Rejection. It’s an inevitable part of recruiting human subjects to fill out your survey or try out your exhibit prototype. It’s also hard not to take it personally, but visitors have often paid to attend your venue today and may or may not be willing to sacrifice some of their leisure time to improve your exhibit.


[Full disclosure: this blog post is 745 words long and will take you approximately 5-10 minutes to read. You might get tired as you read it, or feel your eyes strain from reading on the computer screen, but we won’t inject you with any medications. You might learn something, but we can’t pay you.]


First, you have to decide beforehand which visitors you’re going to ask – is it every third visitor? What if they’re in a group? Which direction will they approach from? Then you have to get their attention. You’re standing there in your uniform, and they may not make eye contact, figuring you’re just there to answer questions. Sometimes rejection is as simple as a visitor not meeting your eye or not stopping when you greet them.

You don’t want to interrupt them while they’re looking at an exhibit, but they may turn and go a different direction before you get a chance to invite them to help you. How far do you chase them once you’ve identified them as your target group? What if they’re going to the restrooms, or leaving the museum from there? When I was asking people to complete surveys about our global data display exhibit, they were basically on their way out the door of the Visitor Center, and I was standing in their way.


If you get their attention, then you have to explain the study and not scare them off by making it sound like a test, with right or wrong answers, even when you have right and wrong answers. You also have to make sure that you don’t take too much of their time.


Then there are the visitors who leave in the middle of the experiment, deciding they didn’t know what they were getting into, or being drawn away by another group member.


Oh, you’re still there? This isn’t too long? It’s not lunchtime, planetarium show time or time to leave for the day? I’ll continue.


If you have an IRB or other informed consent document, this can be another hurdle. If you’re not careful about what you emphasize, visitors could focus on the “Risks” section that you must tell them about. In exhibit evaluation and research, this is often only fatigue or discomfort when someone feels they don’t know the right answer (despite assurances that no one is judging them). But of course, you have to be thorough and make sure they do understand the risks and benefits, who will see the information they give and how it will be used. Luckily, we don’t often need to collect personal information, even signatures, if we’re not using audio or video recording.


Then there is the problem of children. We want to assess the visit with the true types of groups that we see, that is, mostly families or mixed adult-child groups. However, anyone under 18 needs to have consent given by a parent. Unfortunately, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister or brother doesn’t count, so you have to throw out those groups as well. Even if a parent is present, you have to make sure that you can explain the research to the youngest visitor you have permission to study (usually about 8 years old) and even worse, explain the assent process to him or her without scaring them off. As our IRB office puts it, consent is a process, a conversation, not just a form.


So who knows if we’re really truly getting a representative sample of our visitors? That’s definitely a question about sampling theory. Luckily for us at Hatfield, we’re working with our campus IRB office to try and create less-restrictive consent situations, as when we don’t have to get a signed consent form if that’s the only identifying information we ask visitors to provide. Maybe we’ll be able to craft a situation where over-18 family members will be able to provide consent for their younger relatives if a parent didn’t travel with them that day. Luckily, as this progresses, you’ll be able to follow it on our blog.


Wow, you’ve read this far? Thank you so much, and enjoy the rest of your visit.



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