Visitor Experience in Science Centers

In the past, museums focused on the knowledge they deemed important for visitors to learn with less focus on what the visitors wanted or what they actually learned. In the past decade, the focus has shifted to public education and outreach, requiring a dialogue between the institution and the public. Most science centers don’t have collections or a curator, but instead provide an open arena for visitors to learn about science and technology through interactive experiences. However, they have seen a change in community interaction, particularly with evaluations. Mary Olson from the Pacific Science Center explained, saying, “Evaluations are now integral to any new program, exhibit, or event that we put on. Visitor feedback is so important in knowing what to do next and many grants now require multiple forms of evaluations including front-end and back-end.”

Olson also emphasized the increased importance of community involvement. She listed a variety of community activities appealing to people across all demographics. They host science cafes across the Seattle area (for adults and teens), Google Field Trips for under-served children, Autism Early Open, Science on Wheels, and more. They also encourage community input from local scientists to help inform them on decisions about exhibits and programs. They strive to engage the community at all levels.

Museums and similar institutions are finding more ways to interact with the public and emphasize visitor experience. Feedback from the community is vital to achieve this end since no two visitors are alike and no community is homogenous.

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14 Responses to Visitor Experience in Science Centers

  1. varljt75 says:

    These are some great projects! Accessibility’s a big issue, it’s good to see a museum trying this many approaches to helping with it.

  2. at01lang says:

    These programs do sound interesting, and I do like how this particular science center has appealed to visitor feedback via evaluations to shape the content of its exhibits. I wonder if there is a means by which they can extend such evaluations to the broader community to get their insights, as with these evaluations, I imagine they are likely getting the perspective of people already visiting. This is nitpicking, in a sense, given that far too many museums do not integrate their evaluations into content in such a manner, but it is always beneficial to be considering how reach can be extended further.

    • hoffsm90 says:

      Although I am unsure about the extent you mean by the broader community, J did not go into detail about their evaluations enough. They do present evaluations to the community as much as possible. Although most are visitors and members, it is hard to reach the rest of the community, especially when trying to evaluate an institution since you can’t have someone evaluate it if they’ve never been there.

  3. shaual96 says:

    i would be really interested to see some evaluations from her community programs as well. I’m always happy to see that museums use visitor feedback to better their institution, but feedback from community events can provide a lot of information as well! Maybe they would be able to reach a demographic that wouldn’t necessarily visit the museum. Finding out what appeals to people is a huge step towards success!

  4. juliafell17 says:

    I’m really taken with the acknowledgement here that the needs of the public must be addressed, but also that the public is not just one homogeneous mass. A truly up-to-speed museum recognizes that different guests have different needs, and it is so nice that places like the Pacific Science Center can accommodate that with their various programs and outreach efforts.

  5. jehartman93 says:

    I’m really interested in the relationship between science centers and the U.S. government’s STEM initiative. I wonder if science centers have adjusted their programs to better serve children who are taking part in STEM education. If so, are science centers attending to the gender imbalance that is currently represented in STEM programs across the country? Are science centers/museums making it a priority to expose young girls to STEM education, and ensure that they remain there?

    • That’s an excellent point, Julie. I know a few science centers (such this one at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland:!-science.aspx) that have specific programs aimed at engaging young girls with science, but I’m not sure what is being done beyond these programs. I wonder what could be done on a broader scale within museums to address this.

      • karissa430 says:

        I love this thread, guys. I know the Field Museum has various STE(A)M programs and internships for girls of all ages – K-12, college, and beyond. I think women in science has been in the forefront of STEM programs and institutions. I also wonder what it’s like for museums to address gender inequalities in the STEM fields when women make up the majority of museum professionals.

        • kwebberj says:

          Very interesting discussion! I have some female friends who are pursuing degrees in the sciences and have experienced varying degrees of pushback throughout their academic careers. If nothing else, it seems like science museums would be a great space to hold conversations about the issue–perhaps invite female scientists to speak in a conference setting or facilitate dialogues to make their stories heard. This would serve multiple purposes: encouraging young women in science, opening discussion of the ongoing gender gap, and making community and humanities connections for a science museum that may otherwise lack those opportunities.

  6. thankyouluke says:

    I feel like science centers have a unique opportunity to encourage visitor interaction. I remember as a child going to a local science museum that heavily focused on interactive and engaging exhibits. I loved that museum so much I had my 5th birthday there! Science centers/museums have an entire world of stuff to work with an positive engagement can come at only a small fiacial const to the institution.

  7. pnorman02 says:

    I really like the commitment to include the community in all aspects of their museum. I think people often forget that the community goes beyond just the people living near the museum. Including the science community in the museum’s programs and exhibitions gives validity to the museum’s programs. Also, their variety of programs appeals to a diverse group of people, which ultimately helps to keep the museum relevant.

  8. emerbr84 says:

    History museums need to learn from the interactivity of science centers. This will allow for a more universally enjoyed experience.

  9. saraumland says:

    When I think of my own experiences at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science the big room with large interactive activities is just what I would get. The idea of partnering with Google and other STEM type programs to provide a more genuine museum experience is a positive move in connecting with younger museum visitors so that they can take away something for their future.

  10. mickcr says:

    I love these projects! The fact the museums recognize that they need to try to attract different and diverse visitors is fantastic. Meeting the needs of a community is one of the main responsibilities of museums.

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