, tools, & processes, while 61 percent recognized the advantages of natural history research. By comparison, achievement was lowest on the outcome: “Youth and adults strengthen personal connections to natural history research.” Of interviewees, 17 percent found relevance in interactions with staff, volunteers, & scientists, and optimistically 49 percent recognized how natural history is relevant to their lives (more repeat visitors to NMNH than non-repeat visitors did so).
What are the implications of the findings?
Findings indicate that Q?rius creates memorable experiences. Experiencing scientific specimens, tools, and processes firsthand is engaging and awe-inspiring. However, scientists are not at the forefront of walk-in visitors’ recollections of their experiences. While scientists are integral to program experiences in Q?rius, NMNH might also consider new ways to emphasize the importance of scientists who study and learn about natural history when programming with scientists is not happening. Given the uniqueness of the space and expectations for how visitors can potentially use the space, repeat exposure to Q?rius or further orientation to the space is important.
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This RK&A evaluation study is available on informalscience.org