The Miami Museum of Science (MMS) was planning a new traveling exhibition about biodiversity in the Amazon region of South America. With funding from the National Science Foundation and in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, MMS developed Vicious Fishes.
The evaluation, designed collaboratively between RK&A and the MMS, needed to help planners understand how visitors comprehend and think about themes (the Amazon flood cycle), ideas (resource management), concepts (biodiversity), and specimens (tetra fish) associated with the Amazon. To examine how people think about these exhibition ideas, we conducted in-depth interviews at Liberty Science Center in New Jersey (to address audiences outside of Miami, as Vicious Fishes was to be a traveling exhibition) and at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
We found that most visitors knew that a great variety of animals lives along the Amazon River. However, findings also indicated that the exhibition faced challenges in interpreting the flood cycle, adaptation, and the relationship between the river and the people who live nearby. For example, quite a few visitors mistakenly believed that all individuals living in the Amazon Region are indigenous people who live a primitive lifestyle. Also, in testing three biodiversity exhibit ideas, we found that exhibit developers needed to find a way to convey each idea in a way that emphasizes rather than implies biodiversity's connection to the flood cycle and adaptation.
Many science centers want to introduce their visitors to complex scientific information, such as biodiversity, but to do so successfully require repetition, explicit communication, and design elements that help visitors come to an understanding of an idea rather than reading about it in a block of text. RK&A's recommendations to MMS included that development of each exhibit component should be driven by its main message, that they should orient visitors to the main ideas, and repeat the main ideas throughout the exhibition.