In your opinion, what should every museum be able to provide for the “ideal” museum experience?

October 29th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the November/December 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

My ideal museum experience is memorable. It requires only one cool exhibit experience where I spend significant time, engaged in a way that taps into previous interests and expands my thinking. It makes me wonder about something and allows me to explore an idea viscerally, using my hands—even my full body. Connecting with others (family, friends, or a museum educator) around the phenomenon is important, too, as it shapes and grows my own perspective. Yet I have to own the activity, by directing next steps and reflecting on what I did and learned. Ideally, I’ve embodied a concept, had my interest piqued, and am primed to explore further. In fact, my ideal museum experience is more than memorable. I’ve come to care.

Tracey Wright, senior researcher and developer, TERC, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Should exhibitions be the central focus of what science centers and museums do?

August 22nd, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the September/October 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

The central focus for science centers is serving the communities in their region. Many of the science festivals popping up in the United States are led by museums, reflecting the responsibility that science centers have to reach out to audiences that do not normally attend exhibitions. Science festivals enable this by hosting events and programs in places where the people in their communities naturally live, work, and play.
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Do you think “deal of the day” services like Groupon and LivingSocial help or hurt museums?

June 26th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the July/August 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Groupon and LivingSocial are neither good nor bad for museums. However, they are a tool that must be used with great care. As museum professionals, we must ask: What is the value to the museum for each patron generated by a deal of the day promotion over the life of that patron’s relationship with the museum? Will the patron spend money on food and retail? Will they become members and renew? Will they return for more visits once they have experienced our offerings? Will they send their children to summer camps? Will they make philanthropic gifts to the museum? Ultimately, these services deliver new patrons to our doors. We must be prepared to deepen the relationship once they arrive. If we can do that effectively, these services are a boon. Otherwise, we’ve just had a deeply discounted transaction with a one-time visitor, and that is a bust.

Jeff Hill, director of external relations, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Do you think science centers and museums should advocate for particular positions on controversial issues?

April 23rd, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the May/June 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

There are more ways in which a science center can be seen to be advocating a position than by just saying it outright. If you call yourself a science center, for example, your audience is likely to draw a conclusion as to where you stand in the evolution/creationism debate. The International Centre for Life leases space to a cutting-edge stem cell research lab, and however much we may hold debates on the ethics of stem cell research, by doing this we are clearly implicit supporters of the research

Ian Simmons, science communication director, International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
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How should a science center or museum’s success be measured?

February 21st, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This discussion was originally published in the Viewpoints department of the March/April 2012 of Dimensions magazine.

Along with traditional measures of financial performance and customer satisfaction, a successful science center needs to show how it achieves its mission of engaging the public in science and technology. An innovative approach would be to convert evaluation studies into measures that account for the quality of the visitor learning experience, and to include these measures in the museum’s organizational scorecard.

Chantal Barriault, co-director of science communication and senior scientist, research and evaluation, Science North, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

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