Growing audiences and the social role of your garden
On 5th June Zagreb Botanic Garden, Croatia hosted a workshop for botanic garden directors across Europe to discuss the need and tactics for growing the social role of botanic gardens. It was attended by 27 directors who represented botanic garden networks in 24 European countries. This workshop was the continuation of a meeting held in Prague in May last year. During this meeting the garden directors decided that, in order to grow their social role across Europe, they will need to conduct audience research to analyse current and hard to reach audiences and identify engagement methods. They also discussed the need to develop a common vocabulary. Building on this the session, lead by Dr Theano Moussouri, lecturer in Museum Studies at UCL and Dr Asimina Vergou, Head of Education at BGCI, discussed the importance of knowing your audience in order to build upon it – which can only be achieved by effective audience research and the incentives, benefits and definition of growing a social role.
The workshop began with a presentation entitled ‘audience and non-audience research’. In her presentation Dr Theano Moussouri explained what audience research is, i.e. the ‘study of actual and potential audiences of an institution through the use of a variety of methods’ and why it is important, for example, it can be used to inform ‘policies, planning and practices’ and help an institution to remain socially relevant. This lead on to a discussion of the types of audience research, such as large scale surveys, evaluation and audience consultation to be used as a strategic tool, for knowledge management or basic research.
Following this the group came together to discuss the benefits of widening botanic gardens’ audiences and growing their social role. The workshop participants were asked to consider how statements such as ‘...botanic gardens must highlight, to as wide an audience as possible, why these environmental issues and the garden themselves are relevant to their lives...’ and ‘…to broaden their audiences botanic gardens may organize events, activities and courses with their audiences in mind…’ fit together to come up with ten arguments for growing their social role. They then were asked to consider what ‘Growing the social role of botanic gardens’ really means in terms of its aims, who to focus on and who it benefits.
BGCI is currently collating the comments from the workshop to create a revised definition of growing the social role of a garden and a list of convincing arguments to encourage other gardens to aspire to grow their social role.