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Evaluating interpretation

Evaluation will tell you whether your interpretation is working well or must be tweaked to meet your set objectives.

For meaningful evaluation, you must begin by having clear objectives. Read about interpretive planning.

You should also be prepared to make changes to your interpretation in light of your evaluation results.

When to evaluate

Front-end evaluation

This is done while you develop your objectives, to help you pitch your interpretation correctly for your audience.

It helps to answer questions like:

  • What do visitors already know about this topic?
  • What interests them most?

Formative evaluation

Asking visitors what they think of early versions of your interpretation means you can tweak the text or design before producing the final piece. For example, you might test a leaflet to see if it attracts attention and gets your message across.

Remedial evaluation

Here you are checking that the various elements in a display work when they are put together.

For example, consider whether:

  • lighting is suitable
  • visitor flow patterns are as good as they can be
  • competition between elements is minimal

Summative evaluation

This happens once your interpretation is in place, to ask whether it is meeting the objectives you set for it.

Evaluation methods

Quantitative methods count and measure things. The end result is numerical data that can be analysed statistically.

Qualitative methods try to describe opinions, attitudes, feelings and views. The information produced will need to be interpreted and organised.

Each method below has its own strengths and weaknesses. A mixed methods approach usually gives the best results.

Observation

Visitors are observed to see how they behave.

For example, this could tell you:

  • how long visitors spend looking at a specific exhibit
  • whether they repeat any of the content aloud (a ‘text echo’)

Tracking/behavioural mapping

Visitors are tracked to find out:

  • where they go
  • how they use a space or area
  • how long they spend in different places

Questionnaires

Visitors can complete a questionnaire or an interviewer may do so on their behalf.

Closed questions can be coded and treated statistically, as they’re answered by referring to a scale. Open questions aim to gather insights into opinions, feelings and views.

Focus groups

Information is gathered through in-depth interviews with a group of people. They are usually semi-structured, meaning that the interviewer will cover set themes but doesn’t need to stick to the same questions each time.

Interviews are usually recorded and analysed later.

Critical appraisal

This involves seeking the expert opinion of an interpretive professional.