Open House: mission accomplished

Andrea Heeg

The party is over. The survey results from visitors are in. It is time to look back to see if we accomplished what we set out to do when we decided to host the 50th Anniversary Open House.

On Sept. 25, we emailed Open House visitors a 25-question survey. Within one week, we received 1,692 responses. The response was positive, and we’re pleased that so many enjoyed the event. We’re also happy that so many took the time to respond because it gives us a good sense of what we need to do to improve for future events.

At the beginning of the Open House planning process, we established a guiding principle. This broad philosophy guided the project through the planning and execution of the Open House. It stated that, at the Open House, Fermilab staff will welcome the public to our laboratory, which enjoys international partnerships, and share our science with the public as only we can.

We also established five objectives for the event.

Our first objective was to show visitors a world-class particle accelerator laboratory and for the public to interact with employees and users in their work space in a way that was engaging, inspirational and safe. Objective accomplished! The feedback for the tour stops was overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of the 447 comments that we received:

“It’s clear that all the workers, volunteers and scientists are incredibly passionate about their work. This truly provides an engaging experience for visitors from all backgrounds and experience levels.”

“I was very impressed with all the scientists who were so willing to share their knowledge.  PLEASE host another one, I really want to see and learn more.”

“The neutrino experiment and the Fermilab employees volunteering at that location were animated and engaging. They appeared to be having the time of their life and made learning a blast! The physicist trading cards were and especially cleaver touch. Bravo!”

Our second objective was to draw 20,000 visitors from locations far and near, with an emphasis on the local community. We registered 20,000 visitors — our maximum, set for safety reasons —between Aug. 2 and Sept. 1. Many more expressed an interest in attending even after we reached capacity. Ten thousand people attended, and we parked 4,700 cars in the visitor parking area. We sent our survey to all registrants, whether or not they attended the event. Eighty-five percent of attendees gave the event an excellent or good rating. Of the nonattendees who responded, 76 percent said that they had a change of plans or other reason for not attending. The remainder said that their decision was due to the 93-degree heat.

Our third objective was to communicate that we are open to the public and to encourage visitors to start planning their next visit to Fermilab by directing them to our website, where they can find all of the ways the public can get involved with science at Fermilab. We asked visitors if the Open House was their first time visiting Fermilab. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that it was, and of those, 73 percent said that they did not know that Fermilab was open to the public every day. And 90 percent of respondents said they were likely or very likely to come back to Fermilab.

Objective four was to create a favorable impression of the laboratory through the news media, social media and word of mouth. Check out our Facebook page to see the feedback that we received immediately (login required).

Two television stations and five local newspapers covered the event.

Our fifth objective was an internal one: to reinforce the director’s message that lab employees should see Fermilab as one lab and increase morale by creating an opportunity for all employees to work as one on the day of the event. We sent an evaluation to all Open House workers and many respondents commented that the they enjoyed collaborating with co-workers on a successful event.

Thanks to everyone who made the Open House a success. Visitors’ appreciation of your work is well-documented: The survey results and Facebook comments repeatedly mentioned that the people in the orange shirts were friendly and helpful.

We look forward to the next 50 years of sharing our science with everyone near and far.

Andrea Heeg is the Fermilab 50th anniversary events manager.