Go back to article: Museums as brokers of participation: how visitors view the emerging role of European science centres and museums in policy




This study is based on a survey done in 2012 and 2014 among the visitors of seven national science centres and museums in Europe (see Table 1). The sample of institutions was formed to ensure a broad and balanced geographical spread and representativeness of the different situations in regards to science communication culture and public involvement in science and technology in Europe (Mejlgaard et al., 2012). At the Science Museum in London, where the survey was first implemented and tested in 2012, the sample was recruited through the social media channels of the Science Museum and on two occasions by distributing cards in the museum with a link to the online survey. In all other institutions, a random sample of adult visitors was recruited over the course of multiple days in 2014 and asked to complete the survey using paper forms during their visit. The questions relevant for this study were the same in 2012 and 2014. An overview of the participating institutions is given in Table 1.

This study is part of a larger research project on issues of scientific citizenship and science museums; it uses a subset of the data available from the survey and it constitutes the basis for a more complex analysis, which will be presented in a later paper.

Table 1 Surveyed institutions and size of the sub-samples

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Policy role

In order to assess the visitors’ awareness of a policy role of museums, the survey contained two items presented twice under different scenarios. The items were:

  1. The Museum [in all questions, 'the Museum' was replaced with the name of the institution where the survey was being conducted] represents the public opinion in the national and local discussions about science.
  2. Institutions like the National Science Academy, universities and industries give regularly advice to the government on matters of science policy. Should the Museum do the same?

In the first presentation visitors were asked to indicate how they see the situation now, and in the second, how they would like to see it in the future, using a seven point Likert-type scale ranging from 'definitely no' to 'definitely yes'. The two sets were further combined in a scale called policy role.


Empirical measures of interest and engagement with science were done with six questions, which formed the scale engagement:

  1. In addition to the Museum, I know other engaging and interesting ways to be involved with the developments of science and technology.
  2. I am interested in the social and policy discussions regarding science and technology.
  3. My level of knowledge about science and technology is…
  4. I am socially or politically active in a domain where science and technology are relevant (for example, through my work or hobby).
  5. During the last three months I encountered a topic related to science and technology (for example, in conversations, in the media, on my job).
  6. I personally know people who are active (socially, professionally or politically) in science and technology.

Participation – forum

Visitor interest in two different forms of participation were measured: the interest in sharing opinions and feedback (the 'forum' function of the museum) and the interest in co-developing museum exhibitions and programmes. To measure the first form of participation, six questions were combined to form the scale forum:

  1. There are enough opportunities to give my opinion and feedback in the Museum on matters of contemporary science and science policy.
  2. The Museum has made me aware of other organisations I would like to visit or to be in contact with.
  3. My point of view on matters of science, technology and society is well represented in the presentations at the Museum.
  4. After the visit, I would have liked to add my point of view and/or personal experience to the programmes and/or exhibitions at the Museum.
  5. I think other visitors would find it useful to know my point of view about the subjects of the programmes and/or exhibitions I visited.
  6. The visit to the Museum made me realise that my point of view on science and technology is important.

Participation – co-development

To measure visitor interest in the second form of participation, three questions were combined in the scale co-development:

  1. I think I have expertise, connections or other skills and know-how that could be useful to the Museum to develop new programmes or exhibitions.
  2. I would be interested to be involved on a voluntary basis (= not paid) in the development of new programmes at the Museum.
  3. And if your role and involvement was a remunerated one?

Answers to all the above questions were given using a seven point Likert-type scale with values ranging from 'definitely no/never/very low' to 'definitely yes/very often/high', according to the question.

The reliability values of the scales for each sub-sample are reported in Table 2.


Table 2 Reliability values of the scales policy role, engagement, forum, and co-development for all sub-samples

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Note: In all sub-samples, all item-total correlations were above .30 for all scales and can thus be considered reliable. See Table 1 for the full names of the institutions in each sub-sample.

Public board

Two questions in the survey asked if the museum should have a public board in its governance, and if the advice of this board should be binding for the museum:

  1. The Museum currently has a board of trustees and a scientific advisory board; should it have also a public board (composed of members of the public) to advise on how to represent science to the public?
  2. If the public is to advise the Museum, its opinion should be binding for the Museum.

In this case answers were also given using a seven point Likert-type scale ranging from 'definitely no' to 'definitely yes'.


Finally, the survey contained a few questions to collect socio-demographic data (gender, age, education level). All correlations to test interrelationships between variables are calculated using Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient with a significance level of □=.05. All regression analyses use Method Enter (Green and Salkind, 2010). Both were performed using SPSS v. 21.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/150306/003