Evaluation of an exhibition after opening
The image above is of a NASA Mars rover, the 2004 model called Spirit. It famously got stuck on a rock in 2009, and eventually had to be abandoned. Before this happened, it did useful science for 20 times longer than its planned mission, including remote bug fixes and upgrades. I think it's a compelling image of an expensive installation a long way from help.
In the world of exhibitions, we have it much easier than this. If something needs changing or fixing in an installation, we the curators can be right there to change or fix it. Most commonly, this will be changing labels or maps where there is evidence of confusion among the visitors.
But first, we need to know what needs fixing. So using the language of software development, the first visitors can be thought of as beta-testers, and we should expect to make changes based on their feedback. Some museums include 10 to 15 percent of an exhibition's budget for this remedial evaluation. This ensures the exhibition isn't left abandoned, unable to do its job properly.
How do we get feedback from visitors?
Exit surveys/interviews vs. unobtrusive observation of visitors
Interviews are more thorough, but take longer to process and are more expensive.
Observation of visitors is quicker and cheaper, but less comprehensive.
The author describes nine different studies, articles and book chapters that investigate different approaches to getting feedback on exhibitions, and their relative scope and effectiveness.
As well as remedial evaluation, which prompts something to be changed or fixed, there is also feedback that doesn't require any changes to be made, but gives the curators a sense of achievement, and helps towards future applications for funding and access.