Covid safe visitor research at British Museum

The revised approach to evaluation has been invaluable in giving us rich insight at a time of unprecedented change. It helped us to assess what was working well early on as well as what needed further consideration. We were able to make rapid and nimble responses using that data.

- Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation and Volunteers, British Museum

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre has worked with British Museum on formative and summative exhibition evaluation for over a decade, using tried and tested methods of face-to-face focus groups and visitor surveys alongside in-exhibition kiosk surveys.

Maintaining high quality data

Evaluation is an intrinsic element of British Museum’s practice. As part of the Museum’s preparations to reopen in August 2020, we looked at how we could keep robust sample sizes and high-quality data whilst eliminating face-to-face research and kiosk data collection.

Compulsory pre-booking enables early connection

The fact that after reopening, all visitors to British Museum exhibitions had to pre-book their visit, was an incidental benefit to us researchers. 

It meant the Museum could implement a bookers survey with automated email invitations sent to visitors within 24-48 hours of visiting. This approach achieved a very healthy 14% response rate.

QR codes in the exhibition space

We also implemented QR codes, displayed in the exhibition. This maximised the opportunities for visitors to give feedback, including those bookers who had opted out of receiving emails.

The combination of the bookers' survey and QR codes generated 2-3 times the sample collected using the previous face-to-face and kiosk approach.

Introducing QR codes boosted the sample size for the recent Arctic exhibition by 18%. 

Robust weighting to preserve data integrity

Having a granular breakdown of ticketing data by visit flow and by ticket type (Members, Adults, Families etc) meant that we were also able to replicate our previous weighting approach.

This ensures the new contactless data can be reliably compared against previous face-to-face research.

Timely insight to improve visitor experience

Because we had a large sample relatively early in the exhibition run, we could be confident the visitor feedback was accurate and representative.

This was particularly important for British Museum in evaluating their reopening measures. 

As a result of the initial feedback, British Museum implemented immediate changes, removing texts and objects for example, and reviewing the role of Visitor Service staff. 

As much of the UK cultural sector once again prepares to welcome back visitors, British Museum is using the insights from last year to refine their plans for upcoming exhibitions’ interpretation, design and visitor experience.

Benefits of the post-Covid approach

  • Covid secure
  • Lower primary data collection costs
  • No museum staff time required for kiosk set up and monitoring
  • Improved respondent experience
  • Increased sample sizes 
  • Retained sample quality
  • Earlier insights on audience evaluation 

In these 'interesting' times the evaluation has been really key in helping us rethink our approach.

- Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation and Volunteers, British Museum

Medwen and Stuart's recorded presentation is available free to Visitor Studies Group (VSG) members as part of the VSG conference taking place online throughout May 2021.

Images: British Museum


Data Director Medwen has overall responsibility for the quality of the quantitative data that Morris...

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