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4.2. Evaluation

4.2.1. Tools for Evaluation

Four methods were used to evaluate the pilot project: The results of the survey and the interviews help to better focus ZooLex and to improve its organization and layout. The answers of all respondents are discussed and compared with the answers of selected key respondents and complemented by answers from interviews.

The website was not linked to any search engines for two reasons: First, it is a pilot project for scientific research. There was no funding for additional work. Second, I did not want to frustrate random visitors by not regularly offering new attractions. This would probably spoil potential future success of the website. As a consequence, only users actively invited by me and by invited users account for the total number of visitors to the sample website of ZooLex.

4.2.2. Analysis and Discussion

In my survey, data generated by 17 key respondents show no tendencies related to user groups. Responses seem to be influenced by personal preference and interest rather than by profession. Also, data generated by 17 key respondents show the same tendencies as those generated by 22 non-key respondents. Preferences among key respondents, however, are more distinct than those of non-key respondents. This might be due to the fact that the share of non professionals is much higher among non-key respondents. Also, I cannot be sure about appropriate and honest answers from non-key respondents, since I do not know most of them personally. But, the consistency of tendencies in key and non-key responses allows considering all 39 responses as valid. 

Since the total number of respondents is quite small, the data may be biased by non-respondents. However, the survey helps to get a first impression of the performance and usefulness of the website.

4.2.2.1. Content and Layout of the Website

The three pages "Opening Soon", "Recently Opened" and "Exhibit Gallery" are expected to have the most regular visitation of all ZooLex pages according to the survey. In the interviews, professionals expressed a need for standardized descriptions of zoo exhibits. Some respondents are ready to get their exhibits in ZooLex and are willing to pay for this service.

From the survey and the interviews, it also became clear that the interest in a discussion forum is high. Key respondents' answers indicate that professionals can be expected to visit regularly. Interviews, however, revealed the problems with such a forum. To be useful for zoo professionals, criticism is important. Especially, critical reviews written by professionals are valuable and desirable. However, zoos will not willingly have their exhibits serve as focus for public criticism. Restrictions to the forum will be the solution to this problem. Critical reviews might be accessible only for members of zoo organizations. The submitter may decide whether he wants everybody to read the statement, or he may lock it in favor of the "zoo audience".

Interestingly, the survey indicates that users like the free and the index search. The search modus by lists offered in the sample website therefore will not be further developed.

The page "Firms" gives an alphabetical list of firms for design or construction, with their addresses and links to their homepages, if available. Each of the exhibit presentations in ZooLex provides references to the firms, that contributed to its design and construction. Visitation to this page cannot be expected to be high. Most respondents intend to visit this page seldom or maybe monthly. Professionals are of course more likely to visit than others. This part of ZooLex might only be expanded if paying members support the service.

The popularity of contests remains unclear. Because it is hard to imagine how the contests will work without having an example, the respondents were vague in their answers. Interest of the general public seems slightly higher than that of the key respondents. The interviews supported professionals' skepticism towards contests. They may be done mainly for the enjoyment of the general audience and to attract regular visitors to the site. Finding a sponsor, especially for this part of ZooLex, is worth considering.

The survey results indicate more interest in links, publications and events than expected. These pages seem to offer a desirable service. In the long run, firms should be asked to pay for having a link from ZooLex to their website. A database of publications needs regular funding to be administered. The services "Links", "Publications" and "Events" might be offered to paying members only.

The attractiveness of the pages may be improved graphically. Criticism has been mostly expressed about the loading time of images and the readability of site plans. The first is a problem inherent to high-resolution pictures and confirms the strategy of having thumbnail pictures on the main page. The readability of site plans depends heavily on the material provided. North arrow and scale are considered useful additions.

4.2.2.2. Standardized Descriptions Used in ZooLex

The format of the exhibit presentation finds approval by both the general and the professional audience. The information provided is for the most part considered useful. The vast majority of respondents rates the text and images as interesting.

The criteria used for standardized descriptions in ZooLex resulted from a compromise between two diverging needs of institutions exhibiting live animals. On one hand, there is their need for credibility and trust. On the other hand, there is their need for critical exhibit evaluations.

ZooLex can comply with both needs by controlling communication flows. Standardized descriptions of animal exhibits are promoting institutions and supporting their credibility. They are also a good basis for any kind of evaluation. Critical reviews and evaluations can be discussed in the ZooLex forum. Those statements that do not seem appropriate for the general public can be restricted to members of a zoo organization. This way, the dissemination will not differ much from papers given at a conference. However, the information will reach more people faster, is related to other topics by key words in a database, and thus easier to retrieve.

The survey results indicate that the following features are considered to be very useful besides the basic description: site plans, size and cost of an exhibit, plant lists and some text on the management of an exhibit. Key respondents also value statements on research and conservation efforts undertaken by the zoo as well as  images of holding facilities and interpretive elements. A North arrow and scale should be added to site plans.

It seems that figures of an exhibit's costs most of the times cannot give a clear picture of the total expenditures related to an exhibit. Even for contracted work, total costs of planning and construction are not always available. An interpretation of the figures given is necessary to get an idea of the allocation of means. Especially, work that was done in house and additional staff that was hired to accomplish design or construction tasks, needs to be mentioned.

There is not much incentive for institutions to find out exact figures or make estimates for publishing purposes. One has to be happy to get approximate indications when asking. Yearly maintenance costs for structures, animal care and personnel cannot easily be estimated and obtained.

A similar problem arose regarding the size of exhibits. Unfortunately, figures differentiating between indoors and outdoors, on exhibit and off-view, accessible and designated areas, animal, keeper and visitor area are seldom available. In general, one figure for the total size of the animal enclosure, including indoors and outdoors, on exhibit and off-view is documented.

Color-coded and scaled copies of site plans would improve the consistency of information. They would also help to visualize space allocation and to estimate the sizes of different areas. Experiments with color-coding are necessary to ensure readability of such plans.

According to the respondents, I need not bother much about making different measures comparable. Figures for size and costs without further visualization or reference are just fine for most respondents. 

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Last modification: 2000/2/27
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