One Museum’s COVES Experience

By Linda Deck, Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Being invited to join in as a COVES test location couldn’t have come at a better time. The Bradbury had undertaken visitor experience surveying in various ways over the past eight or so years. We knew that being aware of what motivates our visitors to come, and how they talk about their experiences here, helps us shape their visit to make a positive change in their lives. The systematic approach that COVES brings, and across so many different kinds and sizes of museums, should help us learn even more by comparing our data with others.

We began to integrate the COVES project into our workload by first figuring out who here at the museum would be our surveyors. We decided to involve both regular staff and student interns. Regular staff get a deeper understanding of how we affect our visitors and have monthly stints on the floor interacting with
them to reach the COVES survey quota. Student interns, with eyes wide, experienced what it means to put the visitor first, learned good interaction techniques, and thought more deeply about what museums are supposed to do for visitors and why. We all profited by taking the NIH Human Subjects training. Our surveying started in July 2016.

At summer’s end, our student interns went back to school, and a new regular staff member joined our team in October. Now, we have five trained regular-staff surveyors. At the top of the month, I send out a reminder of how mahistory-gallary-34-17ny surveys we each have to collect during the month to make our quota, and, for the most part, this has been very doable. But sometimes you have to be flexible! December is notoriously S L O W leading up to the holidays, and then we are slammed with visitors during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s also the time that regular staff are mandated to take a vacation, leaving only the gallery attendants (who are not surveyors) required to work and keep open the public part of the museum.

I watched as the four other staff members spent hours in the two weeks leading up to Christmas getting their 4 (yes, only 4 each!) surveys done. I was so busy with administrative duties and final pushes on projects that I decided to come in on my vacation to do my surveys. It paid off. On December 28, I set a new COVES record for us: 4 surveys in 20 minutes. The museum was that crowded, with people coming and going and enjoying themselves, that I had no trouble makiBradbury COVES Surveyng it happen.

I’ll take this lesson with me into 2017, to also help with our dearth of weekend data
(remember, it’s only regular staff who do surveys, and we don’t work the weekends). I’ll come in to fill
y quota on a Saturday or Sunday. Weekends are pretty well attended, so I’m hopeful my time will be well spent, and we’l
l have a chance to learn more about our weekend visitors and their experiences.