Why should I use this technique?
Rather than limiting the flow of information from museum to visitor, comment boards or books offer visitors an opportunity to share their thoughts and state their opinions. It moves an exhibition closer to a discussion rather than simply a presentation from an all-knowing authority. Comment boards can also be very helpful tools for exhibit developers to see if key messages are reaching visitors. Positive comments are also a powerful tool to demonstrate the impact of the museum experience, to motivate staff, volunteers and board members, and to leverage future funding.
What are effective questions?
This is the tricky part of comment boards that requires testing and adaptation. We have asked visitors “What does CONSTITUTION mean to you?” and received many nice comments on the symbolic nature of the ship. After installing a 7-minute show about battle during the War of 1812 we asked visitors “How did this show change your perception of battle at sea?” The comments were more nuanced and fell into a range of categories:
- Patriotic: Grateful to our military then and now
- Anti-war: War is an unnecessary waste of lives
- Pro-war: I think it would be cool to be a sailor on CONSTITUTION
- Empathetic: I wouldn’t want to serve on CONSTITUTION
- Museum comments: “Greater than Disney”
- Unrelated: (practice spelling four letter words)
Month after month, our comment board prompted this same range of responses. We felt this was a healthy barometer of the show because it presented both the honor and brutality of war. Visitors’ responses were both positive and negative about the topic. Regardless of the question asked, a percentage of visitors will always comment on the Museum experience in general, and there are some who just like to write inappropriate comments and post them in public. We often post a sample of the appropriate comments behind Plexiglas, with an area for today’s visitors to leave their comments.
Visitor comments can encourage future funding
Our staff gather visitor comments each day. The best quotes of the week are included in our weekly staff meeting minutes, so all staff hear what our visitors have to say. Categorizing these quotations and saving powerful testimonials can have a great impact when making the case for future funding.
Steal This Idea Because:
- This is an opportunity to ask visitors what they think and listen to them
- Comment boards can start a written conversation among visitors
- Visitors like to see what other visitors have written
- Comments can help staff learn how visitors are responding to an exhibition
- Visitor quotes can be powerful tools for future funding