Formative Evaluation, Round 1: Places of Invention

February 3rd, 2015 | EVALUATION

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to conduct a formative evaluation for Places of Invention, an exhibition funded by the National Science Foundation. The study explored visitors’ use and interpretation of the prototypes (including barriers to use and interpretation), understanding of the relationships among people-place-invention and 21st century skills, and interpretation of what the Places of Invention exhibition is about. How did we approach this study? For this first of two rounds of formative evaluation, the Lemelson Center and the exhibition design firm Roto mocked up a small portion of the exhibition in a corridor at NMAH. The prototype area included parts of the Hartford and Hollywood sections as well as the Hub Interactive Map. Forty-six walk-in visitor groups, including both adults and children 10 years and older, were observed using the prototype area and then participated in in-depth interviews. The interviewers asked all visitor groups a general set of questions about their overall experience in the prototype area, including questions related to their understanding of exhibition messages as well as a set of questions about one of four specific components that they had used. These components include Video Narratives, Hollywood Technicolor Interactive, Hartford Manufacturing Interactive, and the Hub Interactive Map. What did we learn? Overall, visitors used the prototype area fairly extensively, with all groups visiting the Hartford and Hollywood sections, and the majority visiting the Hub Interactive Map. Additionally, the components within the exhibition (e.g., interactive, video narratives, graphic panels) were all used to varying degrees by visitors. Although there were usability issues with the videos and interactives, many of these issues arose due to the preliminary nature of the mock up. The Hub Interactive Map—a vital interactive—was the most challenging because visitors struggled with what type of content the Center sought based on the instructions, “Share your place of invention.” When asked about their understanding of the exhibition, nearly one-half of visitors spoke about “place” when describing the ideas behind the exhibition, which is positive. While they were not always able to reference specific stories from the prototype area, many visitors were able to connect people-place-invention and 21st century skills to their personal experiences. What are the implications of the findings? The fact that visitors used the various components within the exhibition to varying degrees is encouraging because it suggests that the exhibition will have something for everyone both in terms of content and types of experiences. However, the Lemelson Center should consider how to more clearly define “place” in the introduction and then further articulate the big idea throughout the exhibition text and design. Although many visitors spoke about “place” when describing the ideas behind the exhibition, there is a concern that they are not gleaning one overarching message. Also, 21st Century skills need to be integrated more fully to help visitors make connections between them and the stories of people in the places of invention featured in the exhibition. Additionally, the Lemelson Center needs to simplify the interactive instructions and clarify the type of content it is seeking in the Hub Interactive Map, perhaps by suggesting specific categories like, “Tell me about a place where an important invention was created,” or “Tell me about a place where you invent.” The Hub Interactive Map has great potential for tying together places of invention and reinforcing the exhibition message.



Team Members

Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Contributor
Randi Korn, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Emily Craig, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Amanda Krantz, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
National Museum of American History, Contributor
Smithsonian Institution, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF

Related URLs

Places of Invention Exhibition Project


Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | Engineering | History | policy | law | Technology
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Formative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Games | Simulations | Interactives | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Exhibits