Witches and data: Collecting data as a non-ticketed museum
When it comes to collecting audience data, free, non-ticketed spaces always ask us the same question: how can we learn more about the people who come through our doors without a ticketing system?
Although it is more difficult and requires a bit of creativity, it is not impossible to do. We’ve tried in the past to come up with solutions. Some examples include iBeholder, a pilot to discover new ways to gather audience data for non-ticketed visual arts organisations and boost the audience experience, and the visitor profiling project for Northern Ireland Museums Council. But these were time-limited, paid projects for which we provided support to art galleries and museums to carry out surveys and ask the right questions to their visitors. What happens when data collection is not motivated by funding? How can it still take place?
A case study of Carrickfergus Museum
This year, we ran our third and last instalment of our Re:Model programme. We found from the first phase of Re:Model that people working in the heritage sector need practical help in order to drive change because they can’t find the capacity or time to get it done in their day-to-day work. For this reason, we felt that the best way to provide this support was through one-to-one, mentorship that provides solutions to their individual challenges.
One of these mentorships was with Shirin Murphy, Collections Access Officer at Carrickfergus Museum. Shirin is the only full-time member of staff at the museum and as you can imagine, is in charge of almost everything, from collection management and programming to marketing. The museum has 3 different spaces within its building: one that hosts its permanent collection and presents the history of the town from the Medieval period until more recent times, a smaller gallery that hosts temporary and touring exhibitions, and a play zone. Carrickfergus Museum also offers a regular programme of talks and workshops, that people can sign up to via Eventbrite for free. Entry to the museum is free and non-ticketed.
How does the museum currently get any audience data?
The challenge of collecting audience data often came up during our conversations. Not that Shirin hadn’t tried to get the information. The Museum has a footfall tracker that helps them gauge number of visitors, busier and quieter times. However, when it comes to knowing who their visitors are , what motivates their visit and how often they come, Shirin was in the dark. She had tried a a survey that was printed and left on the front desk, next to the visitors’ book. But very few responses were gathered as the museum doesn’t have full-time front of house staff who could encourage visitors to complete the survey.
For talks and workshops, it was easier to find a solution. Although Shirin wasn’t collecting any data for those besides number of attendees, Eventbrite offered some possible avenues to find out more about her audiences. She has now inserted additional demographic questions (gender, postcode) for people to fill in at check out. Additionally, we created a post-event survey on Google Form that she now sends to attendees on Eventbrite via a post-event email that she schedules in advance.
Did the museum find a solution for its permanent and temporary exhibitions?
Yes, but it all happened by accident. Earlier in September, Carrickfergus Museum opened their latest temporary exhibition in partnership with Ulster University, The Witches of Islandmagee, which delves into the story of the trial of the Islandmagee witches in Carrickfergus in 1711. The exhibition is presented alongside a series of projects, events and workshops. It features a traditional display of panels and objects, but also a computer game, VR and a graphic novel.
Shirin wanted to add another interactive element to the exhibition and created a short questionnaire asking the following questions:
- Were those accused guilty or not guilty to witchcraft?
- Do you think the events at Knowhead House were supernatural in nature?
- Do you have any kind of belief in the supernatural?
- Was Mary possessed, ill or faking it?
- Would you cut down a fairy tree?
- Do stories of male witches surprise you?
- If you lived at this time, do you think you could be accused of witchcraft?
This questionnaire was hosted on thrive’s Surveymonkey and displayed on one of our iPads, on a locked screen, set up on a table as part of the exhibition. Once you finished completing the survey, you were able to see results and the total of responses for each question and answer.
Responses started to pour in. To date, there has been 128 responses. The exhibition being open until 16th November, we know a few more will come in until then.
Although this questionnaire was not about gathering audience data and was purely a fun and interactive feature of the exhibition, the engagement with it showed there was a potential to do more. Most people enjoy playful aspects in exhibitions so why not take advantage of that to collect useful data?
What did we learn?
Sometimes, the simplest solutions are not the most obvious. We’ve all seen iPads placed on podiums in art galleries and museums, asking for our feedback. It’s not new. But when you have a very small team and most tasks rest on your shoulders, it’s not necessarily the first thing you think about.
iPads on podiums are not only good for gathering feedback, they can also be fully embedded in an exhibition to encourage visitors to engage with the content of the exhibition AND collect audience data. Kill two birds with one stone. Of course, we’re not saying to insert a full survey as part of your interactive questionnaire because it would be too long and people filling it in would probably lose interest halfway through. But it is an opportunity to add 2 to 3 questions in the end of your interactive questionnaire, to gather information that matters to you and will help you plan your next steps. Those questions could be anything you want, from basic demographics to motivations and behaviours.
If you’re thinking about doing something similar in your gallery or museum, we can help you choose the right questions for your organisation. It is also possible to host your questions on our Surveymonkey account and borrow one (or more) of our iPads – for free. Interested? Get in touch with Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org