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Whole Garden and West Gallery Exhibition Impact Planning Initiative

[2013]
An audience research and planning project
United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) contracted RK&A to study visitors’ experiences in the current West Gallery exhibition.  However, after an initial meeting, USBG recognized that any changes to the West Gallery should be intentional and done in the context of staff’s aspirations for the whole Garden experience; thus, the study evolved into a more holistic endeavor with two main goals:  (1) collect data about visitors’ experiences in the West Gallery exhibition to inform redesign of the Gallery; and (2) study visitors’ experiences in the whole Garden in the context of the newly-articulated visitor impact statement: Inspired by the welcoming, sensory, and restorative experience, visitors appreciate the diversity of plants, value the essential connection between plants and people, and embrace plant stewardship. 

How did we approach this study?

RK&A facilitated a series of planning workshops with USBG staff to help them articulate the impact they aspire to achieve with their audiences.  An Impact Framework resulted from these workshops.  The Framework articulates the impact statement above, as well as audience outcomes and indicators which make the impact statement concrete and measurable.  Guided by the Impact Framework, RK&A conducted an audience research study, employing four methods to explore West Gallery experiences and the Garden’s intended impact: (1) a standardized questionnaire; (2) in-depth interviews; (3) focused observations and interviews in the West Gallery; and (4) focus groups with teachers.  Following the audience research study, RK&A facilitated two Using Evaluation Results workshops to help staff reflect on findings and develop action steps moving forward.

What did we learn?

The audience research study revealed many rich findings related to the Whole Garden, its audiences, and the West Gallery exhibition specifically, including visitor types that the Garden can use to inform their decision making (see full report for details).  Study findings revealed that visitors’ experiences are, in some ways, well aligned with the Garden’s desired impact and, in other ways, not as well aligned.  Specifically, staff used study findings to brainstorm more cohesive interpretive themes for the Whole Garden and West Gallery exhibition.  Looking forward, USBG staff has two great opportunities to leverage these themes for an upcoming Garden-wide interpretive planning project and Conservatory Room evaluation.       

What are the implications of the findings?

This project highlights the all-important link between planning and evaluation.  Too often, evaluation is conducted in a vacuum (one program or exhibition at a time) as opposed to considering the organization’s aspirations for impacting the visitor.  USBG staff recognized the need to consider changes to the West Gallery exhibition in the context of their intentions for the Whole Garden experience.  In doing so, they now have baseline information about their audiences in the context of the impact they hope to achieve.  This information helps USBG staff understand the alignment between their aspirations and visitors’ experiences and how they might need to change their practice to achieve greater impact.   

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