vides important information that helps conceptualize a project. Formative evaluation is part of evidence-based design processes that are open to cycles of design and testing. In The Mind exhibition developed at the Exploratorium, for example, Erik Thogersen went through a formative evaluation phase by prototyping different possibilities for the exhibition with visitors to the museum. Some ideas became part of the finished exhibition, and others were rejected. This process provides a midpoint check for developers so that they continue to question their assumptions about the project, consider whether goals and objectives are being met, and make necessary changes before the project is completed.
The final phase of the evaluation process is the summative evaluation. Conducted after the project is completed, the purpose of this evaluation is to document whether the learning goals (or any other goals for that matter) established at the beginning of the project (and likely updated over time) were met and whether there is room for improvement. During this phase, some unplanned-for learning outcomes may also be noted. Summative evaluations document program or project success and are often done as part of accountability measures, although more and more, calls for generalizable results move many summative evaluation designs into research with the potential to inform practice or contribute to the overall knowledge base.
A full discussion of the complexities of evaluation, including appropriate designs, is beyond the scope of this book. The NSF Evaluation Framework is a good starting point for a deeper exploration of issues related to evaluation and includes a list of resources in its appendixes.
This chapter discusses an approach that can be used as a guide in planning and executing assessments in informal science environments. A key element of this approach is the value of up-front planning, during which it is important to set goals for the project and get to know the audience. Knowing what the learning goals are at the beginning of the project can help contribute to its success and is essential for effective assessments.