How should a science center or museum’s success be measured?

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

We have recently developed a logic model based on a 21st-century skills framework (PDF, 2.15 MB, see page 3), which we are now using to inform and evaluate all of our exhibits and programs. We can better assess how engaged visitors are with the content, so that we’re not just measuring our success by how many people we served, or whether they went away knowing a single fact. Instead, we try to find out if our visitors have increased critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills that they can take with them and apply to other situations.

Erika C. Shugart, deputy director, Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

A science center’s success should be measured by its impact on people, on the community where it exists, and on the economic status of its community. Its overall success should be anchored to its achievement in the development and/or promotion of science culture.

Dexter Bautista, science research specialist, National Academy of Science and Technology, Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines

When I was with the Austin Children’s Museum, we looked at repeat visitorship as a measure of success. For many years, the museum measured each year by total attendance and number of memberships. These are the two big numbers most museums would strive to grow. To achieve this, we tried to create an environment, exhibits, and programs that made folks want to come back again and often.

Erich Rose, Erich Rose Design, Austin, Texas

In the end, the measure of success has to be about learning—broadly defined to encompass both cognitive and noncognitive outcomes, such as engagement, interest, attitudes, behaviors, and skills. We need researchers and evaluators to continue to improve the means to capture these often elusive impacts.

David Ucko, president, Museums + more, Washington, D.C.

The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.

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