Beyond philosophy: A Sample Interpretation Strategy
There is a lot of philosophy, training and discussion about the character of a good interpretation effort. A lot of emphasis is placed on planning and delivering a program. NAI’s Certified Interpretive Guide training is 32 hours focused on the elements and character of a meaningful and memorable program to capture the heart and mind. That’s all good – no, it’s great!
If you’ve heard me speak or read many of these blogs you know that I often look beyond the single program to the management of the overall program of a site. I refer to the interpreter, depending upon the specific situation at a site, being the manager of the site’s interpretation program. And, I note the steps of growing a park interpretation program from its infancy through adolescence and into maturity, or the value of site themes, or how managers can better manage interpretation.
Part of the planning and management of an interpretation program is to develop an interpretation strategy, whether it’s accomplished by a lone interpreter at a site who has the task because there’s no other way to accomplish it, or in a site with a team of managers, curators, educators and others,. This could be called a plan, and annual work plan, or whatever you need to call it to get the support to be successful. Here I’m calling it an interpretation strategy.
The purpose is to write specific tasks and identify those responsible for their success so they can be accomplished. The sample here is a beginning that can be fleshed out with many details.
There are several ways to create your strategy. I think one of the most meaningful methods is to identify the site’s significance and associated significant resources, then identify how those will be interpreted. Another is to develop your distinctive competence and essential experiences, then your themes, and develop your strategy around those. A third approach, and that used here, is based on three distinctive audiences: Schools, area residents and park visitors. Each group has special needs and requires different interpretive approaches. It helps to have themes developed first. In this case, five site themes were developed prior to this strategy being written. Audiences are identified, strategies for reaching each audience are listed, and part of the story each audience receives is based on one of those five salient theme statements.
AN INTERPRETATION STRATEGY
Strategies are developed for each identified audience. Some audiences have been identified as special target groups because the site can offer long-term benefits to them and they to the site. If cultivated, a strong symbiotic-like relationship can develop.
Schools are an identified target audience for this site
Place emphasis on school programs when field trips to the park are most likely: spring and fall. Spring is the most popular season for field trips, and spring is most popular, often filling fast. Encourage fall trips, encourage multiple trips, and emphasize accomplishing and reinforcing classroom goals and learning objectives through programs in the park that make the resources and school subjects come alive through contact with your site resources. At all costs avoid moving the students from the school classroom to an indoor classroom at your site. The objective is to be immersed in the resource, not in a room.
1. Complete the Teacher’s Guide. Have it available in print and digitally downloadable from the website.
2. Actively market to private and public schools within a one-hour drive of PMSP. Send Teacher’s Guides and make cold calls to each school’s science department head in February and August each year. A list of teachers will be compiled and then divided among interpretive staff for calls to be made during work time set aside for that purpose. Copies of notes regarding “yes, no, maybe” will be kept in a common Interpreter file.
3. Homeschooled children are included with contacts to their organization and events and programs for them. They are freer to travel and more likely to participate in longer programs such as overnight programs, and to make repeat visits.
4. School groups receive preference for calendar dates from April 15th-June 15th and again from September 1st– November 1st. If school groups have not scheduled a full day of programs (three programs per Interpreter) for a given date during those time frames by two weeks in advance, then public programs will be scheduled.
Significantly increase out of park school programming (in schools) in Nov. Dec. Jan. and Feb.
1. Out of park school programs will be emphasized during these months. Schools seen in the park in the spring and fall will be reminded that we are able and willing to visit their classes at their schools in the winter. Our “cold call” list will be used during the month of November to firm up dates for December, January, and February. Copies of notes regarding “yes, no, maybe” will be kept in a common Interpreter file.
2. Each teacher that brings a school group to the park in the spring and/or fall will be mailed a follow-up letter from the interpreter that served as that group’s primary contact. The letter will include post trip activities that match the theme interpreted during their visit and will include information about out of park programming opportunities available at their school. Copies of correspondence will be kept in the common interpreter file.
Get those schools you have worked with in winter (above) to come to the park that spring and the following fall.
1. A teacher’s guide and other promotional materials will be provided to teachers during our classroom visits.
2. A follow-up letter from the interpreter that visited the school will be mailed to each teacher reemphasizing the benefits of bringing their class to the park for curriculum-related programs in spring and fall. Copies of letters sent will be kept in the common interpreter file.
Two teacher workshops (Hands-on ecosystems; Hands-on geology) will be promoted and offered in late summer.
1. Advertisements and promotional materials will be coordinated through educational cooperatives and distributed in May to school boards presiding over schools within and beyond our 50 mile target area.
Residents of the area are a valued and targeted audience
Become highly visible and seen as an active force in the community by doing programs in civic clubs throughout the area in Nov. through March – always with the intent of building awareness of the beauty, nature preservation, recreation and education opportunities at the state park to increase awareness and visitation.
This task will be shared among all uniform staff, but will be primarily fostered and promoted by the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent.
Hold “adventure workshops” to attract the local audience. These include canoeing; kayaking; backpacking; hiking; map and compass; fire and shelter; campfire cooking and perhaps others will be offered. These attract specific audiences and are offered for a fee to boost revenue.
A minimum of one workshop will be scheduled per quarter. These will be fee based, very interactive, and hands-on instructional programs. Guest speakers/ instructors will be contracted as needed, but the majority will be done with our interpretive staff.
Hold workshops for parents to help them be leaders for their kids: (This has been identified as a need and was a big success where tried, promoted and worked with consistently.) Topics include: Teaching your kids about nature; Taking your kids hiking; Camping with kids; Enjoying rivers with your kids; Showing your kids the wonders of nature in Arkansas; What to show your kids on a walk around your block, etc. This will become a heavily promoted program offered the first Saturday of each month throughout the year. The target audience is parents and grandparents and will be very hands-on. Most classes will be free, but participants will be charged normal fees for use of canoes, pontoon boat, etc.
We will continue to offer a minimum of two, week-long day camps during June.
Cold calls will be made to Boy and Girl Scout leaders and a minimum of one badge workshop will be scheduled each month during June, July, and August. Copies of notes with regards to “yes, no, maybe” will be filed in a common Interpreter file.
Cold calls will be made to senior citizen centers, assisted living centers, libraries, etc. and out of park programs will be scheduled during July and August. Copies of notes with regards to “yes, no, maybe” will be filed in the common interpreter file.
People who choose to visit the site are a primary, valuable and immediate audience. These may be residents or tourists, but they have made the decision to come to our site. We want their visit to be rewarding and memorable.
During high visitation times from April through November we will offer at least two programs each weekend day – one guided trail walk and one activity program, both in the West Summit picnic area. These will become a regular and advertised programs at specific and at dependable times so the visitor gets used to, can depend on, and expects to have good programs at specific times.
From March 15th– November 15th, we will conduct a guided hike starting in the picnic area each Saturday and Sunday morning starting at 9 a.m. to be followed by a demonstration in the picnic area at 10 a.m. At both of these programs, each and every participant will be provided with a printed calendar and schedule of events outlining the activities scheduled for the rest of the day along with promotional materials for upcoming workshops and special events.
An info table/booth will be set up and manned each weekend day from April 1st– November 1st at the West Summit trailhead from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. This booth will primarily be manned by volunteers, but in the absence of such will be staffed by a member of the interpretive staff. Close coordination between Interpreters and the Volunteer Services Coordinator will be necessary.
Summer – At least three programs per day in the park most every day, including a sunset or evening program each day, plus day camps, scout badge programs, and others.
From June 15th-September 1st, each Interpreter on duty will do a minimum of three programs per day. One Interpreter will be assigned an evening/closing shift and will be responsible for an evening/sunset program on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The same Interpreter will be responsible for two other late afternoon and early evening programs somewhere in the picnic area.
Developing a strategy, or plan, need not be difficult, but it requires doing some things that seem to be seldom done: Thinking of the full context of your site, identifying resources and audiences, and writing things down. Pretty soon you’ll have your own strategy.
One more benefit, when people see you have a strategy, or plan, you’ll find that cooperation, and even funding, may soon follow.