Visitor Research Forum, February 2016

By Lynne Carmichael, Sector Training Coordinator, National Services Te Paerangi

On 1 February Te Papa hosted a one day conference on Visitor Research. The Australasian Visitor Research Forum has been held annually in Australia for 5 years and this was the first time New Zealand had been the host country. National Services Te Paerangi presented the Forum in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington Museum & Heritage Studies, University of Canberra and University of Queensland. It brought together academics and practitioners working in the area of visitor research to discuss the recent developments in visitor studies theory and practice. The objective was to extend the thinking about the scope and potential of visitor research and encourage participants to develop skills to implement good practice.

The speakers were visitor research experts and museum, gallery, heritage and other visitor site personnel from Australia and New Zealand. The eight presentations covered a broad range of topics.

Nga_Toi_Season_4_with_public_01_LR Photographer Michael Hall, ©Te Papa 1

Visitors at Ngā Toi, Te Papa. Photographer Michael Hall, ©Te Papa

The engagement of children with cultural and natural heritage sites was a common theme for three of the talks. Wellington Museums Trust wanted to know more about what children and young people were taking from their visits (and what they weren’t). Research conducted by Victoria University investigated the impact on students and teachers as a result of visits to multiple cultural sites in their capital by working with the students before and after their visit. And as learning becomes an important part of the tourist experience, academics from Australia have been conducting a large study looking into patterns of educational visits to tourism/recreation sites. By looking at the many factors involved in choices of destination the results have implications for both schools and destination organisations.

There are many WW1 centennial exhibitions going on throughout Australia and New Zealand, and work by the University of Queensland is investigating the influence of these interpretive experiences on visitors’ sense of national identity.

The Department of Conservation is looking into how people’s emotional connection with our natural and cultural heritage, and the meanings they make from them, are pathways to greater engagement.

The ability to put a financial value on cultural engagement was the focus for work by Wellington City Council who are piloting a Social Return on Investment methodology for the zoo and other cultural attractions in Wellington.

Te Papa presented on a quick and responsive research initiative that was designed to allow all the exhibition team to get involved in the evaluation process, resulting in a successful exhibition and a lot of fun!

Passports 01, 2014 Photographer Mike O'Neill, ©Te Papa 1

Visitors experience The Mixing Room, Te Papa. Photographer Mike O’Neill, ©Te Papa

The subject of providing exhibitions/programmes especially tailored for minority visitors, those with disabilities, learning difficulties, memory or mobility challenges is a subject that is gaining more attention, particularly in the UK. Researchers at Auckland Museum chose to look into how they could develop a special programme model for visitors with dementia and their carers. The objective was to provide visits which engage the interest of carers but which fully include the people they care for. A partnership with a community health organisation, Alzheimer’s Auckland, involved working with a vulnerable population and navigating ethical approvals processes to implement the research design.

Over 60 people took part in this visitor research forum from museums, galleries, government departments, research companies and universities. The feedback was very positive and supportive of continuing the discussion with another forum in the future. If you would like to be involved in this, in particular if you have suggestions about how it should be shaped please get in touch with me.