The Visitor Studies Group: Championing excellent visitor experiences

‘Big data, big opportunities?’ – Reflections


This year’s VSG Conference, ‘Big data, big opportunities?’ took place March 8th and 9th in London’s Natural History Museum.  Our bursary recipient, Elena Trimarchi, reflects on a busy two days:

The theme of this year’s conference was Big Data. One of the things that most struck me was the variety of the speakers’ backgrounds: from Science Centres in the US to Transport for London and presentations varying from relatable museum case studies to practicable tools provided by data research experts. The two days were filled with learning opportunities.

Having recently started working on an HLF funded project in Scotland (the David Livingstone Birthplace Project), the team there and I have the perfect chance to embed visitor studies good practice in the new museum. As a museum learning practitioner I am familiar with evaluation and some level of visitor studies, but attending the conference really opened my eyes to the possibilities of truly understanding our audiences.

The recurring themes across the conference included collaboration and the benefit of sharing available data (all whilst keeping in mind the upcoming GDPR legislation!), the results that can be achieved if information and training opportunities are made available to similar organisations with fewer resources and the importance of buy-in from the wider team (especially the value of front of house teams). Some Big Data sources are accessible, and it’s all about how you use them.

It is beneficial to individuals, services and ultimately visitors to truly understand visitor studies practice and develop skills in order to act upon findings. Staff need to be supported through this and a key element of success is nurturing a culture of communication between and across departments.

There was a lot of really useful more technical discussions, which again helped me understand how data analysis works and what can be done to better understand our users. Predicting visitor flow looking at wider data (e.g. weather and tourism trends) is something that could be achievable on a small scale too.

Overarching the two days was the recommendation to act upon findings, and make data useful, ultimately providing a better service to visitors or customers.

Start off with a question (what do you want to find out?) then look at the data available, helping it inform your decisions and approach. That is the main purpose of visitor studies: to ensure decisions are made based on evidence. This translates easily into advocacy tools and ultimately helps organisations achieve their goals. Lack of resources can be overcome by starting small and demonstrating impact of evidence-based decision making.

I recommend going onto Twitter and searching #VSGConf18 to get a great picture of all the discussions that happened over the two days. I would also definitely recommend signing up for next year’s conference.

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