Tracking and Observation Studies

An explanation of why and how to do tracking and observation studies in museum audience research

Tracking and observation studies are undertaken to obtain data about visitor behaviour for the purposes of:

  • reporting on program outcomes
  • making changes and improvements
  • comparing behaviour to other exhibitions/programs
  • undertaking trend analysis, both over time and across programs

Information is used to gain a better understanding of visitor behaviour, experiences and learning; supplementing other research (surveys, interviews, focus groups); making changes to exhibits; exhibition refurbishment; amending signage; fixing interactives, as well as pointing to further research needs.

What is tracking?

Tracking is unobtrusive recording of visitor behaviour in a museum/specific exhibition, noting:

  • exhibits attended to
  • behaviour: reading, browsing, studying
  • time spent
  • pathways and flow
  • starts/stops when visitors cross an ‘invisible’ entry and exit line.

What are observations?

Observations involve systematic collection of data through watching visitors at specific parts/sections of an exhibition. The advantages are that specific audiences can be researched (eg families, schools) and they are generally small-scale and targeted. Observation is good:

  • when specific sections of an exhibition need to be reviewed
  • when time and budget is limited
  • for training purposes (staff, volunteers, students)
  • when you have less experienced researchers

Observations are great as the data is usually easy to collect, collate, analyse and report data - an Excel spreadsheet is the only tool needed. However, they can be limited as they do not give an overall picture of visitor use of an exhibition.

You can download a paper about tracking and observation studies on the right hand side of this page that contains more detail including Museum case studies, examples of formats and references.

Dr Lynda Kelly , Manager Online, Editing and Audience Research
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