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    Harpers Ferry Center

Media Evaluation & Visitor Research

Students help evaluate new exhibits for Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

Students help evaluate new exhibits for Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

Harpers Ferry Center works with the National Park Service Social Science Program to gather useful knowledge about park visitors and the public. HFC's goal is to acquire a better understanding of audiences, which ultimately helps planners and designers create more effective interpretive media. Another goal is to make media evaluations and evaluation resources accessible to parks and contractors who are working on interpretive media projects throughout the National Park Service.

Traditionally, there are three stages during which formal visitor studies, or evaluations, are conducted.

Front-End Evaluation

Front-End Evaluation is conducted during the beginning of a project, when themes, story lines, and program ideas are being considered. Front-end evaluation concentrates on getting input from potential visitors by means of interviews and/or focus groups, to find out what kinds of information they need and would like to know, and how this information could be presented in a meaningful, interesting, and cost-effective way. Misconceptions about the subject matter are also revealed at this stage, often leading to specific content and presentation elements designed to counter them.

Front-End Studies:

Formative Evaluation

Formative Evaluation is conducted before the fabrication of interpretive media, when mock-up testing can be carried out. Formative evaluation is intended to "catch" design and/or content problems before they become a part of the final interpretive media, when they are often difficult and expensive to fix.

Formative Studies:

Summative/Remedial Evaluation

Summative/Remedial Evaluation is conducted after final media production, when the total "package" can be evaluated and final adjustments can be made. In a comprehensive evaluation program, the conduct of summative/remedial studies often reveal problems that were not, or could not be, identified during the earlier stages of development. For example, crowd-flow problems are often revealed only when the actual configuration of all the elements of the exhibition are in place. Similarly, orientation and signage problems become "obvious" at this point, and can often be corrected by relatively minor adjustments to wording and/or placement.

Summative Studies:


Research studies address broader issues than those that apply to a specific exhibit, publication, or other interpretive medium.

Research Studies:

Related Information

Other Evaluation Resources and Contacts


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