Listening to the crowd: Data science to understand the British Museum's visitors

Project goal

Analysing and understanding the British Museum visitors’ behaviour and feedback, using different sets of data including the Trip Advisor feedback, the Wifi access and intelligent counting data, and methods such as natural language processing and time series analysis.



Naomi Muggleton and Timothy Monteath

Project Supervisors

Taha Yasseri, Turing Fellow, University of Oxford
Coline Cuau, British Museum
Joanna Hammond, British Museum
Natalia Hudelson, British Museum

Project detail

There is more to The British Museum than Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone – more than 6 million people walk through the doors each year, travelling from every corner of the globe to see the Museum’s collection and get a better understanding of their shared histories. Those visitors offer us a unique test bed for data science and real world testing at scale.

In order to address some of the challenges of welcoming such a large number of visitors, the British Museum is constantly gathering feedback and information about the visiting experience. Research about visitors informs decisions made by teams around the Museum and help the Museum evolve along with its audience. The tools at the museum’s disposal include direct feedback channels (such as email or comment cards), “intelligent counting data, wifi data, audio guide data, social media conversations, satisfaction surveys, on-site observation and conversations on online review sites such as Trip Advisor.

Trip Advisor reviews are one of the largest and richest qualitative datasets the Museum has access to. On average, over 1,000 visitors review their visit on the platform every month. These reviews are written in over 10 languages by visitors from all parts of the world, and historical data stretches back over two years. In these comments, visitors discuss the positive and negative aspects of their visits, make recommendations to others, and rate their satisfaction. The data set is an opportunity for the Museum to learn more about its visitors, to understand what the most talked about topics are, and which factors have the biggest impact on satisfaction.

This research project aims to dig into a rich set of qualitative data, uncovering actionable insights which will have a real impact on the Museum. The research will have an immediate and tangible effect and will help the organisation improve the visiting experience currently on offer at the Museum. The Museum is currently undergoing pivotal strategic change, and the insights will also feed into future iterations of the display and audience strategies. As far as we know, the British Museum is the first institution of its kind to take a programmatic approach to this kind of qualitative data. This pioneering research could potentially impact the rest of the cultural sector and show the way to a new method of evaluation and visitor research.