Front-end Evaluation: Select Conservatory Rooms

January 16th, 2015 | EVALUATION

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) contracted RK&A to explore visitors’ interest in and understanding of the design and interpretation presented in four conservatory rooms—Rare and Endangered Species, Plant Adaptations, Medicinal Plants, and Garden Primeval. Two rooms were quite small and the other two rooms were larger. Each room was designed to support a theme and included a variety of signage to support the theme (e.g., plant ID signs, ephemeral signs, thematic signs). Findings from this study will be used in part to inform a new interpretive strategy for the Garden. How did we approach this study? RK&A conducted 80 in-depth interviews with walk-in visitors—20 interviews in each of the four rooms. Interviews focused on visitors’ first impressions of each room, understanding of the big idea or purpose of each room, engagement with and understanding of the signs and interpretation, barriers to engagement, and questions or curiosities that arose about the plants and interpretation. Following the front-end evaluation, RK&A facilitated a Using Evaluation Results workshop with USBG staff and the interpretive planner to reflect on findings and develop action steps for the formative phase of the study. What did we learn? While the different rooms afforded visitors different experiences, a few trends stood out across rooms. Study findings reveal that, regardless of which room they visited, visitors’ first impressions are about the aesthetic elements of the rooms—with many visitors talking about the size or atmosphere of the room (e.g., “chilly” or “cozy”)—rather than about the plants. Aesthetics also played a role in visitors’ opinions of the interpretation. Ephemeral signs, such as the chalkboard signs, appeal to visitors more than traditional signs because they give visitors the sense that the information is current and regularly updated. Content about plants is also important to visitors; they appreciate signs that provide basic plant information as well as information about the connection between plants and people. As in other informal education settings, previous personal experiences with plants often shapes how visitors connect to plants on display and experience the Garden. That is, each plant in the Garden has the chance of being familiar, unfamiliar, interesting, or boring based on someone’s previous experiences. What are the implications of the findings? This study highlights the importance of using space and signage intentionally. Visitors are adept at recognizing when a space is not adequate for what it is attempting to display, often noticing the aesthetic features of a space first. As such, USBG staff may wish to consider different ways to use the smaller rooms in the Conservatory for maximum impact. For example, it might be appropriate to reserve the smaller spaces for rotating interpretative topics that align with the seasons or temporary plant displays in the larger spaces. The fact that visitors are more likely to read signs that feel fresh and up-to-date suggests that ephemeral-looking signs may be the right way to share key plant information with visitors.



Team Members

Randi Korn, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.



Audience: Adults | Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | Life science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Front-End
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Parks | Outdoor | Garden Exhibits