Discovery Garden Summative Evaluation
Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Brooklyn NY
Audience Research for a New Garden, 2016
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A), to conduct a study of visitors to the Discovery Garden. The goal of this study was to assess the successes and challenges of the exhibition and accompanying interactive elements to support the BBG in improving the Discovery Garden.
How did we approach this study?
RK&A used three methodologies to address the study objectives, based on specific outcomes developed by BBG for the Discovery Garden. Data were collected through standardized questionnaires at the Discovery Garden exits, focused observations of the docent cart program, and open-ended interviews at the docent cart program following visitor participation. Data were collected between April and August of 2016.
What did we learn?
Overall, visitor groups with children have a positive experience at the Discovery Garden. Most use some form of interpretation—mostly through labels presented on exhibits, followed by docents stationed at carts. Questionnaires as well as focused observations and interviews confirm that the greatest experience outcome take-away for visitors to the Discovery Garden is an appreciation and wonder of the natural world, followed by an opportunity for the physical exploration of the natural world. Observations show that while most docents encourage visitors to touch plants and shared information with them, few docents made explicit connections between the plants and science or the process of science, thus it is not surprising that most visitors did not perceive themselves as doing science in nature. A somewhat surprising finding is that nearly as many adult only groups as groups with children visit the Discovery Garden. The focus of this study is groups with children, so we do not know about the adult-only group experience—only that they are much less likely to use a docent cart than a group with children, which we learned from the questionnaire.
What are the implications of the findings?
BBG could consider training docents to directly and explicitly connect doing science in the natural environment to the behaviors and dispositions encouraged at the carts (for example, observation and wonder). However, docents may need additional training in what it means to do science in the natural environment before they can be expected to convey such content to visitors. In addition to docent training, the BBG might consider designing docent cart activities that more explicitly connect to doing science. At a basic level, a cart’s name could include the word “science” or “botanist,” and at a more advanced level, docents could be trained to show visitors what it is like to follow ones curiosities, make a hypothesis, and test one’s assumptions. While Botany Bonanza does this to an extent, it was framed more as a game than as a demonstration of elements in the scientific process. The Discovery Garden currently attracts children in the age range it desires (1 to 12 years) even though the portion of older children is relatively small (about 20 percent); the Garden should continue to provide experiences that appeal to this wide age group, and could consider adding programming that targets older children. If the BBG wants the Discovery Garden to attract a more diverse audience, staff can consider a marketing approach to appeal to the audiences it desires. Lastly, BBG could consider doing a small qualitative study to understand the motivations of adults to the Discovery Garden and then make decisions about how to accommodate this unexpected audience.