Thursday, June 28, 2007

Climate Change and Museums

Fiona Cameron asked me about audience research we have done on the topic of climate change. We conducted several studies as part of a larger research project investigating future exhibition topics.

The first study in 2006 consisted of two quantitative surveys — one with an online sample of 538 respondents from the greater Sydney region (mix of visitors and non-visitors to museums and galleries); and one with 319 visitors to the Australian Museum. Climate Change was chosen as the preferred exhibiton topic by 21% of online respondents and by 22% of the onsite sample. It was of high interest to 39% of Australian Museum visitors and 26% of online respondents.

Why is this topic so appealing? A range of reasons were given by respondents:

* It’s an important subject that we all need to know about:
“I think climate change should be of interest to everybody because it is our future. Will we survive?”
“I think we need to know more about climate change as it’s already happening.”
“Topical and at the forefront of everyone’s attention. Will foster necessary public debate. Is of great interest to all ages and backgrounds.”

* It’s a topic that children need to be educated about:
“Climate change is an important issue and one that I could take my children to see and discuss.”
“Educating the community and my kids about this pressing issue so we can make immediate changes.

* There is a lot of misinformation around and we can trust the Museum to give us the real facts:
“I think we need to know more unbiased reasonably proven facts regarding climate change.”
“Climate change is very current and something that the whole world, and even more, needs more in-depth study, shown and interpreted for us normal people out here.”

* We need to know what we can do:
“… we all need to be made aware, with tangible examples, of what’s happening and how we can help.”
“Climate’s a very good indicator of the environment, must learn so we can save the planet before things go very wrong.”

The second study in 2007 consisted of focus groups with a range of target audiences to unpack the issues further. Again, climate change was clearly the most popular exhibition topic across all groups because:

* It’s an issue that’s become personal
* In the past 12 months, the issue has moved beyond the realm of science into the mainstream
* The sense of personal responsibility has started to hit home
* People are confused and overwhelmed – can’t trust politicians, industry or lobby groups
* With all the media coverage and THAT MOVIE, there is significant background knowledge, but much of it is contradictory, making the issue even more confusing!
* With so much conflicting information regarding climate change, audiences are craving an authority on the issue to clear things up once and for all, and assist them in adopting a stance

We found that participants felt the Museum was in a perfect position to be that authority, as audiences see us as:
* A trusted source of scientific information and not aligned to a political party, lobby group or big business partner:
"It’s a perfect fit for the Museum, it’s science!"
"I think the Museum has a great chance to be the authority on this issue, people trust the Museum and its science."

Some questions people wanted an exhibition to help them with were:
What are acceptable levels of warming?
What are the possible outcomes, at varying degrees of warming?
Are these changes due to emissions or part of normal cycles?
What is our ability to reverse the effects?
What can I personally do?
What is renewable energy and what is its role in beating climate change?
How does my everyday existence contribute now?
Is there a tipping point, and have we passed it?

So, the interest is there, what are museums and like institutions doing about it??


LyndaK said...

Also see the following online museum/science centre resources:
* climateXchange an initiative of ASPAC and Questacon and a range of other partners. The Resources page is very useful
* Global Climate Change research_explorer online exhibition from the Exploratorium
* climate change: the burning issue from the Science Museum in London

LyndaK said...

Also see the website for the Great Climate Change Swindle showing on the ABC tonight (12 July). There's already huge interest judging by the amount of discussion on the forum.

Also a really great example of a website.

craney said...

Hey thanks for the great review Lynda! Glad you liked the site.

We're really pleased with the way climateXchange turned out - now we just need to convince people (and museums: hint, hint) to contribute their own stories.

Geoff Crane,

LyndaK said...

Charlie Trautmann of the Sciencenter, Ithaca, "... surveyed a wide variety of science museums, centers, and other informal educational organisations to learn how they are communicating about sustainability and global warming to the public."

His report is well worth a read and can be downloaded here. It also includes a sustainability index which can be used by organisations as a self-assessment tool.