The Chicago Children's Museum (CCM) asked RK&A to conduct an exploratory front-end evaluation for CityScape, an exhibition about construction under development at the time of the evaluation. This study examined potential gender biases among caregivers in a similar exhibition currently at the Museum called Under Construction.
RK&A and CCM collaborated to conduct observations and in-depth interviews. The target audience for the study was children ages three to seven years and their caregivers.
Observations and interviews revealed slightly different glimpses of who visits Under Construction. Boys' and girls' overall use of Under Construction was similar regarding time spent in the exhibition, time spent building, and whether they properly used tools, etc. Likewise, male and female caregivers interacted with boys and girls similarly. Two behaviors differed by gender. Boys were more likely to build than girls, and adults (of either gender) were more likely to coach boys than they were girls. Because they were coached less frequently than were boys, girls may have relied more on themselves to determine how to use the exhibition elements. Moreover, the data may suggest that adult caregivers deemed Under Construction a place for "boys to build things" and therefore coached them to do so, and were more open to girls using the exhibition in other ways.
In the interviews, almost all male and female caregivers said that Under Construction was for girls as well as boys. They could explain why other people might disagree, but they felt it was a good place to bring girls. They acknowledged that, stereotypically, boys were more interested in construction than girls, but based on their observations in Under Construction and their previous experiences, they rejected the stereotype. However, when asked how the new exhibition could better appeal to girls, most suggested stereotypically feminine changes (e.g., use pastel colors and provide dress-up opportunities).
Gender biases are multifaceted, and this modest front-end evaluation did not intend to draw far-reaching conclusions. We urged CCM to explore gender issues further as staff developed CityScape. For example, additional research with Museum visitors who did not visit Under Construction would be valuable. Such a study could explore whether gender plays a role in non-users' decisions to bypass Under Construction and provide insight into how CityScape could better appeal to girls and boys.