The Museum is currently in the planning stages for an exhibition on the deep ocean. We were asked in early March to gather data to assist them make decisions around what the exhibition should look and feel like, be named, what it should include, and lots of other things. As with most creative enterprises there are as many ideas and opinions as there are people in a room, so imagine what it's like when you have 792 people respond to a question like “What would you expect an exhibition on the deep ocean to look like/contain?”

To conduct the research we used the online tool Survey Monkey. A link was emailed to mailing list contacts (Members, Marketing mailing list, etc), as well as friends and friends of friends, and we also put it on the Museum’s Facebook page. After two weeks we had 792 responses.

One interesting thing with audience research is looking over responses, even qualitative responses, not only do you see a convergence of opinion, you are also inevitably surprised. Both of these are aspects of research are incredibly valuable.

I won't go though the whole survey, which you can see the statistics for here and some verbatim responses to here, but just give you a few examples and comments to illustrate what we were doing.

Deepsea dwelling glass sponge
Deepsea dwelling glass sponge Image: Carl Bento
© Australian Museum

Our first question, partly designed to get people thinking about the topic, asked people to select words they associated with the deep ocean. The top four selected were:

  • dark
    • mysterious
    • cold
    • fascinating

The bottom four:

  • muddy
    • desolate
    • creepy
    • scary

That “creepy” and “scary” scored low is useful when considering younger audiences. To know straight off that this environment will not pre-judged as frightening will assist with the overall design. Having said this, as our survey was online and the number of kids responding was low, we will be talking to families with young children over the school holidays to get their views too.

As I mentioned above, we also asked what people would like to see in the exhibition. This type of question really democratises the process and enables our varied audiences to engage and be involved. We have formally incorporated this type of audience inclusion into exhibition planning through the Kid's College program which you can read about here.

The three top things people wanted to see in the exhibition were:

  • What lives down there
    • How things live down there
    • How scientists explore down there

We also tried to gauge people’s interest in or concern about the impact humankind is having on the deep ocean environment. The Museum is committed to providing information on, and inspiring conversations around, topics such as sustainability, biodiversity, and our impact on the environment, so it’s is useful getting feedback on this. The challenge is then how to use the information in a meaningful and enjoyable way while also providing the many other things our audiences want. To read some responses to this environmental question visit our Visitors Voice Blog here.

This balancing act is something we are continually doing and audience research data is one of the tools we use to do it.

Keep an eye out for the exhibition next year!