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Exploring Visitor Data from an Ongoing Multi-Institutional Visitor Study

November 5, 2018

Alex Lussenhop, Museum of Science

How much do museums really know about their visitors? At the Collaboration for Ongoing Visitor Experience Studies (COVES), we’re obsessed with this question. Driven by the need for quality comparable visitor experience data, our collaboration of 23 science-focused museums and science centers, including several NISE Net partners, works together to systematically collect data about our general public visitors. The best part is, we designed the core survey together and train members to use a standard data collection protocol, which means we can aggregate the data together and learn about science museum visitors across the field.

Cover of FY18 Aggregate Report


The COVES Project Team has just finished putting together a report of findings from Fiscal Year 18. We aggregated data from all participating institutions between July 2017 and June 2018 and looked at broad trends as well as differences between subgroups, like members, out-of-towners, and adult-only groups. What did we find? Among other things…

  • Over 20% of groups visit without children
  • Adult-only groups are younger, more likely to identify as LGBT+, and have lower household incomes than adults who bring children
  • About one-third of science visitors are visiting for the first time
  • First-time visitors are much more likely to be from out-of-town—53% say their group had no locals, compared to only 15% of repeat visitors
  • Members visit more often—59% had visited within the past three months—and they give the museums they visit higher ratings across the board

You can find the full Understanding Our Visitors FY18 report on our website.


Sample pages from the FY18 Aggregate Report


COVES institutions continue to collect visitor data on ongoing basis, helping museums learn about their own visitors as well as where they fall in the broader landscape of participating science centers. Would you like your museum to get involved? Get in touch at [email protected]! We know that NISE Net partners know the value of data, and we’d love to hear from you. The more institutions who participate, the better we are able to represent the field.

COVES Leadership Advisory Council Members


Our current cohort includes several NISE Net partners, including the Discovery Center Museum (Rockford, IL), Science Museum of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN), Bradbury Science Museum (Los Alamos, NM), Museum of Science (Boston, MA), and more! A map featuring our current participants is below. If you have questions about what it’s like to be a part of COVES, you can also get in touch with your contacts at any of the sites on the map.

Map of current COVES participants