Visitor engagement in science centres and museums

We have developed a system to measure visitor engagement in science centres and museums using sensors and cameras in combination with short user surveys.

The figure shows four images from Highway of seas, an earlier exhibition at the Norwegian Maritime Museum. The four images show interactive maps, lit up in green against a black screen. In the bottom left image a man is seen interacting with the installation.
Views of the installation ‘The Highway of the Seas’. Image: Göran Joryd/Expology and the University of Oslo.

Science centres and museums are informal educational arenas where people of all ages are able to explore a wide range of topics in mathematics, science, technology, and history. Until recently, there hasn’t been a satisfactory way to measure visitor participation and interaction. While museums have typically counted visitors upon entrance, information regarding what they actually do during their visits and their subjective experiences has been notably absent. It is important for museum practitioners and designers to know what engages their audiences, as it allows them to purposefully curate new exhibitions and installations and improve on existing ones.

Using sensors to monitor engagement

Using sensor and camera technology in combination and short surveys, we have developed a system for measuring engagement and user experience in science centres and museums.

Sensors enabled us to observe data without traditional methods such as questionnaires and user studies, largely circumventing the need to store personal information or inconvenience visitors. In cases where sensitive information was collected, such as in the development of metrics for combining biophysiological data and subjective data, we always ensured privacy protection.

Engagement profile

We conducted case studies at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, the Norwegian Maritime Museum and Aker Solutions Engineerium and developed a classification of installations called the Engagement profile. The profile describes the relative strength of different parametres that affect visitor engagement with a selected installation, and can be applied in order to systematically observe the effect that changes have to installations. In addition, we developed assessment techniques by interpreting facial expressions and directing short, targeted questions to visitors.

Evaluations of three different installations were performed, where one examined the role of competition, another studied ways to automate the assessment process, and the third looked at how altering components like the use of narrative can affect results.

Methodological tools for a variety of uses

Our methodological framework and classification system is not limited to use science centres and museums. Rather, we have created general tools that can be used in various domains, including measuring tourist engagement in guided hiking and trekking tours and in student learning activities using robotics.

Project: VisitorEngagement

Partners: Expology, Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Aker Solutions, University of Oslo

Funding: The Research Council of Norway

Period: 2013 – 2017


Engagement profile

VisitorEngagement Assessment Model

A practical approach to exhibition design

Further reading

Cooney, Martin Daniel; Leister, Wolfgang. Using the Engagement Profile to Design an Engaging Robotic Teaching Assistant for Students. Robotics. 8(1) pp 1-26. doi: 10.3390/robotics8010021. 2019.

Leister, Wolfgang. Strengthening Tourists’ Engagement in Guided Hiking and Trekking. Administrative Sciences. 9(2). doi: 10.3390/admsci9020045. 2019.

Leister, Wolfgang; Tjøstheim, Ingvar; Joryd, Göran; Andersson, Jan Alfred; Heggelund, Håvard. Strengthening Engagement in Science Understanding with Learning Trails. Multimodal Technologies and Interaction. 3(3) doi: 10.3390/mti3030048. 2019. 

Leister, Wolfgang; Tjøstheim, Ingvar; Joryd, Göran; de Brisis, Michel; Lauritzsen, Syver; Reisæter, Sigrun. An Evaluation-Driven Design Process for Exhibitions. Multimodal Technologies Interact. 1, no. 4: 25. doi: 10.3390/mti1040025. 2017.

Leister, Wolfgang; Tjøstheim, Ingvar; Norseng, Per G; Joryd, Göran; Bagle, Eyvind; Sletten, Heidi Thöni. Digital Storytelling and Engagement in Exhibitions about Shipping. Norsk museumstidsskrift. 4(2) pp 50-72. doi: 10.18261/issn.2464-2525-2018-02-02. 2018.

Leister, Wolfgang; Tjøstheim, Ingvar; Schulz, Trenton Wade; Joryd, Göran; Larssen, Andreas; de Brisis, Michel. Assessing Visitor Engagement in Science Centres and Museums. International Journal On Advances in Life Sciences 2016 ;Volum 8.(1&2) s. 50-64.