Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 27, 2010

(KR + KA) x AT = IO

Little did I know that a mathematical equation would guide my visitor interactions.

In a recent post about my first guided walk, I summed it up: “Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience.”

Ahem. I just discovered that what I intuitively knew to be true has already been officially codified: Knowledge of the Resource (KR) plus Knowledge of the Audience (KA) times Appropriate Techniques (AT) equals Interpretive Opportunity (IO).

My KR has a strong base and grows daily as I devour everything I can find about my beloved desert. My KA is solid, based on five decades of studying people. My AT is what I was coached on. The IO is the result/product.

Some days I feel as if 90% of my job is “the relaying of information.” This could be anything from where the bathrooms are to what our annual rainfall is to which is the prettiest arch that they should not miss. Someone of substantial import in the interpretation division of the NPS has a different perspective: “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

We can amaze people with facts all we want, but unless they are provoked enough to form an emotional connection with the park (aka “the resource”), they will not care enough to go deeper. Going deeper might mean bringing the next generations here, or supporting legislation that will protect wild places, or joining a volunteer work crew to remove invasive tamarisk trees along the Colorado River.

I’m going to be provocative today.

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