It’s that time of year again. I and my fellow students are preparing to return to school as well as trying to get motivated to learn about subjects such as history and biology. I often hear other students questioning the system, asking why they have to memorize so many scientific names and technical details. “When will I ever use this information in my job?” some students ask. This is actually a worthwhile question. Why are the long hours spent in researching a resource and preparing for an interpretive program so crucial to accomplishing the aim of interpretation?
Many of the reasons that good research and preparation are so important can be found in the idea of creating interpretive opportunities with the interpretive equation. When I first saw the interpretive equation, KR + KA x AT = IO, on my boss’s office wall it almost gave me a headache. However, as I began to get out in the field I quickly learned how effective it was to have the appropriate technique, which was based on knowledge of the audience, and to combine that with knowledge of the resource. All of this adds up to give the visitors to one’s site a chance to form a meaningful connection with the special place.
Although practicing my technique and getting to know my audience are crucial to creating an interpretive opportunity, sometimes the hardest part of the equation for me is learning what I need to know about the resource. It is hard to anticipate what questions will come up and what opportunities will arise, not to mention wading through all of the available information to find what is relevant. However, knowing the details allows me to take advantage of any impromptu opportunities or questions that arise. This is also so crucial for showing how the details fit into the big picture.
For instance, say that I was leading a tree identification hike. I not only need to have the technical knowledge of how to identify trees, but I also should possess a sound knowledge of the surrounding ecosystem in order to show how tree fits into the bigger picture of the general area and utilize universal concepts such as survival and home. A sound knowledge of the ecosystem is also the key to being able to tie in unexpected events, such as spotting a deer, to the overall theme of the program.
All of this research and study may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but it is also completely worth it. When I do the work and get it right and the visitor is able to have an “ah-ha” moment where they see how the pieces fit together and how they fit into the picture, then it makes me feel like I have done something meaningful and worthwhile as well. I have helped the visitor to connect with the resource that I love, and hopefully I have also planted a seed in them to help protect and care for the resource in the future. I would encourage any other interpreters to study your resource, ask questions, listen to stories, and get out in it and have a few “ah-ha” moments of your own.