Science centres and museums are meeting places for children, youth, and adults. Visitors can explore math, science, technology, and history through their own activity and together with other visitors. What engages the visitors? Currently, there are no good measures to answer this question. Museums count their visitors. Yet, data collection methods that report what visitors actually do are absent. This is also the case for more advanced methods that tie together the use of installations with the visitors' subjective experience.

The project VISITOR ENGAGEMENT developed an innovative system that measures what engages visitors in science centres. The main objective of VISITOR ENGAGEMENT was to measure engagement, user experience in science centres and museums. This was done by means of sensor and camera technology, and the registration of user behaviour in combination with short surveys. Data can be observed using sensor technology without storing personal information and without bothering the visitor. The visitor data will provide valuable information when they are entered into the Exhibition Management System (XMS). The XMS is the technical platform and operating system for exhibitions developed by Expology AS.

Results from VISITOR ENGAGEMENT include visit observations and evidence of what engages visitors. In the project, the term engagement will be operationalised. This will reduce the need for questionnaires and traditional user studies in science centres and museums. A number of alternative technologies might be used to measure engagement. Therefore we will evaluate, with an emphasis on the technical issues, cameras and sensors to reveal which of these provide stable data. The project will also develop metrics for combining bio-physiological data and subjective data. Privacy will be protected when personal information is collected.

The project will conduct case studies at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and Aker Solutions Engineerium to validate the developed system and document the results. The project has selected the installations: Energy Tivoli – Solar Cell at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, Sjøens Motorvei in the newly opened exhibition Norge er Havet at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and eQuiz at the Engineerium as research subjects in the evaluations for 2014.

The project has developed a classification of installations in science centres, the VISITOR ENGAGEMENT Installation Profile (VEI-profile). This profile describes the relative strength of different parameters that affect the engagement of visitors who use an installation. These parameters can be applied to systematically observe the effect of changes made to installations. The VEI-profile consists of the the following dimensions: competition, narrative, interaction, physical activity, degree of control, and the social dimension.

Expology, the project owner, will expand its technical platform XMS with a set of modules that implement the functionality of VISITOR ENGAGEMENT. Other participants in the project are the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and Aker Solutions Engineerium. These science centres and museums will participate in the testing and validation of the new solutions. The Norwegian Computing Centre (NR) has the responsibility for research activities and leads the project. NR will develop methodology to combine subjective and objective data that have been collected with the new system. NR will also be responsible for sensor technology, data modelling, and the validation of the system. The Department of Education at the University of Oslo will contribute at the visitor studies at the science centres.

The VisitorEngagement project has developed the VisitorEngagement Installation Profile (VEI Profile) that can be used to characterise installations and exhibitions. The project is about to develop an assessment model fo assess subjective, objective, behavioural, physiological, and context data. You can find more information on the project at the project owner's site.