Working with not for:  A quick guide to consulting with families


Sarah Shaw

Director of Museum Tales LTD


As a museum consultant specialising in family engagement, I’ve been thrilled to see the sector shift towards becoming more family friendly. From events to trails, from backpacks to exhibitions, families are now being acknowledged as a key demographic within the sector – and rightly so.

But producing meaningful resources which work for your target audience requires thought, expertise and most importantly, input from families.

In this article, I’ll give you some ideas for quick evaluation and consultation wins when developing your family friendly resources.

Quick wins

If you’re producing a new small-scale resource, such as a new activity trail, it’s always best to ask families to try it out and give you some honest feedback.

This could take the form of:

A prototype trail with a survey included or handed out at the end.

Remember to include qualitative (open ended questions) and quantitative (closed questions, ranking etc) elements to give you more information to work with.

Pros: a quick win and doesn’t need monitoring. This could be a self service station.

Cons: more often than not you’ll get the adult’s feedback. There is a limit to engagement if the children in the group can’t read/ write or find the survey method boring.

A station where families can share their thoughts

This could be simple smiley faces to colour in, stickers to mark answers to questions about the resource, or post-it notes to share their feelings.

Pros: This set up affords more input from children, as they can take ownership of their feedback. Stickers and colouring-in are always a winner!

Cons: You’re limited with how many questions you can ask. You would normally pose one or two e.g. what did you like best about the trail, or did you enjoy the trail?


Observing how families use your space is a quick and simple exercise. With a simple site plan (and the permission of the family) you can mark down the hot spots, the under-accessed areas, pinch points, inaccessible spaces and areas of opportunity.

Focus groups

If you’re producing a larger piece of work, say an exhibition. Meaningful consultation is essential – and when I say meaningful, I mean it! There’s no point doing an evaluation as a tick box exercise, to hear what you want to hear, or too late into the project to affect any change. So careful planning is key.

Family focus groups need to be run a little bit differently to traditional ones, but many of the same principles apply.

Here’s a step by step guide:

  • Plan the session at a good time for you, and the families. Family focus groups work best at weekends, avoiding mealtimes, when they’re not in a rush and you’re not trying to facilitate a session during ‘the witching hour’ (the hour before bedtime)! Similarly, you need to book in a time that works well for you – a focus group session at the end of a project is pointless. So make sure you book it in when there’s still time to put the feedback into place.
  • Recruit families who are your key demographic. When you’re planning a large scale project, e.g. a new exhibition, make sure that you have an age range in mind. Once you have this, recruit your families accordingly to ensure that you’re testing your ideas with the people who will use the finished product. A good way to recruit families is on local Facebook family and days out pages.
  • Pay your way. If families are giving up their time, you should compensate them. This might be a financial payment or voucher, as well as covering their transport costs. If this isn’t possible, think about offering a free annual pass to your site, a party bag for the children in the group or free entry to the next event that you run. Tea, cake and juice goes a long way too!
  • Make sure that your space is accessible. Families come in all shapes and sizes so it’s important that your venue is spacious and accommodates wheelchairs and buggies. It’s imperative that you let families know your facilities in advance e.g. do you have an accessible or Changing Places bathroom, bottle warming facilities etc.
  • No surveys! Families aren’t going to want to sit for an hour and a) be talked at b) expected to fill in endless forms. The best way to get families to talk is through play. So set off some fun games to get the information you need:
  • The yes/ no game. One side of the room is yes, one side is no and children have to run between the two in response to the questions you ask. Throw in a few funny questions ones to break it up a bit. Voting paddles can work just as well.
  • The floor is lava. Mats on the floor to get the children to the voting station/ statement they want to vote for.
  • Play Doh. As simple as it sounds, provide some Play Doh or Lego for the children to play with and ask them simple questions about your ideas as they play.
  • Don’t forget to be sympathetic. A family focus group isn’t going to be a quiet, calm affair! Make sure that families feel happy to come and go as they please, particularly if the children in the group are disengaged and want to leave. Reassurances that noise and moving about is ok will go a long way!
  • Whatever approach you take, make sure that the voice of families is loud and strong in your organisation. If you take the time to talk to them, you will be able to develop targeted resources which provide your audience with exactly what they need.

Top Tips

  • Finally, remember that evaluations relying on written content can be challenging for families with neurodivergent or SEND members, and children under the age of 8.
  • Look for alternatives like images to select from, faces to indicate likes and dislikes, voting stickers etc.
  • For any text or images that you do provide, ensure that they are accessible.
  • Keep your expectations realistic!

You can visit museumtales to find out more about our work, or to book Director Sarah for one of her bespoke training sessions. From family friendly front of house guidance, to creating family friendly interpretation – we have a session for you!