Suddenly, institutions which have previously provided little opportunity for a frank exchange of views between providers and their audiences are discovering that qualitative research can benefit them in a variety of ways. There is a realisation that insight can feed rather than dictate. Judgements can be informed, rather than purely subjective and can help build bridges between visitors and visited, between consumer and product.

Qual. can be particularly useful in formative evaluation; in establishing how much the public already knows; what is familiar to it; where their misconceptions are and where their emotions lie.

There have been some real success stories. On the basis of early qual. research, the Museum of Science and industry in Manchester discovered that the excitement behind their new Textile Gallery lay in the world of fashion and the feel of material. The marketing department gave the exhibition the title 'Fibre, Fabric and Fashion' and featured brilliant silk banners and fashion shots in their advertising. The exhibition took off.

Early qual research also helped steer the development of a huge extension and IMAX film theatre at the Science Museum in London. It has proved to be one of the most successful projects in the Science Museum's 150-year history

This article appeared in "Arts Professional", 6th May 2002