Why I Don't Really Blog About My Research
Today is an exciting day. I get to talk about findings from a project I loved publicly.
Why am I so pumped to be talking about reporting? Because the reports I produce are often a very private affair. They are written for a specific audience (the client, the funder, project teams, etc.), and often have a specific aim (you achieved this impact in this way, and here are some thoughts on ways to modify or take this idea further - backed by data!). The institution commissioning the work tends to own the study and all related products. Often, for a variety of reasons, an institution chooses to keep research findings and evaluation reports private. This is all good and fine, but it can also be limiting for us external folk. Because sometimes I work on a really amazing project and I want to hype the hell out of it - citing data and findings from the studies - to everyone I know. And, sometimes, the experience taught me a lot professionally, and I want to discuss the research, theory, and methodology with peers. Yet, without permission, I can't really do that unless it is in the abstract.
Which brings us back here! Last summer I collaborated with Kate Livingston of ExposeYourMuseum and Lauren Wilson of Illuminated Ideas to pitch a study to the Saint Louis Science Center (SLSC) for a summative evaluation of their GROW exhibition. You can read more about the exhibition (and my deep love for the city of St. Louis) in this blog post. The study concluded in early November, when Kate and I flew out to St. Louis to present a summary of findings and turn over a 50-page report. We, with GROW's project team and SLSC's Research and Evaluation Team, all congratulated each other on a job well done and called it a day.
A few months later, SLSC's Research and Evaluation team reached out with some questions about our study. They were planning to include excerpts of our findings in Opening Minds to Science report! This is an annual document they produce for the community about the research and evaluation conducted at the Science Center. Cue my excitement.
High-level findings from report are condensed into two, beautifully concise pages in Opening Minds to Science (linked above by clicking on the image and linked to a PDF here). I strongly encourage everyone to celebrate the work SLSC is doing by reading through the report.
A Summary of A Summary of Findings
While you can read more about the GROW study by going to the report linked above, I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favorite findings from the study here.
For some quick context, you need to know that GROW opened in June 2016, and summative evaluation was conducted shortly after its first anniversary in 2017. The purpose of summative evaluation is to determine if the overarching goals for the exhibition were met, and to collect systematic data about how visitors are using various exhibition elements. GROW covers about an acre of indoor and outdoor spaces. Lauren and I spent a full week following visitors as they spent time in the exhibit and paired those observations with interviews to learn about their experiences.
What we Learned from observing visitors
Visitors spend a long time in GROW. I mean, a really long time. While the shortest visit was under 10 minutes, the longest was well over an hour. On average, visitors spent at least half an hour touring indoor and outdoor parts of the exhibit.
GROW has at least 25 designated spaces or areas visitors can stop at, and many visitors spent time at about half of those options. Yep, the data tells us that, during their time in GROW, visitors made an average of 12.5 stops at exhibit elements. GROW offers a mix of highly interactive exhibits (games, videos, water play), moderately interactive exhibits (combine, garden, greenhouse), and observational exhibits (soil monoliths, bee hive) across its indoors and outdoors spaces. The top three most commonly visited exhibits were the Bi-State Agriculture Map inside the Pavilion, the Case IH Combine outside, and the HomeGROWn plot.
“Tell me more about that.” Or, Findings from Visitor Interviews.
After visitors went through the exhibit they were invited to tell us more, via a semi-structured interview. We probed at aspects of the exhibit they enjoyed, connections they made to their personal lives, and what the may have learned about agriculture through being in the space. Overwhelmingly, visitor responses to GROW were positive – which made the experience even more rewarding for Lauren and me!
- Mostly we learned that GROW was flexible enough to adapt and suit a variety of visitor interest – almost everyone found a way to engage that was personally satisfying.
- We also learned that being in GROW promotes questioning and fosters curiosity. Interestingly, we noted evidence of this at the three most trafficked exhibits. Adults were more likely to pose questions; youth asked more about process and experience.
- My most favorite finding, though, is this: Visitors were not only inspired by GROW, but they saw themselves and their day-to-day lives reflected in the exhibit. Visiting the exhibit motivated many interviewees to practice behaviors demonstrated at home. The same was true Lauren and me (!!). Further, local visitors were surprised by state exports, expressed recognition or awareness of crops that they generally see in fields on road trips, and commented on the exhibit’s potential value for “city folk.”
If you’re lucky enough to visit the great city of St. Louis, do yourself a favor and swing by the GROW exhibition at the Saint Louis Science Center. This museum, like many others in the city, is free – so what are you waiting for?