BISE Week: Using the Visitor Studies Association to Engage Evaluators in Research on Evaluation

Hi! I’m Sarah Cohn, Association Manager for the Visitor Studies Association (VSA). VSA and I are a part of the Building Informal Science Education project (BISE). In this post, I’ll share information about VSA and how the Association supported the BISE project.

Lessons Learned: VSA served as a platform for the BISE project to engage with a community of evaluators and researchers throughout the field of informal learning, united around a set of common goals:

  • to ensure the project’s work was grounded in the experiences of these audiences,
  • to ensure that the resulting resources were useful and relevant to the wide range of evaluators that might use them.

At VSA annual meetings, the BISE project team sought input regarding:

  • the development of the BISE Coding Framework,
  • the direction of the project, and
  • the findings from the synthesis papers.

This sort of member-checking is important in qualitative research to ensure that the findings are truly reflective of the audience’s perspectives or information. Evaluators can be just as tricky and diverse in their ideas, needs, and opinions as any other audience! So what did we learn from this process?

  • When conducting research on evaluation, provide multiple venues and points at which evaluators can reflect on the study’s data, ideas, and findings. Find different check-in points over the course of a year or the life of the project; offer different modes for engagement, be they digital, in-person, asynchronously, etc.
  • Be as specific as possible in your requests for feedback. We are reflective, by nature, so your fellow evaluators will provide feedback on every aspect of a project if you let them!

Rad Resources: The Visitor Studies Association is a global network of professionals dedicated to understanding and enhancing learning experiences in informal settings wherever they may occur—in museums, zoos, parks, visitor centers, historic sites, and the natural world—through research, evaluation and dialogue. VSA’s membership and governance encompass those who design, develop, facilitate, and study learning experiences. We offer a number of resources for evaluators to learn more about evaluation in informal settings.

  • An annual conference every summer that brings over 200 professionals together to talk about new advances in the field, current projects, and major issues they are facing.
  • The Visitor Studies journal, which is a bi-annual, peer-reviewed journal that publishes high-quality articles focusing on research and evaluation in informal learning environments, reflections on the field, research methodologies, and theoretical perspectives. The journal covers subjects related to museums and learning in out-of-school settings.
  • Online webinars, produced in partnership with other museum-related associations, such as the Association for Science-Technology Centers.
  • Regional meet-ups, workshops, and an active listserv.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Building Informal Science Education (BISE) project week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of the BISE project team. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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