Make Water Provocative: Assembling the Puzzle

Interpreters will gladly tell you that interpretation is more than just standing up and talking.  It’s a discipline and a profession.  It is, as Freeman Tilden argued, art:

Interpretation is an art which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural.

Skeptical?  Take a look back on the interpretive elements we’ve covered:

  • The goal of interpretation:  to provoke our audiences, to inspire them to learn more about the subject on their own, to illuminate unsuspected connections, to provide new insights, and to help listeners think of subjects in new ways
  • The necessary components for an interpretive opportunity:  knowledge of the resource, knowledge of the audience, and appropriate techniques
  • The key to connecting resources, audiences, and meanings:  linking concrete resources to ideas and universal concepts (concepts which everyone is likely to understand, although each person may have different experiences or definitions of those concepts)
  • Facilitating connections with the resource, both intellectual and emotional
  • Measuring effectiveness:  setting out goals for the program and objectives by which to measure success
  • Crafting a theme to tie all program elements together

So, when creating a new interpretive program, how best to put all these elements together?  The best answer is usually:  whatever works for you.

The suggestions in this series are not meant to be proscriptive, or to set out a linear path from topic to interpretive program.  Attending multiple National Park Service interpretive trainings reinforced to me that each person’s brain works differently, and each person needs to develop their own process for creating an interpretive program.

For example, when I led cave tours, I wanted to start with the resource I was presenting.  What were visitors going to see in the cave?  What were they most likely to ask about?  I also thought of the stories that I wanted to tell, the facts about the cave that I found most interesting and unusual.  I then thought about a theme that would tie these stories and resources together in a comprehensible way.  I considered the goals of stewardship and respect that I wanted to inspire.  My process for developing a tour was certainly not linear – I did not start with a theme, and then develop goals, and then choose universal concepts, or follow any set path.  I started in one area, lurched into others, returned to earlier areas, circled back around, and constantly revised my programs as I saw what worked with my audience.  Was this the “right” or most efficient way to plan a program?  Hard to say, but it worked for me.

Crafting an Interpretive Program

When you create an interpretive program, you can start from any point.  Start with a resource, or a topic, or a goal, or a theme.  Then, depending on where you start, remember to consider:

  • Your audience – what do they know, what are their experiences, and what they might want to learn?
  • Are you connecting your resource to bigger ideas? or:  Are you connecting your ideas to something concrete?
  • Are you connecting your ideas and resources to universal concepts?
  • Are you providing your audience with opportunities to make intellectual and emotional connections?
  • Have you established goals for your program and objectives to measure your success?
  • Do you have a stated theme that ties your program together?

To do this, you might want to create mindmaps, or make an outline, or alter an existing program.  Find what works for you, do it, tweak it, perfect it.

Using Appropriate Techniques

Remember the so-called interpretive equation?

Knowledge of the resource, and knowledge of the audience, combined with the appropriate techniques for both, are necessary to produce an interpretive opportunity.

The points above are some of the appropriate techniques you can use to help produce an interpretive opportunity.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more techniques to use!

This series is brought to you by CFWE’s Water Educator NetworkJoin now and gain access to tools, trainings and collaborations for water educators.

Read the rest of the series on interpretation:
Building a Foundation
Connecting Resources, Audiences, and Meanings
Appealing to Hearts and Minds
Measuring Effectiveness
What’s Your Point?

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