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Component for Module 311

Project Definition and Planning

Content Outline | Resources |Suggested Developmental Activities | Next

Managing the complexity, time requirements, and cost investments of media development can be a daunting challenge, even for experienced media professionals. The best way to ensure that a media product will provide a valuable addition to the park's interpretive program is through an integrated planning process that defines the interpretive purpose, target audience, desired outcomes, expectations, project needs and constraints for a proposed media product. Park interpreters who understand how this process works will be able to participate effectively in park media planning.

Upon completion of this component, learners will be able to:

  • Apply an integrated project definition and planning model to any media project that they are assigned;

  • Participate effectively on a media planning team;

  • Communicate effectively with HFC, other media contractors, or park partners about the purpose, expectations, and constraints of a project to which they are assigned.

This component presents an ordered thinking/planning process for park interpreters when embarking on any media development project. The more integrated a media project is with the park's interpretive and other planning documents, including a media plan if one exists, the more likely the project will produce successful results. A well-defined and integrated project reduces stress and uncertainty by forcing park staff to carefully consider the need, function, and constraints of a project before the endeavor begins. Work with contractors and cooperators, if involved, runs more smoothly, minimizing the risk of unmet expectations. Simple in-house interpretive projects risk being ineffective if these basic project definition elements have not been clearly identified.

When park interpreters propose new media products, or are assigned to assist in developing media, a discussion to define the elements and issues (presented in this component) will help clarify the degree of complexity and level of expertise the project requires. This can help determine whether to seek the advice/ involvement of professional media specialists. In addition, Harpers Ferry Center specialists, other contractors, subject experts, and technical advisors can provide more effective input if these elements can be clearly articulated at the outset of their involvement.

Once the basic parameters of a media project have been established, a further definition of the interpretive elements is the next important step. See the related component in this module entitled Meaningful Media for guidance in this critical part of the planning process. It should also be noted that the project definition process suggested in this module fits into the larger interpretive planning process as presented in Module 310, Planning Park Interpretation.

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Content Outline

I. Identifying interpretive need or purpose

A. Describe the interpretive need for this media project
B. Determine this project's connection to park planning documents, legislation, and/or guidelines, including how the project supports/accomplishes park objectives and GPRA goals
C. Describe how this project integrates with existing and other planned park media
D. Determine why a media product for this interpretive need should be developed at this particular time

II. Audience, outcomes, and expectations

A. Who are the intended audiences?
B. Define the desired outcomes

1. for park visitors
2. for park resources
3. other potential outcomes (e.g. for park operations, park neighbors, regional/global concerns)

C. How and where would this media product be presented and why?
D. Are park partners/cooperators or other outside interests involved and how?
E. How do their expectations for this project differ from the park's?

III. Project needs and constraints

A. What is the budgetary support?
B. What are the time constraints?
C. Identify the needed and known resources the project will require

1. physical resources including

a. specific research materials/documents
b. specific graphic resources (photos/illustrations/maps)
c. exhibit objects/artifacts/specimens
d. archival materials
e. permission to use copyrighted/protected material

2. development/production assistance

a. research and/or text writing
b. content editing
c. photo/graphics/objects searches
d. curatorial services
e. concept development/preliminary design
f. subject expert consultation
g. facility/site consultation
h. safety/compliance oversight
i. construction/fabrication/installation assistance

D. What level of staff time investment/involvement is park management willing/able to commit?

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Everyone's Welcome: Universal Access in Museums, video, American Association of Museums, 1996.

Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, Beverly Serrell, AltaMira Press/AASLH, 1996.

Harpers Ferry Center Exhibit Planning and Design Standards,

Harpers Ferry Center Interpretive Media Resources Home Page.

Harpers Ferry Center Planning and Design Database,….

Harpers Ferry Handbook on Interpretive Planning.

Help for the Small Museum. Arminta Neal, Pruett Publishing, second edition, 1987.

Information Design: Tools and Techniques for Park-Produced Publications. National Park Service. 1998. Proceedings based on the workshop of the same name that was held in December 1995 at Cuyahoga Valley NRA.

Interpretive Centers: The History, Design and Development of Nature and Visitor Centers, Michael Gross and Ron Zimmerman, The Interpreter’s Handbook Series, 2002. This book contains more than 650 full-color photos and graphics, and case studies featuring 125 interpretive centers.

Interpretive Master Planning, John A. Veverka, Falcon Press Publishing Company, Inc., 1994.

The Interpretive Process Model, 2002. The Interpretive Process Model furnishes a sequence of activities with which an interpreter can develop opportunities for their audiences to make emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource as well as cohesively develop an idea or ideas that are relevant to the resource and the audience.

National Park Service Graphic Identity Program.

User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work, Jeff Kennedy, Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1990.

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Suggested Developmental Activities
1. Do a survey of existing media products in your park. How well integrated are they with each other? Can you easily identify how each one addresses specific interpretive needs of the park and the desired outcomes? Do existing interpretive planning documents identify the need for each existing project?

2. Look through your park's current interpretive planning documents. What kinds of media development needs are identified, and what are the desired outcomes? Are some existing products slated to be replaced when funding becomes available and why?

3. Start a list of contact people who have expertise in media planning and development. Locate and study the Harpers Ferry Center web site to determine what types of technical assistance are available.

4. Interview interpretive planners in your regional support office about their positive and negative experiences working with park media projects.

5. Investigate the possibilities of attending a media planning meeting at another park as an observer. Discuss the idea with your supervisor and regional/ support office interpretive planners.

6. Put out a query on the In-Touch bulletin board for parks in your region that are currently operating with an approved park media plan. Obtain a copy to study and keep as an example.

7. Find out if any of your park's current GPRA goals deal with media needs. What are the identified goals and how do they affect the park's desired outcomes for visitors and/or resources?

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Preliminary Media Development Worksheet

Complete the following questionnaire before the first planning meeting with Harpers Ferry Center media specialists or contractors. This information should be used as a starting point for definition, discussion, and decision making for any media project. If you plan to contract locally for media services, or have staff expertise to produce the media in-house, HFC may still be able to provide technical assistance.

Section I -- Needs, Outcomes, and Expectations

1. Describe the interpretive need for this media project.

2. What are the desired outcomes for this project?

Outcome(s) for park visitors
Outcome(s) for park resources

3. Cite connections of this project to park planning documents, legislation, and/or guidelines.

4. How will this media project support/accomplish park objectives and GPRA goals?

5. Why develop a media product for this interpretive need at this particular time?

6. What is the budgetary support for this project?

7. Are park partners/cooperators or other outside interests involved and how?

8. How do their expectations for this project differ from the park's?

9. What are the time constraints for this project?

10. List other factors or constraints for this project.

11. Who are the intended audiences for this media product?

12. How and where does the park envision this media product would be presented and why?

13. Is the medium pre-determined, or is there flexibility in selecting a medium to best meet the interpretive need within known constraints?

Section II - Interpretive Content

1. List the primary subject matter areas or information concepts related to this interpretive need.

2. Are the primary information concepts simple or complex, concrete or abstract, or mixed?

3. Are there multiple perspectives to convey?

4. What types of known resources/materials (tangible resources) are available for conveying these information concepts (i.e., objects/artifacts, photos, slides, first-hand accounts, stories, historical quotes, video, music, maps, graphics, physical site locations/resources such as historic buildings or natural features, primary research documents, research databases)

5. Brainstorm and list all the intangible meanings and universal concepts which can be linked to the relevant tangible resources.

6. What possible themes emerge from the previous question?

7. Choose and list one or two potential overall themes for the product and sub-themes as appropriate.

Section III - Park Involvement

1. What level of involvement in this media project is the park interested in pursuing?

2. What staff resources might the park be willing to provide?
Staff time for:

-research and/or text writing
--content editing
--photo/graphics/objects searches
--curatorial services
--preliminary design concept development
--subject expert consultation
--facility/site consultation
--safety/compliance oversight

3. List the specific pertinent physical resources that the park can provide/loan to HFC planners and designers:

--specific research materials/documents
--specific graphic resources (photos/illustrations/maps)
--exhibit objects/artifacts/specimens
--archival materials

4. What budget considerations affect the park's involvement level in this project?

5. Do time constraints affect the park's involvement level with this project?

Next Component

Meaningful Media

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Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

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