Summative Evaluation of Hall of Fossils – Deep Time Exhibition

May 1st, 2022 | EVALUATION


In 2020, RK&A (now Kera Collective) partnered with the National Museum of Natural History to conduct a summative evaluation of the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils: Deep Time, a 31,000 square foot exhibition that explores how Earth’s distant past shapes our future.

Our evaluation explored how visitors process complex scientific topics, such as climate change, mass extinctions, the evolution of life on Earth, and humans’ role in positively impacting Earth’s future.    


 We designed a large-scale evaluation study with four distinct but interrelated parts:

  • A timing and tracking study that explored visitors’ engagement through dwell time and behaviors
  • A main messages study that assessed interest in and comprehension of the main exhibit themes
  • An Age of Humans study that explored visitors perceptions and experiences with climate change
  • A longitudinal study that assessed which messages and experiences resonated with visitors

Client Takeaways 

We found that the backward journey through time that NMNH employed as an interpretive strategy worked to communicate the overall big ideas of the exhibition despite the short duration of most visits.  The messages visitors took from their visit tended to be broad and impressionistic rather than specific and detailed, as well as dependent on which parts of the exhibition they visited and their own pre-existing knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions about extinction, evolution, and climate change.

While the study showed few changes in visitors’ understanding of the nature of scientific work, visitors emerged with a clearer understanding that mass extinctions are transformative events that affect the evolution of life. And, while messages around humans’ role in climate change were not top of mind, visitors entered Deep Time in agreement that humans and nature are interconnected and the exhibition reaffirmed this idea for them.   

Overall, visitors enjoyed the experience of Deep Time and were highly engaged by the fossils and exhibits featuring scientists. One distinct aspect of the exhibition is FossiLab where visitors can observe scientists at work preparing fossils. Findings show that visitors were highly engaged with FossiLab with many stopping and conversing with each other when FossiLab was open. And, weeks after their visit, visitors cited the experience of seeing scientists at work as one of their most memorable experiences.



Team Members

Amanda Krantz, Evaluator, Kera Collective (formerly RK&A)
Stephanie Downey, Evaluator, Kera Collective (formerly RK&A)
Emily Skidmore, Evaluator, Kera Collective (formerly RK&A)
Katie Chandler, Evaluator, Kera Collective (formerly RK&A)
Cathy Sigmond, Evaluator, Kera Collective (formerly RK&A)


Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Climate | History | policy | law
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Observation Protocol | Performance Measure | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Summative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits