Friday, October 12, 2007

Research on Discovery Centres

This question from Claire Baddeley a PhD student from University of Canberra:

I'm currently undertaking a PhD on the history, development, philosophy and management of 'Discovery Centres' at Australian museums. The project aims to investigate the role of 'Discovery Centres' in Australian museums, their purpose, and how they contribute (or don't contribute) to the visitor's museum 'experience'. The research aims to look at 'discovery centres' as a microcosm reflecting contemporary issues faced by museums (such as those regarding access, education/learning, use of collections & technology and operating as 'hybrid' organizations, combining not for profit and private sector roles). Given this, the main focus of the research is on 'discovery centres' as an aspect of the operation and role of museums in the 21st century.

I am writing to you to enquire as to whether you may be aware of any research or studies that have been undertaken on 'discovery centres' in museums (in relation to audiences)? There seems to be little written about what does and doesn't occur in 'discovery centres' in relation to audiences, why they are becoming increasingly popular in museums and how 'success' is measured in these centres (beyond visitor numbers, of course!). Any advice, suggestions or details of researchers/museum staff to contact that you could provide me would be much appreciated.

Claire, I know that Moya McFadyen from Museum Victoria did a world-wide tour of discovery centres. Her report is really worth reading (I'll give you her email details separately). At the Australian Museum I have done several studies of our popular search & discover which clearly demonstrates that visitors of all ages and type love these kinds of spaces and appreciate the role they have in learning. Regarding their popularity in museums, to me it is about museum staff finally responding to research and theoretical perspectives about how people learn. No longer do visitors want passive experiences where they are told stuff (actually they never really did!). Visitors consistently say they want choice and control over their visit experiences and discovery centre models meet these needs very well. Go here for some papers on museum learning and to this wiki for my thesis on museum visitors' learning.

Another place to talk to is CSIRO Discovery in Canberra. I was quite impressed with most of it when I visited in May this year and they may have undertaken some research during their planning.

There is also a Case study of The Discovery Room by Judith White at the Smithsonian on the ExhibitFiles website. Seeing this reminded me of a my favourite museum quote ever – too long to reproduce here so the reference is Skramstad, H. (1999). An Agenda for American Museums in the Twenty-First Century. Daedalus, 128(3) and look at pages 113-114.

Other ideas or leads anyone?

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