Experiencing a display through the perspective of a visitor can give you a wealth of evaluation information. This resource by Sarah-Jane Harknett offers guidelines for evaluating a project using accompanied visits.

By experiencing a display through the perspective of a visitor, a wealth of evaluation information can be obtained. Accompanied visits should be carefully planned and thought through; these guidelines provide some areas to consider. The safety of all those involved is of utmost importance. You must adhere to your organisation’s code of ethics.

Before the visit

Pre-select the people to be evaluated, preferably according to the audience your display is targeting. They should sign all necessary paperwork and releases in advance. Provide an information sheet so they know what they are agreeing to.

Each accompanied visit could take several hours, make sure this is clear to the participant. The evaluator should factor in time for an interview at the end to discuss the visit. If possible, offer an incentive, such as refreshments in the venue, stationery, postcards, etc.

The role of the evaluator

The person doing the evaluation should not be someone who contributed to the exhibition. They could be a gallery attendant, a student, a volunteer. The evaluator should not answer questions or contribute to the visitor experience, but observe and record.

Decide how the visit will be recorded. You could use voice recorders and the evaluator could make field notes. Test out any technology before you use it and make sure it is compatible with the group and the environment you are evaluating.

Prepare a suitable meeting point for the evaluator and the people they will be accompanying. Make sure people are properly introduced. Provide name badges for evaluators.

Make sure the evaluator has your contact details so they can check in with you or the venue in case of any problems on the day.

The evaluator should introduce themselves and explain the format, for example: 

“Hello, I’m [name]. I’ll be coming with you on your visit to the exhibition. After you’ve finished looking round, we will head to the café for refreshments and a quick interview.”

Determine how the evaluator will treat the people being evaluated. Will they be a silent partner on the visit, observing the interactions and making notes? Will they ask questions throughout the experience? If the visitor asks the evaluator something, how will they respond? They might be asked display questions, questions of orientation or where the loos are. To get the most genuine experience, they will probably want to prepare a statement along the lines of: “I’m not sure. How might we find out?” They should not lead the people they are evaluating.

The people being evaluated should receive no special treatment because of the presence of the evaluator. They should queue and wait along with other visitors.

If the evaluator is to ask specific questions during the experience, write them a script, with questions and prompts. The evaluator should record what prompts they use. It is easiest if this sheet is not in the notebook the evaluator is using to record the visit.

Recording and timings

It can be useful to time the visit as well. If you are going to do this, work out what technology you will use and test it out. Stopwatches are simple and cheap, but can be distracting. Most phones have a stopwatch function that can also be useful. If you are going to time the visit, determine what you are timing. Will you just record when they arrive and leave, or time spent at specific displays? What will you do when someone goes to the loo or the café? Make a decision about how or whether you will record this information. A sample timing sheet is included with these guidelines.

The evaluator should take notes of what the people they are evaluating are saying and doing at different points on the visit. Are they getting bored/cold/wet? Are they frustrated? What are different members of the group doing? 

Notes should be made carefully but subtly. Try to make sure evaluators are careful and consistent in their recording. Provide as much guidance and standardisation as you can.

You will probably want to use a shorthand for referring to the group members during the visit. Sort this at the beginning and write down who is who so that the notes can be transcribed properly.

If the people being evaluated are discussing things which are not relevant, the evaluator should make a note, for example “discussed tomorrow’s dinner for 3 minutes”

If you are evaluating a group, decide what you will do if the group splits up. Who will you follow? Ensure the evaluator makes a note of where the members of the group go.

At the end of the visit

How will you make sure you have a good ending? Will you have a summary interview? Will you end the evaluation when they have finished looking around the venue? Will you give them their incentive at this point? 

If you are planning an exit interview, it is easiest if this is facilitated by someone other than the person that accompanied the visit. Prepare your interview schedule and find a suitable location in advance. 

After the accompanied visit, the evaluator should make their final notes and impressions. They should read through their notes to make sure they have captured everything, and clean up anything that looks confusing. All notes and recordings should be transcribed as soon as possible.

Sample Accompanied Visit Tracking Sheet

Download this sheet as a PDF