Using COVES as a Tool to Achieve an Institutional Culture Shift

By Meghan Schiedel, The Discovery (Reno, Nevada)

Over the past two years, The Discovery has taken part in the COVES project as a participating site. We have taken full advantage of this opportunity to make a cultural shift at the museum and help usher in a “new age” of objective and data-based decision making.

In 2013, I was invited to participate in the Creating a Collaboration for Ongoing Visitor Experience Studies (C-COVES) project, which was the initial IMLS-funded forum that brought together many stakeholders to create a white paper that could guide the creation of a system for industry-wide audience surveying. I found this process to be an amazing professional development experience. After the completion of the white paper, I was pleased to be invited to continue with the project. The Discovery decided that, based on our internal capacity, it would be best for us to participate as a pilot test site for the survey.

As part of the pilot, we received an exceptional training session from Ryan Auster. The training was attended by data collectors as well as senior leadership here at the museum. As a mid-sized museum, we wanted to take advantage of the experience to help change the organizational culture at our museum. We already valued data-based decision making, but most of the staff had little to no experience with evaluation.

Data collection at The Discovery
Data collection at The Discovery

Since the time of that initial training, I have seen a cultural shift happening here at The Discovery! Evaluation is a topic of discussion frequently across all departments. We also used our experience and participation in the COVES project as leverage to obtain a $13,000 grant from a local foundation to completely revamp our field trip evaluations. That grant allowed us to pay an experience consultant from the informal science education field to lead a one-day intensive evaluation workshop that helped continue to build and grow the momentum that started back in 2015. This summer, we will continue this shift as an organization through the creation of program logic models (something that has never been done here) to create even bigger impacts with our work, and by building evaluation into our thoughtfully-designed programs and services.

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