Interp. as a Mgt. Tool

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                                                   Interpretation as a Management tool.


                                                                       John A. Veverka

Interpretive Communications?

The idea of using interpretation to help accomplish management objectives is relatively new, but gaining in use. Originally interpreters main jobs were to serve as "entertainment directors" for parks, historic sites, etc. Most of the early photographs of interpreters or "naturalists" usually had them pointing at something - flowers, geological features, historic structures and so on. And in most professional job settings we were expendable. Whenever there was a budget problem, the interpreters in the agencies were the first to go. After all, they didn't do anything "essential". The agencies, or the interpreters themselves hadn't realized the true potential and value of interpretive communications.

Interpretation as a management tool?

To look at how we are/can use interpretation to help with management issues, it is first important to remember that interpretation is an "objective based" communication process. We usually have three kinds of objectives interpretation focuses on accomplishing:

* Learning Objectives
* Behavioral Objectives
* Emotional Objectives

The Learning Objectives are designed to provide basic topic information or understanding, such as "The majority of the visitors will be able to describe three
reasons protecting archaeological sites benefits all visitors".

But the real reason or most important reason the manager may have in mind for interpretation to accomplish is to prevent visitors from picking up "souvenirs" at archaeological sites, such as pottery shards. So the behavioral objective might be "All visitors will leave any artifacts they may find at the site alone and not pick up any artifacts to take home with them".

It is the job of the emotional objectives for the interpretation to get the visitors to appreciate the value of artifacts left in place, and feel that they are doing a good thing by not touching anything.  So an objective of this kind might be "The majority of visitors will feel a sense of responsibility for not touching any artifacts    they may find on the ground".  Or "The majority of visitors will feel good - a part of the resource protection - by not touching any artifacts they may see on the ground".

The relationship between the behavioral objective (the results oriented objective) and the emotional objective is that the behavioral objective is the thing you, as
a manager or interpreter what to have happen as a result of the interpretation (how you want the visitor to USE the information you are interpreting to them). The emotional objective forces you to plan how you will get the visitor feel that the behavioral objective you have in mind is something they should want to do. This is the same basic strategy used in modern advertising today. The advertisement in a magazine wants you to    do or buy something. The "presentation" of the ad - the
graphics, the way the ad relates to different market groups, the evidence the ad portrays as to "why you need this product or service", follows this same format.
The emotional objective of the ad is to make you FEEL you want or need this particular product. The behavioral objective is for you to actually go out and buy it.

What kinds of management issues can interpretation help with?

The US Army Corps of Engineers has embraced interpretation into its day-to day communication with its visitors. Interpretive programs and services are used to:

- Help promote water safety issues (wearing Personal Floatation Devices, not drinking alcohol while boating, swimming safety) and many other safety issues as well.

- Help protect cultural sites or resources from vandalism.

- Help visitors understand various resource management programs and activities.

The US Forest Service is using interpretation in many National Forests to communicate with its visitors about a variety of management issues, including:

- Wilderness hiking safety and stewardship issues.

- Understanding ecosystem management and the benefits of this management approach to the environment, communities, and the visitor.

- Reducing vandalism and littering.

- Protecting historical and archaeological resources.

- Helping to instill a sense of ownership and pride in local resources or history to gain community support of various management programs and policies.

- Incorporating interpretation into its general Heritage Tourism planning program.

Many other agencies are finding that interpretation programs can (and do) help combat problems of vandalism and depreciative behavior in parks and forests. Interpretation is also being used in general recreation management strategies, to help the
visitors have a safer and more enjoyable recreation experience. Other studies are finding that interpretation programs can help reduce litter in parks and forests.

In general, interpretation can (and is) being used for a number of management areas for parks and historic sites.  These main areas of use include:

- Pre- visit orientation for visitors.
- Visitor flow into and through areas (via trails, developing other use areas, interpretive directional signage, etc.).
- Serving as part of the forest marketing or tourism plan.
- Reducing litter and vandalism problems.
- Interpreting on-site safety concerns.
- Resource protection (natural and cultural)
- Helping visitors " understand and value" resources and the management programs in place to protect or preserve those resources.
- Providing "awareness" of environmental issues or concerns.
- Encouraging visitors to take a pro-active role in site/resource protection.
- Becoming the cornerstone in regional heritage tourism programs.
- Gaining community support for the site/resource.
- Providing structure for tourism planning and program implementation.
- Agency image and recognition.

The bottom line.

Today managers are seeing that interpretation is NOT just the "frosting on the cake" but in many instances, "the cake itself". Interpretation is the most powerful and effective communication process any agency has available to it for communicating any message to its publics. Interpretation is designed to get results!

For example: Lets say an interpretive program costs $1000 to present (staff time, preparation, materials, etc.) over the length of a summer (90 days) and that over that
90 day period 3000 visitors attended a program on "Litter affects all of our lives!". The cost/visitor contact for that program is 33 cents. To determine if the program is cost effective you have to look at what is being accomplished for that 33 cents. If your main behavioral objective was to have visitors litter less, or pick up other litter, you might
look at your maintenance (litter pick up) costs for the past year. Lets say that last year your litter pick up costs for your site/agency is $5000.00 for your same 90 day
period. But at the end of this years 90 day period for which you had your anti-litter programs going, the cost of litter pick up is only $3000.00. Making the assumption that all variables are the same except for this years anti-litter program , the reduced costs for litter pick up were probably related to the interpretive program. The program saved the agency total of $2000.00 in maintenance costs.

The program cost $1000.00 to present for the 90 day period and helped the agency save $2000.00. So for the cost of 33 cents per visitor contact for this management related interpretive program, the agency "made" 33 cents/visitor contact in reduced litter pick up costs. This is an example of how to 1.) use interpretation as a management tool, and 2) illustrate cost effectiveness of the cost per contact in using interpretation to help you
get more funding for other types of interpretive programs.

This is the kind of "business" thinking that interpretation is beginning to generate in the best resource managers and interpreters. Interpretation can really work for them!

The need for research.

While this is a growing area for using interpretive services, there is very little "documented" results. We know of lots of examples where everyone knows the
positive affect of interpretation as a management tool, but few of these programs have been studied thoroughly, and published in academic journals. This became very apparent to me in developing this short article. If you or your agency are using interpretation as a management tool, document the process and results, and share your information with the profession - you may be on the cutting edge of interpretation practice and not even know it!


For the past few years more and more agencies are using interpretation as their first line of communications with their visitors. And more agencies are discovering
the power of using interpretation in helping to accomplish their management objectives as well. Interpretive communication is the most powerful communication process any agency has available to it to communicate with its visitors! Using this powerful
tool to help communicate with the visitor about management issues is increasing.  Its not just a good idea - its good business.


Bright, Alan D., Manfredo, Michael J., and Baseman, Cem. 1991. Implications of   persuasion theory for interpretation. In: Proceedings of the 1991 National Interpreters Workshop. Madison, WI: Omnipress, 40-45.

Dustin, Daniel, Christensen, Harriet, and Namba, Richard. 1989. Designing interpretive
messages to combat vandalism and depreciative behavior. In: Proceedings of the 1989 National Interpreters Workshop. Fort Collins, CO: National Association for Interpretation. 214-217.

Hooper, Jon K. and Weiss, Karen S. 1990. Interpretation as a Management Tool: a   national study of interpretive professionals' views. In: Proceedings of the 1990
National Interpreters Workshop. Nacogdoches, TX: School of Forestry, Stephen F. Austin State University. 350-357.

Roggenbuck, Joseph W. and Ham, Sam H. 1986. Use of information and education in   recreation management. In: Literature Review: President's Commission on Americans   Outdoors. Washington, D.C. US Government Printing Office, management- 59-71.

Veverka, John A. "An Objective Look At Interpretation". John Veverka & Associates, Interpretive Training Division. Occasional paper #1, 1993.