How do we get signs in front of visitors so they will actually read them? Think about how many signs at the front door of your favorite establishment you walk past without reading. How many street signs, billboards, and on-vehicle ads pass through our vision barely a blur? While exhibit designers spend many an hour toiling away to create the perfect signs to offer visitors some background and possible ways to interact with objects, many visitors gloss right over them, preferring to just start interacting or looking in their own way. This may be a fine alternative use for most cases, but in the case of our video research and the associated informed consent that our subjects need to offer, signs at the front door are going to be our best bet to inform visitors but not unduly interrupt their experience, or make museum entry and additional unreasonable burden for visitors or staff. Plus, the video recording is not optional at this point for folks who visit; you can visit and be recorded, or you can’t visit.
Thankfully, we have the benefit of the Exploratorium and other museums who have done video research in certain exhibits and have tested signs at their entrances and the percentage of visitors who subsequently know they’re being recorded for research. Two studies by the Exploratorium staff showed that their signs at entrances to specifically cordoned-off areas stating that videotaping for research was in progress were effective at informing 99% of visitors to the exhibit areas that a) videotaping was happening and b) it was for research. One interesting point is that their testing of the signs themselves and the language on them revealed that the camera icon needed to be rather old-school/highly professional looking to distinguish itself from the average visitor making home movies while visiting a museum and be clearly associated with official research purposes.
Never mind the cameras we’re actually using look more like surveillance cameras.
So our strategy, crafted with our Institutional Review Board, is several-fold. Signs at the front entrance (and the back entrance, for staff and volunteers, and other HMSC visitors who might be touring the entire research facility for other reasons and popping in to the VC) will feature the large research camera and a few, hopefully succinct and clear words about the reasons we’re doing research, and where to get more information. We also have smaller signs on some of the cameras themselves with a short blurb about the fact that it’s there for research purposes. Next, we’re making handouts for people that will explain in more detail what our research is about and how the videos help us with that work. We’ll also put that information on our web site, and add the address of the video research information to our rack cards and other promotional material we send around town and Oregon. Of course, our staff and volunteers are also being included in the process so they are well-equipped to answer visitor questions.
Then there’s the thorny issue of students. University students who are over 18 who are visiting as part of a required class will have to individually consent due to federal FERPA regulations. We’re working with the IRB to make this as seamless a process as possible. We’ll be contacting local school superintendents to let them know about the research and let them inform parents of any class that will be attending on a field trip. These students on class field trips will be assumed to have parental consent by virtue of having signed school permission slips to attend Hatfield.
Hopefully this will all work. The Exploratorium’s work showed that even most people who didn’t realize they were being recorded were not bothered much by the recording, and even fewer would have avoided the area if they’d actually known before hand. As always, though, it will be a work-in-progress as we get visitor and volunteer feedback and move forward with the research.