One of the key techniques in museum and free-choice learning evaluation and research is the idea of visitor or user observation by the staff. When we’re trying to observe them in a “natural” state, and figure out how they are really behaving, for example. We call this observation unobtrusive. The reality is we are rarely so discreet. How do you convince regular visitors that that staff member wearing a uniform and scribbling on a clipboard near enough to eavesdrop on you is not actually stalking them? You don’t, that is, until you turn to a lot of technological solutions as our new lab will be doing.

We’ve spent a lot of hours dreaming up the way this new system is going to work and trying to make the observations of speech, actions, and more esoteric things like interests and goals hidden to the visitor’s eye. Whether we succeed or not will be the subject of many new sets of evaluations with our three new exhibits and more. Laura’s looxcie-based research will be one of these.

Over the years we’ve gathered lots of data about what people tend to do when either they truly don’t know they’re being watched, or they don’t care. In addition, we’ve gathered some ideas of how visitors react to the idea of participating in our studies, from flat-out asking us what we’re trying to figure out, to just giving us the hairy eyeball and perhaps skipping the exhibit we’re working on. A lot of these turn into frustrations for the staff as we must throw out that subject, or start our counting for randomization over. So as we go through the design process, I’m going to share some of my observations of myself gathering visitor data through observations and surveys. These two collection tools are ones we hope to readily automate to the benefit of both the visitors who feel uncomfortable under obvious scrutiny and the researcher who suffers the pangs of rejection.