Interpretive Development Program
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About the Program

The Interpretive Development Program is about professionalism.

The Interpretive Development Program is a customized, outcome-based employee development program. Conceived, reviewed, and refined by over 300 field interpreters, this program enables an employee and supervisor to tailor professional development efforts, increase efficiency, and demonstrate interpretation at a national standard. Grounded in "Ranger Careers," the Interpretive Development Program identifies essential "Benchmark Competencies" (knowledge, skills, and abilities) for every interpretive ranger in Ranger Careers positions. However, the program is widely applicable to all who do interpretive work or manage resources.

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Key features of this program:

  • Focus is on developmental outcomes, not training courses
  • Training decisions and resources are decentralized--the interpreter and supervisor determine training needs and make informed choices on developmental opportunities
  • The program recognizes training as only the beginning of the learning process
  • Continuous learning occurs at all levels of the organization.

As always, a learner may attend a given course covering a topic. In addition, a learner may work with the supervisor to identify and participate in any opportunity which supports meeting an interpretive certification requirement: sources of learning may be located ANYWHERE and could include peer or supervisory coaching, mentoring, detail assignments, college or university courses, correspondence courses, OJT, self study, IDP module-based courses delivered locally or nationally.

The Essential Benchmark Competencies Competencies list

These competencies are the NPS national standards for interpretation, and stand as a goal to foster interpretive excellence nationwide in NPS areas, at every stage of an employee's career.

The program is designed to be dynamic, and it changes as feedback and the growing professional needs of NPS interpreters require. It is imperative when participating in the program that you maintain your files with the most recent versions (available on this site). Revisions and updates of the material are posted to this site as they occur.

The interpretive competencies described here are also pursuant to the "National Strategy for Training and Development," which prescribes competency development for all career fields within the National Park Service.

Advantages of the Program

  • Employee and supervisor make decisions based on developmental needs.
  • The objective is professionalism through certification, not requiring the attendance of a training course.
  • Process for peer review and certification are modeled after professional education models, and are designed to enhance interpretive effectiveness servicewide.
  • Supports the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), and parallels private sector strategies for successful personnel development programs.
  • Parks may use local recognized instructors to create customized training to help employees prepare to demonstrate certification standards.
  • On-the-job development is recognized.

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What’s In the IDP for Me?

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New Interpreters | Experienced Interpreters | Interpretive Supervisors | Protection Rangers | Guides, VUA’s, SCA’s, VIP’s and Partners | Park Managers | Ed Specialists | Resource Managers | Media Specialists | Interpretive Planners

New GS-025 Interpreters

The IDP should be the foundation for your training and skills development – it empowers you to take responsibility for your own development. Interpretive employees hired into Ranger Careers positions after January 1, 1996, should pursue the benchmark competencies 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. You need to work with your supervisor to develop a learning plan that incorporates opportunities to study the curriculum material and resources, identify learning needs and ways to meet them. Upon successful certification in each module, an SF10-182 form should be completed by you and your supervisor and, along with the confirmation letter from Mather, placed in your Official Personnel Folder as documentation of your achievement.

Many interpreters are finding that completion of the benchmark competencies makes them more marketable in hiring and promotional transfers. Participation in the IDP indicates to peers and hiring officials that you are serious about professionalism and hold yourself accountable for meeting and maintaining standards of excellence in your interpretive work. The IDP encourages life-long learning – so achieving the benchmark competencies is a sign of a personal work ethic based on continuous growth and improvement.

Experienced Interpreters
No matter how long you’ve been an interpreter, the IDP can help you get better at what you do. The IDP promotes the idea of life-long learning. Freeman Tilden said, “Interpretation is a voyage of discovery in the field of human emotional and intellectual growth, and it’s hard to foresee a time when an interpreter can confidently say, ‘Now we are wholly adequate to our task.’” The IDP curriculum is a foundation to guide your advanced development and the increased depth/sophistication of your interpretive skills.

The IDP is a venue for you to participate and contribute “on the cutting edge” to the growth of interpretation as a profession. The IDP promotes professionalism. It is based on the philosophy of Tilden, Mills, and other early thinkers and writers. It is built on the evolutionary body of work of our growing profession. Over 300 field interpreters helped to identify the essential benchmark competencies from the Ranger Careers position descriptions, develop the IDP curriculum, and describe the corresponding NPS national standards for interpretive work. Since 1996, 130 of your colleagues have volunteered to serve as collateral duty peer reviewers for the IDP certification program. In 2000, the National Association for Interpretation adopted language from the NPS national standard (core rubric) as its definition for interpretation. In 2003, Stephen F. Austin University in Texas will begin offering a Masters Degree in Resource Interpretation – the first of its kind – based on the NPS benchmark competencies.

The IDP provides an opportunity to get valuable input and fresh perspectives on your work, from peers outside your park. The IDP promotes professional accountability. Since 1996, NPS interpreters (from VUA’s to Regional Chiefs) have submitted over 3,000 of their programs and products for peer review. This is a giant leap forward from using audience applause at the end of our programs as personal justification for the effectiveness of our work. Although much needs to be done in the emerging field of audience research in order to verify the IDP concepts, the national standards have taken us light-years ahead in terms of measuring and articulating the potential interpretive effectiveness of the work we do – for both personal and non-personal services.

Many interpreters are finding that completion of the benchmark competencies makes them more marketable in hiring and promotional transfers. The principles of sound interpretation apply to all interpreters - including those who are “grandfathered” (an incumbent in a permanent GS-025-05/07/09 position on 01/01/96). The national standards are applicable and useful to everyone who creates, delivers, plans or evaluates interpretation services. Your participation in the peer review certification program will indicate to peers and hiring officials that you are serious about professionalism and hold yourself accountable for meeting and maintaining standards of excellence in your interpretive work.

Interpretive Supervisors
Supervisor involvement is crucial to developing interpreters -- the IDP provides you with standards, tools and resources. Supervisors who are knowledgeable and can communicate about the IDP and its resources have a solid foundation for guiding and focusing the development of effective interpreters. The IDP can help you provide analysis of an interpreter’s performance, suggest strategies for improvement, help the employee identify training and career goals, and develop a learning plan that is mutually beneficial.

Supervisors who understand and broadly apply the national standards will enable more effective interpretive products and programming in their parks. National standards can be used:

  • for employee self-assessment before any coaching takes place;
  • as language in audit/coaching forms and discussions;
  • as language in performance standards;
  • to measure effectiveness of interpretive products;
  • to identify areas for employee development;
  • to identify skills in job candidates.

Law Enforcement Rangers
Interpretation of the resource is identified as an essential skill for the full performance (GS-09) level for NPS protection rangers. 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. The Module 101 curriculum (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation) provides a strong foundation for anyone who works with park visitors. Module 102 (Informal Visitor Contacts) and Module 103 (Interpretive Talk) also present foundational skills -- certification in these competencies would meet Ranger Careers requirements for competencies in resource education.

Park Guides, Visitor Use Assistants, Volunteers, Interns/SCA’s, Cooperating Association Employees, Park Partners and Others Who Deliver NPS Interpretive and Information Services
Although the IDP, as an employee development program, was designed primarily to support the GS-025 park ranger/interpreter career ladder, components of the IDP definitely apply to the interpretive services you provide. The IDP curriculum is an excellent way to learn about interpretation. The developmental activities and resources can be used by anyone for self-directed learning, and can be useful tools for developing training sessions. Module 101 (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation) should be your foundation for interpretive principles.

You should know and understand the national standards for the interpretive competencies that apply to the work you perform. Module 102 (Informal Visitor Contacts) and Module 103 (Interpretive Talk) are useful skills for all who work with park audiences. Other modules may apply to the specific type of work you perform (i.e. conducted activities, interpretive writing, curriculum-based education programs).

The level of your participation in IDP training should be agreed upon with your supervisor and assigned work should be grade appropriate. Voluntary participation in the program to enhance skills for job advancement does not guarantee advancement, but will likely make you more marketable for interpretive jobs with the NPS and other agencies.

Park Managers/Superintendents
The IDP provides standards for accountability and helps achieve park goals for visitor experience and resource protection. The IDP curriculum and national standards can be used:

  • to evaluate interpretive effectiveness of programs/media and determine strengths and weaknesses;
  • to inform park planning and interpretive priorities;
  • as language to communicate about a park interpretive program;
  • to identify potential leaders and supervisors who have interpretive skills
  • to engage and inform discussions of park significance and audience outreach

Education Specialists
The IDP can be a powerful tool for your education staff. Module 101 (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation), Module 270 (Presenting Effective Curriculum-based Programs) and Module 370 (Developing Curriculum-based Programs and Services) provide the link between the powerful informal learning principles of the IDP and your staff’s knowledge of formal education principles and learning theories. The resulting combination of skills will facilitate education programs that are guaranteed to engage as well as instruct, and maximize the opportunities for students to relate to and remember what they learn.

Resource Management Specialists/Researchers
The IDP can provide a useful foundation for collaboration with interpreters and educators. Module 340 (Interpretive Research and Resource Liaison) instructs interpreters about the research process and reinforces the need to collaborate with researchers and resource managers. A resource manager (natural or cultural) who is knowledgeable about the interpretive principles in Module 101 (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation) and Module 340 can help interpreters effectively translate research results and management data into interpretive programs and products that engender long-term care for park resources.

Specifically, the IDP can help you in your work in the following ways:

  • engender public support for resource management initiatives through effective press releases, articles, presentations and exhibits that you develop/present or that park interpreters develop/present with your input
  • build powerful interpretation/education components into your resource management plans, initiatives and funding requests

Media Specialists
The IDP provides a basis for evaluating the elements of interpretive effectiveness in media products. The national standard for assessing the interpretive elements of media can be applied in the front-end, formative, and summative stages of planning and development. It can be useful as a foundation for roundtable discussions, evaluating the potential interpretive effectiveness of proposed or existing park media, and defining interpretive standards/goals for media contractors.

The Module 311 (Media Development) curriculum is a tool that informs and enhances the media planning process. Although specifically designed for training park interpreters to work on a media planning team or develop in-house media products, Module 311 has broad application for the media planning process. Along with Module 101 (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation) and Module 230 (Interpretive Writing), Module 311 provides a common platform for NPS media specialists, park interpreters, park partners and contractors to discuss and articulate resource-specific interpretive goals and desired outcomes. The ideas in this provocative module continue to evolve with input from media specialists, and represent the cutting edge of interpretive theory for media development.

Interpretive Planners

The IDP reinforces the principles of goal-oriented interpretive planning through effective group process. Module 101 (Fulfilling the NPS Mission - The Process of Interpretation) and Module 310 (Planning Park Interpretation) provide a foundation for training park interpreters, and also for informing park partners and stakeholders, about effective planning for meanings-based resource interpretation. Module 310 emphasizes the importance of multiple perspectives in the CIP/LRIP planning process in order to identify and articulate a broad range of resource meanings, interpretive themes and delivery venues to reach multiple audiences. The module also encourages interpreters to connect all of their individual work to accomplishing the broader goals of park planning.

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Last website update: November 30, 2009
Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation


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