“Can’t Come. Don’t come. Won’t come.”

claire rVisitor Studies Group Conference 2009

Last week I was up in Leicester for the Visitor Studies Conference (not to be confused with the distance learning MA summer school – the amount of people who still think I’m a student astounds me… I’m like Peter Pan, I will look and feel young forever!)

Anyway I was invited to take place in the marketplace of ideas by @jenniferfuchs the chair of the Visitor Studies Group, as there is a distinct lack of Cornish representation at these events.  I must add it was via twitter that the invitation was handed out, twitter is marvellous isn’t it?  anyway.  It was a really interesting event! It was nice to be immersed in evaluation again for a while.

The first speaker was Jocelyn Dodd, who discussed the fact that there are no simple solutions when it comes to researching the complexities of hard to reach groups and museums.  One of the delegates said during the course of the two day event; It’s not the groups that are hard to reach, it’s the museums that are hard to get in to. a valid point. Jocelyn asked how can the researcher play a part in the process of making the visitor feel welcome in museums?  Of course exclusion is a complex issue.  Maslow and his hierarchy of needs came up, as excluded audiences have strong tendencies to be at the bottom of the triangle.  I was looking at a blog post about Maslow’s hierarchy a couple of days ago (http://www.ruthstalkerfirth.com/user-motivation-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs) it was brilliant because it used an example of the Scottish Crannog Centre (where I used to work before Geevor- i do seem to work in unusual places) this blog claimed that ‘our needs and motivations have changed little since the Iron Age.’ I have a tendency to agree, we all want to belong, to feel safe and respected and it is exactly the same for ‘excluded audiences’.   Jocelyn commended the work of Tyne and Wear Museums for their mission being exclusively social rather then about their collections ‘to help determine their place in the world and define their identities’.   When it comes to researching hard to reach groups it is imperative to collect multiple perspectives to properly understand the context of these visitors and the impact visits to museums will have on their lives. You shouldn’t dive straight in to projects, it takes time to understand the context and to build relationships.

Maggie Esson from Chester Zoo discussed ‘Achieving Audience Inclusivity.  It was really interesting hearing a presentation from a zoo’s perspective. Plus she looked amazing! Exactly how you would expect a proper zoo lady to look!

By their very nature zoo discriminate their audiences, with high admission fees and not being well served by public transport make zoo’s inherently elitist.   There is also people who won’t come to zoo’s on principle.  Zoo’s are very aware of these reasons, but they are striving to be as inclusive as possible.  For Chester zoo, education is very important they don’t want to be seen ‘as a fun day out’.  That is not acceptable in the 21st century, animals held in captivity is not ‘just for fun’.  Therefore zoo education is a central role aiming to influence peoples attitudes and behaviours, making zoo’s a catalyst for environmental change.   Maggie discussed a project with One Parent/ Gingerbread charity called ‘learning together’.  It looks like a fantastic project with zoo based workshops as well as work in the community.  Maggie discussed the sense of achievement when you see parents working together with their children.  This is a brilliant sensation, at Geevor I don’t get involved in the workshops, and I miss that interaction.  Chester zoo is quite lucky as it has an educational Research officer (Andrew Moss) so they are continually doing visitor research. I would love for Geevor to have a position like that, as it would be brilliant to clearly see the pros and cons of the work that Geevor does.  For this project the parents participated in focus groups and these conversations were analysed. It really did seem to make a strong impact on the individuals involved.   Maggie also raised the point that its quite ironic that zoo’s are trying to change public perceptions to be seen as more educational and museums are striving to become more fun.  I also participated in a workshop with Maggie and Andrew later in the day, which I will blog about in the next instalment…

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