I took a group of visitor experience managers from the South East’s larger National Trust places to visit the Tower of London yesterday. We had a great discussion with Sally Dixon-Smith and Polly Richards about their year long project to create a core story framework for the Tower which, in the end, has pretty much delivered a twenty year plan for the improvement of the visitor experience there.
One name that popped up again and again, especially when talking about audience research was Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre, the consultancy that created the National Trust’s audience segmentation years ago, and which (it seems) every museum and heritage attraction is using right now to better understand their visitors motivations and experiences.
I was interested to hear the same things coming from the Tower people that we’ve been talking about in the National Trust, so I thought it might be worth sharing, with broad brushstrokes MHM’s thinking, without (I hope) revealing any commercially sensitive information. MHM so share a lot of their philosophy on their own website, so do explore their if you are interested.
Recently, MHM have done a lot of work on people’s motivations for visiting museums and cultural heritage. And they’ve divided all those motivations into four broad groups. They are:
- SOCIAL motivations, for example “to spend time with friends and family”;
- INTELLECTUAL motivations like “to discover or explore nature or wildlife”;
- EMOTIONAL motivations – “to see fascinating or awe inspiring things”; and,
- SPIRITUAL motivations, such as “to escape and recharge my batteries”.
What lots of places are asking MHM to do is help them ask visitors what their motivations were, before the visit, and then what they actually experienced during the visit. Then they can analyse how well the places are giving people what they want, or even exceeding peoples expectations and giving them something more than they came for.
All of which I’ve become quite familiar with, because this is something the National Trust and MHM have been discussing for some time. But yesterday I also heard at the Tower a language that I have coincidentally only just heard being discussed within the National Trust. And that is MHM’s classification of “how we provide visitors with the opportunity to construct their own meaning from a visit”. They talk of four (again – they must like fours) categories of “construct devices”:
- EXPLICIT – More traditional forms of interpretation such as introduction/text panels, object labels, introductory videos, room/gallery sheets and visitor guides.
- EMBEDDED – Interpretation which is explicit, but in a format which is in keeping with the room. For example, period designed newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, letters and newsreels.
- HIDDEN – Interpretation requires discovery. It is hidden inside furniture and within drawers, underneath objects, using directional audio.
- HUMAN – Guided tours,workshops, living history and costumed interpreters.
The conversation at the Tower was revolving around the HUMAN “devices” – I’d arranged the visit through my old friend Chris Gidlow, head of live interpretation. But what particularly grabs my interest for my own research is the idea of HIDDEN interpretation. In a way, my Responsive Environment ideas are all about places revealing hidden interpretation.