Evaluation with a twist

With Heritage Open Days drawing ever nearer, you will no doubt be busy planning every last detail of your event, but spare a minute to consider what happens after the big day, how will you measure its success? To get the most out of your evaluation and dare I say, make it fun, it’s important to consider evaluation now rather than as an afterthought. Yes, I did say fun. With the growing focus of heritage organisers on visitor experience, enjoyment and engagement (things that are rather difficult to quantify) a bit of planning means you can get creative with evaluation and wave goodbye to spreadsheets and pie charts!

© Heritage Open Days - Evaluation

Firstly, think about what you want to find out. Is it how enjoyable the day was, the success of marketing, signage or customer service, to name a few? If this is the case, then a simple ‘did you enjoy your visit today? yes/no' will not leave you with anything particularly constructive. Alternatively, you may wish to get an idea of what people liked about your venue or what they learned. As the strength of Heritage Open Days lies in the diverse range of things on offer, the ideas below are very general, so please use as inspiration or add your own in the comments below.

Back to basics with surveys

Surveys are useful if you decided you have specific questions to ask. Try to keep the survey short and ask open-ended questions. The Heritage Open Days team provides you with a ready-made, more in-depth visitor feedback form, which has the advantage that your local results feed into a national evaluation. If you have a leaflet or map given out on entry, attach the survey to these or hand out after guided tours. Position the ‘return surveys here'-box on the way out as a reminder, make it bright, colourful and do not forget the golden rule when using surveys, have a large supply of pens! On the other hand, if you’ve got the people power have someone armed with a clipboard and a smile ask visitors your few short questions, stressing how important their feedback is. Most people will be only too happy to oblige, and offer a sweet or sticker to those who answer to encourage children. To maximise your response rate it’s a good idea to offer an incentive, again use imagination, for example a personal guided tour for a selected visitor will not cost you anything but is always very popular. A bonus when using surveys of this kind is the opportunity to capture addresses and email addresses for future marketing.

Art-ful evaluation

And I really do mean art. If you have the space, put up a chalkboard, whiteboard or even a big piece of blank paper and encourage visitors, particularly children, to get creative with words and drawings. Start them off with a question, for example ‘what was your favourite part of your visit today?’ or even ‘one thing that fascinated me today was…’ Also, don’t be afraid to start the answers off yourself, a blank page may be intimidating to some. This is a great way to determine what visitors found interesting or unique about your open day. If faced with the second question after my first visit to Petworth House I’d answer "…learning that the four Turner landscapes in The Carved Room were hung below eye level and opposite the windows so that dinner guests facing away from the windows could still see views of the parkland when sitting and eating, what a good idea".

If you’re not expecting many children, the more grown-up version of this would be the visitor book. And the National Trust version of this is the comment card, found at most National Trust places with a simple ‘what did you think of your visit here today?’

Getting technical

Many venues now have social media accounts be it facebook, twitter, a blog or even all three. As Ben Goodwin pointed out in his post, these are great for publicising events but don’t forget to follow up afterwards. Build a rapport between you and your visitors by posting pictures and giving behind-the-scenes insights or highlights from the day (remember you need permission from those in the picture before putting online), then encourage a discussion. This helps create a sense of community and allows visitors to feel more involved with your heritage site. For examples of this in action see our facebook page and blog.

Look closer to home

It is not just visitors who have the ability to evaluate your event, other staff and volunteers are an invaluable source of feedback so encourage them to contribute too. Have a feedback box in the staff room and be aware that staff may feel more comfortable giving anonymous feedback. The best thing to ask any front line colleagues is ‘what were the most frequently asked questions?’ If it turns out that many visitors mentioned they’d had trouble finding the place, then you can assume there was a problem with signage, and so on.

In return don’t forget to share your favourite comments with colleagues, a personal favourite occured when a visitor came back into the reception on his way out to call us all "national treasures" for the work we do, which really is far better than seeing a percentage on a pie chart.