Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

Stalking visitors and what it tells us

Commandos 'stalk the enemy' under cover of a smokescreen during training in Scotland, 28 February 1942.

In December I was let loose in the atrium space, with a clip board and some less than desirable maps of the gallery floor. December was the month I discovered that I cannot draw a tank for toffee. Why was I drawing tanks? Because unfortunately I wasn’t given an accurate floor plan until afterwards so I had to draw my own. Which in a way is a fantastic opportunity to familiarise yourself with a gallery space is by painstakingly drawing each of the objects and there relevant positions to each other. Once I had sorted the map drawing and figured out the difference between a Mark V Tank and a T34 Tank I then commenced stalking. It really isn’t as creepy as it sounds, and in fact can be really useful when you are trying to find out what are the typical behaviours of visitors to a museum space. These maps (with my pitiful drawings of Tanks that looked like ducks) then grew into a complex spiders web of visitor interactions, behaviours and movements throughout the space.

So I spent a few days tracking Visitor movements and behaviour in order to give an idea of what exhibits/objects were attended and what behaviours were associated to the space. I followed quite a strict set of protocols to record when the observation took place; the area and object observed; age group of visitor(s); visitor characteristics; time spent in the area; and to what extent visitors read text or labels, if at all. I also rated visitors based on their level of engagement.
My stalking quickly highlighted that visitors to the atrium space like labels. In fact they love them. Paying more attention to the text then to the objects themselves, good news for the interpretation team right? I also discovered that certain objects are more engaging then others, and it’s not the objects you might expect. The ginormous V2? Nope, it’s the Human Torpedo that gets a lot of attention. There was a clear spatial arrangement to visitor engagement too; most visitors went round the rim of the gallery in a loop missing out the objects in the middle of the floor space. I started to feel quite sad for the field guns that were bypassed on the way to the next galleries. What was also really interesting was that most visitors completely missed this little guy (well the replica). Many stopping and resting against it whilst pursuing the map to the other galleries.
So below is the average visitor journey for the atrium space.

We are going to use the stalking data to help us make decisions on where in the atrium space we should be putting the in gallery social interpretation digital interventions, and also to compare the before and after visitor behaviours once SI has been installed.

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  1. Charles says: February 2, 20124:39 pm

    I wonder if you could ask visitors use one of the many mobile GPS tracking apps to record their time and position within the gallery. It would record exactly where they walked and their speed. If you got enough of those you could create a heatmap of journeys.

    • Claire says: February 16, 201210:02 pm

      That is a good idea, I would love to be able to pinpoint visitors down to their exact location. however most mobile GPS tracking apps, have problems inside buildings, so wouldn’t be able to get a really accurate reading. But if you know of an app which is pretty accurate let me know, and I’ll try it.

  2. Nancy Proctor says: February 5, 20128:31 pm

    Great stuff, Claire! Useful also to be reminded, in a time where some people are still concerned about handheld screens “distracting” visitors in the gallery, that many if not most visitors spend more time reading labels than looking at the objects. Is that a bad or a good thing? I suspect it depends: on the label, the object, and the visitor.

    In terms of measuring engagement, I was wondering what criteria you used? How did you determine that one person was more engaged than the next with a particular object?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Claire says: February 16, 20129:59 pm

      hi Nancy,

      Yeh its strange that museum people tend to forget that a label is also a distraction for a visitor!

      For measuring engagement levels, I used a 5 rating criteria system ranging from non engagement (eg passes by), through Minimal engagement where a visitor pauses, glances at object/label, but shows no real interest through to Extensive engagement where a visitor looks or studies with intense interest and/or participates fully, exploring, experimenting. It was a mixture of tracking timings, and behavioural characteristics.

  3. Jakub Krukar says: March 11, 201211:30 pm

    Regarding the GPS drawbacks: if you have a CCTV in the museum then this thing might be useful

    I know there’re other technologies allowing to track people indoor, based on wifi hotspots, too (but you’d need to google the details yourself if interested).

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