Interpretive Development Program
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Frequently Asked Questions

Q) What is this program all about? (see also About the Program and What's in the IDP for Me)
A) Professional development. It is designed for NPS interpreters, and all others both within and outside the NPS who may take advantage of the material in the quest for interpretive excellence. The foundational ideas within this program combine the very best philosophy of those who have come before with new concepts, to create a common language and focus from which to build one's professional career in interpretation. The program emphasizes the outcome rather than the process. Park Rangers concentrate on meeting certification requirements for each competency in pursuit of professional excellence, rather than simply attending a specific training course. Employees may use alternative developmental opportunities to work toward the certification standards. An employee can prepare to demonstrate the standards through on-the-job experiences, local college coursework, correspondence courses, self-teaching, peer discussions, or workshops sponsored by the NPS or other organizations. Any source is acceptable as long as it contributes to the ability of employees to demonstrate the national standards.

Q) What is an interpretive benchmark competency?

A) A collection of knowledge, skills and abilities that together create an interpretive program or product which, when demonstrated at a defined level of proficiency, defines a key element of the Ranger Careers Benchmark Interpretive Position Descriptions.

Q) Who certifies the competencies?

A) Interpreters trained in the process of peer review certification -- measuring the interpretive effectiveness of programs and products using the appropriate "rubric" standard. The reviewers are themselves "certified" to apply the rubrics by going through an intensive training program that includes meeting a standard for certifiers. The certifiers learn to apply the standards in consistent ways and practice providing qualitative feedback to submitters. Certifiers who cannot fairly assess a project from an interpreter for any reason recuse themselves from the certification process for that person. Certifiers also serve as park/regional curriculum coordinators and provide information, answer questions about the program, coordinate interpretive training opportunities within their region, and provide feedback on program growth to the training manager.

Q) How does a typical assessment take place?

A) When an interpreter and supervisor feel ready, they prepare and submit the required interpretive project (say, an actual interpretive talk on videotape), to the training manager at Mather Training Center. The training manager forwards the tape to two randomly selected certifiers on the national list. The certifiers peer review the project and, using the "stem" statements (bold type) on the appropriate rubric, either certify or withhold certification, annotate their observations, and return the tape to the training manager, who returns it with the feedback to the interpreter through the supervisor. Making these projects practical at the park level will decrease the workloads caused by participating in this professional development program. It is important to keep in mind that, as a professional development program, this part of the process is only a "point-in-time" assessment, showing that the employee has grasped the concepts needed in each competency. It is not intended to measure daily performance, nor long-term application of the standards. That is the job of the supervisor.

Q) What if the certifiers do not agree on the outcome of the project?

A) The two certifiers discuss their differences based on the rubric and attempt to reach agreement. They are not obligated to agree; if they do not, a third certifier is asked to review the project and discuss the outcome in order to break the impasse. Once an interpreter successfully demonstrates the certification requirements, she/he will receive a confirmation letter through the supervisor. A permanent record may be generated with a 5-part SF10-182 form, completed at the park and placed in the employee's Official Personnel File. A national tracking system will eventually keep record of all competencies attained.

Q) What happens if a submitter does not demonstrate the standards?

A) They try again! An "approaching" outcome on any one product does not imply anything, other than for that product the successful elements were not clear. The professional development process is important to keep in mind. The only limitation on how many times one can try is what the employee and supervisor agree is reasonable. The employee will be provided feedback in the areas that can be enhanced to reach the standards in subsequent efforts. The overall program is designed to increase in complexity as one moves through the different levels.

Employees may participate in training or developmental assignments at any level of the curriculum at any time. Those already "at grade" may complete competencies for previous levels in any sequence.

Q) Do Ranger Careers employees already at the full performance level have to go back and certify in the competencies?

A) That is a park decision. Absent a park position on the question, the employee already at the developmental or full performance (or above) level may choose to demonstrate certification standards in each area. Likewise, parks and other sites may adopt any or all of the standards within this program for existing developmental and full performance level employees to pursue. No one is automatically "certified" in any element of this program unless they have demonstrated the standards through the peer-review certification process.

Interpretive employees hired into Ranger Careers positions beginning January 1, 1996, should pursue their prescribed competencies within the program to meet the national standard for NPS interpretation. NPS Special Directive 94-3 prescribes successful completion of training before advancing to the Full Performance level within the Ranger Careers program, but parks and supervisors have the final say in how this developmental strategy is applied. Reassigned federal employees who fill positions at any grade in the Ranger Careers program should strive to complete all competencies required of their positions. Timelines for this development should be negotiated with the home park or site in a way that is realistic and manageable, and meets the needs of the employee and site.

Q) What about protection rangers in Ranger Careers positions?
A) The broadened protection responsibilities defined within Ranger Careers call for competencies in public education efforts. The Entry Level essential interpretive competencies are derived from the benchmark position descriptions, and are recommended for those performing protection duties.

Q) What role does the supervisor play in this process?

A) The supervisor plays the most critical role in an employee's professional growth. It is the supervisor's job to identify developmental needs, provide ways to meet those needs, and to determine the total job performance level of the employee. The certifier measures a single interpretive project against national standards for certification of each competency. This is only a "point-in-time" assessment. The supervisor retains the responsibility to facilitate learning opportunities and apply the national interpretive standards to the body of work performed by each employee during a given performance year.

Certification in each of the Ranger Careers competencies means the employee has met the interpretive standards at a "point in time" as part of the Ranger Careers development program. It remains the supervisor's role to measure overall job performance and determine final eligibility for each promotion. The competencies support the professional development of an employee. A well-designed developmental strategy will include participation in the program as part of an annual performance plan. By themselves (without adequate performance in all areas) the competencies do not assure advancement. Because they are only a "point-in-time" measurement, it is possible that the employee may not be routinely performing satisfactorily in one or more competency area even though she/he at one point met the certification requirements, and vice-versa.

Q) What if a supervisor or employee doesn't want to follow this developmental approach?

A) Supervisors of Ranger Careers employees will have articulated standards to support the performance expectations of those in the Ranger Careers program. The Interpretive Development Program provides the Servicewide standard for satisfactory interpretive performance, which must be measured over the performance period. Absent these interpretive standards the supervisor should have equivalent standards to document how specific job requirements are being met under Ranger Careers. The program directly supports the Ranger Careers Implementation policy as stated in Special Directive 94-3. The program serves the training needs as defined in the OPM-approved Ranger Careers benchmark position descriptions.

Beyond Ranger Careers, this program provides a sound foundation for interpretive development. When engaged proactively, the program will provide supervisors and interpreters a solid professional start in building an effective interpretive career. The program also meets the spirit and intent of the Government Performance Results Act (GPRA).

Q) What about competencies above the full performance level?

A) The only defined, demonstrable competencies are those for the Ranger Careers position descriptions, which currently stop at the full performance level, and the historic weapons firing standards. A series of competencies have been identified above the full performance level, but they are in the form of electives for interpreters choosing specialized needs at their level, and will be fully developed at a later date.

Q) May seasonals, terms, volunteers, etc., participate?

A) This program is for ALL who do interpretation in the NPS, including seasonals, terms, volunteers, maintenance employees, cooperating association interpretive and sales staff, concession employees, and others. Everyone doing interpretation in the national parks is welcome to participate!

Q) Who developed the program?

A) The professional development program is a product of over 300 field interpreters, regional, WASO Interpretation staff, and representatives from other disciplines, with the concurrence of the Ranger Activities Division through the Ranger Careers initiative. Field interpreters from all levels of the interpretive profession reviewed the program spirit, content, and intent, and changes have been made along the way, and revisions always considered. Outside education professionals in performance assessment provided critical input and guidance in developing the assessment rubrics, standards for their application, and methods of certification.

Q) Who is responsible for implementing the program?
A) The program is driven locally, with employees and supervisors determining developmental needs and opportunities. The Training Manager for Interpretation, Education, Partnerships, Recreation and Conservation, located at Mather Training Center, oversees the program. Trained curriculum coordinators provide regional support. Indirect support is available through trained instructors for the curriculum as well as those who have been involved in the prior Interpretive Skills Program.

Any park or site should use the interpretive curriculum as a guide to design and deliver seasonal or permanent training to meet specific developmental needs.

Q) How will this program affect national training courses?

A) All training developed to promote interpretive excellence will be competency-based and offered in a modular format. This will mean courses of varying lengths, and structured differently. Input on what courses are developed and delivered will be made to the Interpretation Training Manager by the curriculum coordinators, interpretive management groups, the national Interpretive Advisory Council, WASO Program Manager for Interpretation, Interpretive Development Program Steering Committee, and employee development specialists. Distance learning courses (TEL satellite broadcasts) are periodically offered and announced on the Learning Place website.

Q) Will competency-based training be funded?

A) The NPS Training and Development Division provides matching funds for regions and parks to sponsor curriculum based training in the field.  Most training is offered "benefiting account."

Q) When can I expect to see more materials supporting this program?

A) Higher level competencies (above the full performance level) and special emphasis areas such as cooperating associations, education programs, living history, and professional development opportunities will be developed as soon as time and circumstances permit. Developmental tools are continuously under development and will be placed on this website under the corresponding modules as available. Anchor programs/products (examples of benchmark success) are either available on this website or by contacting the Training Manager.

Q) How can I provide input or feedback on this program?

A) Contact any curriculum coordinator, or anyone on the contact list provided in this website. An optional evaluation form is provided to those participating in certification reviews, for direct feedback to the Training Manager (also linked on this website).

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Last website update: August 5, 2003
Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

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