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Component for Module 340

Advanced Knowledge of the Audience (KA)

Content Outline l Resources l Suggested Developmental Activities l Next


Advanced KA connects audience interests and perspectives to resource meanings. This component provides tools for acquiring advanced KA as well as understanding of its interpretive value.


At the completion of this component the learner will be able to:

  • Articulate ways in which advanced KA supports the interpreter's ability to facilitate opportunities for audiences to make intellectual and emotional connections to the meanings and significance inherent in the resource;

  • Apply advanced research and analytical skills to acquire advanced KA.


Advanced KA is used to identify ways the resource is relevant to given audiences.
Advanced KA helps connect audience interests and perspectives to resource meanings and appropriate interpretive techniques.

Audience research is not confined to formal social science studies. While full performance interpreters should understand and be able to participate in such studies, each interpreter has an ongoing responsibility to use personal research techniques to pursue advanced KA relevant to their resource.

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Content Outline

I. Advanced KA-Why? See Appropriate Techniques: Connecting Multiple Resource Meanings to Multiple Audience Interests and Perspectives component plan for more on interpretive applications.

A. Advanced KA helps interpreters identify multiple audience interests and perspectives as well as ways the resource is relevant to distinct audiences.

B. Advanced KA helps interpreters meet audiences on their own terms.

1. The NPS employs methodologies, standards, and protocols of science and history to:

a) make management decisions;
b) be accurate;
c) educate the public;
d) provide data and analysis.

2. Audiences often ascribe the resource meanings that fall outside the strict realm of science and history.

3. While interpreters ground their work in science and history, they are obligated to respect and honestly and accurately recognize and use perspectives that go beyond those disciplines to facilitate connections between the meanings of resources and the interests of audiences.

C. Advanced KA helps interpreters use KR and resource meanings to tailor interpretive products to specific audiences. Full performance interpreters do not alter the facts from one audience to another; however, full performance interpreters do change interpretive approach and strategy in order to more effectively provide opportunities for distinct audiences to forge connections to the resource. Advanced KA helps interpreters modify presentations in progress based on a sense of audience reaction.

D. Advanced KA helps interpreters interpret multiple meanings, multiple points of view, critical resource issues, and controversy.

E. Advanced KA provides essential elements for strategies of inclusion. [See Module 110: Visitor Needs and Characteristics, Strategies of Inclusion component].

F. Advanced KA provides essential elements for constituency building. [See Module 110: Visitor Needs and Characteristics, Constituency Building component].

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II. Who is the audience?

A. On-site

1. "The people who come to the park and attend programs or encounter the Ranger in situations of seeking information display knowledge about parks in general and the park in particular ranging from complete ignorance to highly knowledgeable. They are casual visitors bent upon enjoying themselves on vacation; they are tour groups eager to learn about the park and its opportunities for enjoyable activities; they are officials of local or state governments or of other federal agencies; they are individual landowners or homeowners associations near the park who are upset about park policies; they are dignitaries of the U.S. or foreign governments; they are school children, school teachers, school administrators; they are college students, college professors, or other scholars; they are nationally and internationally recognized subject matter experts; they are advocates of causes and people just looking for fun and escape from their daily routines; they are writers or representatives of the media on assignments. They come to the park for widely varying reasons and with widely varying degrees of interest and involvement and willingness to receive the interpretive messages." (citation: National Park Service GS-0025-09 Park Ranger Interpretation Position Description, 14.)

2. Individuals

a) All who visit a resource are unique individuals.
b) Many individuals visit resources as parts of groups and are influenced by their social interaction, shared identity, and perspective of the group.
c) Individuals also visit resources apart from groups but are influenced by their identity with groups.

3. Groups-Can include, among others: friends, couples, families, clubs, schoolchildren, military, hobbyists, recreational users, ethnic, cultural, community, religious, professional, elderhostel, scouts, travel, and advocacy.

B. Off-site

1. Audiences who access resources via the classroom, internet, agency publications, cooperating association publications, private publications, or word of mouth are potentially even more diverse than those who visit a resource in person.
2. Audiences who never visit a resource are critical to its stewardship. Their level of care about the resource or the agency that is responsible for the resource ultimately affects care for the resource.
3. Off-site audiences may include audiences who are under-represented on-site. This provides opportunities for reaching under-represented audiences in an inclusive manner. [See Module 110: Visitor Needs and Characteristics, Strategies of Inclusion component and Constituency Building component plan.]

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III. What the audience brings to the resource?

See Presenting an Effective Curriculum-based Program Module 270 and Module 110 Visitor Needs and Characteristics for resources on culture, age, learning styles, and inclusion.

A. Subjective perspectives affect the way in which audiences perceive and interact with resources.

1. Age
2. Learning Styles
3. Experience-Direct or indirect (education, reading, film, etc.) exposure to similar types of resources, events, perspectives
4. Culture and/or country of origin

a) World view, traditions, assumptions, and understandings of family, friends, values, and community
b) History of inclusion or exclusion

5. Religion-May or may not embrace formally defined disciplines of science, history, and anthropology
6. Access-Physical, mental, and learning disabilities
7. Education

a) Quantity of knowledge relevant to the resource
b) Perspective of knowledge relevant to the resource

8. Economic class-Access to experiences and/or education relevant to the resource
9. Mood-May or may not be receptive due to current personal circumstances
10. Social group-Mood and subjective perspectives of those who are sharing an experience with the resource

B. Motivation-

1. Audiences who desire to experience the resource seek something of value for themselves (See Module 101 Tenets)

a) Some have personal understanding and meaning already realized, but desire exposure to the resource.
b) Many expect the resource to possess some meaning and relevance, but have varying degrees of understanding as to what those meanings and relevance might be.

2. Audiences represent a range of specific motivations
3. Visitors seek quality experiences (See Visitor Needs and Characteristics Module 110, Quality Visitor Experiences component.)

C. Prior perspectives on subject matter

1. Science

a) While most audiences have some appreciation for technology, many have little understanding of the process and workings of science. (Note: Much of the following discussion of audience perspectives on science comes from Shamos, Morris H. The Myth of Scientific Literacy, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1995. Chapter 3.)

(1) Science is often believed to be interesting, but too difficult and unrewarding to learn in detail.
(2) Most of the public is unaware of the process and work of formal science.
(3) Many are confused by the scientific meanings of words like:

(a) Evidence
(b) Theory
(c) Truth
(d) Hypothesis
(e) Scientific method
(f) Uncertainty

(4) Many have impressions of science generated by popular culture.

(a) Science as technology
(b) Science as entertainment
(c) Science as undermining tradition and values
(d) Science as progress
(e) Science as static and unchanging
(f) Science as the domain of "geeks" and outsiders
(g) Science as conspiracy
(h) Science as anti-religion

(5) Some of the public does understand the process and workings of science as well as hold scientific expertise in a given area(s).

b) Some audiences bring expectations to a given type of resource.

(1) Fossil, geology, volcanic sites, etc. might draw audiences with a more sophisticated knowledge of science as well as audiences with less scientific background who want to know more. These resources might also draw audiences with deeply held convictions regarding Creationism.
(2) Sites with primarily recreational opportunities might draw audiences with less interest in learning about science, even if they have a sophisticated knowledge.

2. History

a) While most audiences have some appreciation for the past, many lack an understanding of the profession of history.
b) Audiences often have their own interpretations and descriptions of historic "truth." (Note: Much of the following is taken from Glassberg, David. "Presenting History to the Public: The Study of Memory and the Uses of the Past," CRM, Volume 21, Number 11, 1998, Understanding the Past, 4-8.)

(1) Differing perspectives on history and memory speak, often unconsciously and as "the" truth, to the ideals, self-image, and identity of groups. The interpreted and "inherited" history of an event or resource can:

(a) articulate political ideology;
(b) define the boundaries of group identity as well as hold the group together;
(c) can represent the struggle of oppressed and oppressor.

(2) The public has perceptions of history generated by popular culture:

(a) Film/TV
(b) Re-enactment
(c) Commemoration
(d) Pageantry
(e) Documentary
(f) Popular press
(g) Educational systems

(3) An individual's perspectives and perceptions of history can be influenced by any of the subjective perspectives listed above.

c) Some audiences bring expectations to a given type of resource.

(1) Memorials, monuments, battlefields, might draw audiences with very specific expectations about commemoration, behavior, and veneration.
(2) Historic homes and re-creations might draw audiences with specific interests in knowledge of material culture.
(3) Many audiences may expect a sense of nostalgia based on their personal past experiences, ancestral experiences or other sources of personal identification with the resource and/or its stories.

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IV. How to research KA.

A. Consider

1. The general does not equal the specific.

a) All audience research, ranging from formal social science and organized studies to informal, personal, and anecdotal, provides data and information about groups of people.
b) KA does not equal knowledge of the individual visitor.
c) Individual visitors are always an exception to generalizations as each visitor represents subjective influences, variables, and nuances that do not conform to generalizations.

2. Personal bias-Identify personal bias to effectively conduct audience research. (See Identifying and Removing Bias from Interpretive and Education Programs, Module 201).
3. Organizing responses-While participating in organized studies, having informal conversations with audience members, or doing secondary research, identify and record how audience members might or did:

a) ascribe meaning to the resource;
b) express interest in the resource;
c) identify their own emotional and intellectual connections to the resource.

B. Social Science and organized studies

a) Mission

(1) "An accurate understanding of the relationship between people and parks is critical to both protecting resources unimpaired and providing for public enjoyment. The social sciences-those sciences that explore the human condition-are valued disciplines in the scientific repertoire needed by the NPS."
(2) "The objectives of the NPS social science program are to conduct and promote state-of-the-art social science related to the mission of the National Park Service, and deliver usable knowledge to NPS managers and the public."

b) Products and Programs

(1) The Social Science Research Review Series includes papers that focus on issues critical to the management of the National Park System. The purpose of each review is to provide the basis for scientific understanding of the issue. Experts are commissioned to write the review papers, and each paper is peer-reviewed. (Note: Hard copies are available from the Social Science Program Office (202) 513-7190)

(2) The Visitor Services Project has conducted over 120 visitor studies in units of the National Park System. The primary purpose of these studies has been to provide park managers with accurate information about visitors-who they are, what they do, their needs and opinions. For a list and access to completed studies see the Social Science website.

(3) Focus Groups: A Tool for Evaluating Interpretive Services, A National Park Service training package, Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Idaho, National Park Foundation. This is an effective training package and should be consulted when designing formal visitor research projects. It was written before the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA) was passed. The PRA requires that all information collections from the public in which "identical questions" are asked of "10 or more persons" must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Focus groups, if they are composed of ten or more visitors, now fall under the scope of the PRA.

The NPS Social Science Program provides technical assistance for those wishing to design visitor research projects and it oversees the OMB approval process for all NPS-funded or sponsored visitor studies. Questions regarding the OMB approval process should be directed to the Visiting Chief Social Scientist via the NPS Social Science Program.

(a) This pre-approved (by the Office of Management and Budget) training package establishes procedures by which individual NPS sites may conduct focus groups with 9 individual visitors or less.
(b) The package makes valuable qualitative visitor study inexpensive and easy to conduct.
(c) Any full-performance ranger, with the cooperation of park management, should be able to conduct research using this approach.
(d) This package was distributed to all NPS units in 1992. Access a copy within the resource or contact the regional or support office.

2. Universities and other partners

a) Local colleges and universities often provide opportunities for conducting formal audience studies.

b) The NPS Social Science Program offer access to a variety of potential social science partners.

c) When developing any new formal audience study (other than one based on the Focus Groups: A Tool for Evaluating Interpretive Services), contact the Visiting Chief Social Scientist via the NPS Social Science Webpage for Office of Management and Budget approval. The NPS Social Science Program provides technical assistance for those wishing to design visitor research projects and it oversees the OMB approval process for all NPS-funded or sponsored visitor studies. Questions regarding the OMB approval process should be directed to the Visiting Chief Social Scientist via the NPS Social Science Program website.

The regular OMB approval process takes approximately 6 months, including two separate public comment periods. The NPS Social Science Program has received OMB approval for a program of visitor surveys in which the public is asked questions within the scope of pre-approved topic areas dealing with visitors and visitor experiences. This Expedited Approval process takes a minimum of 45 days and applies to studies of park visitors only. Any NPS-funded or sponsored research which collects information from members of the public who are not park visitors falls within the scope of the regular OMB approval process. Anyone proposing to conduct research which involves individuals who are not park visitors should contact the NPS Social Science Program for technical assistance. Samples of Federal Register notices, survey instruments and submissions for approval are available.

The document, Expedited Approval for Visitor Surveys: Guidelines and Approval Form, was published by the NPS Social Science Program in October 1999. It outlines the process by which one submits a visitor survey for review and expedited approval by the NPS Social Science Program and OMB. The Principal Investigator (PI) of any proposed visitor study (who could be an NPS staff person, university researcher through a Cooperative Park Studies Unit, Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, or others) must submit their approval form and proposed survey instrument to the NPS Social Science Program a minimum of 45 days before the first day they intend to administer their survey in the field. Electronic copies of this document are available on the NPS Social Science website.

3. Sources-the NPS Social Science webpage contains both NPS specific and outside social science resources and research.

C. Personal research-direct contact with audiences

1. Observation of and conversation with audiences

a) an ongoing and critical task
b) not scientific but of enormous value
c) helps an interpreter become familiar with a wide range of audience characteristics, perspectives, and meanings ascribed to the resource

2. While general information does not directly equate to individual audience members, the more an interpreter knows about audience characteristics, perspectives, and the meanings audiences ascribe to the resource the better an interpreter is able to recognize audience characteristics and meanings as they are revealed by individuals.

3. Post-presentation, observation, and conversation evaluation

a) Much valuable identification and understanding of audience characteristics comes "after the fact" or post encounter.
b) Newly encountered characteristics should be researched.

(a) Categorize observations and conversations into potential resource meanings, audience interests, and connections [See Tangible/Intangible/Universal Worksheets]
(b) Apply increased KA to later encounters.

4. Observe audiences

a) Respect audience privacy

(1) Do not follow audience members
(2) Do not eavesdrop

b) Observe what types of groups are attracted to specific resources and activities

5. Talk to audiences-probably the most important ongoing research a full performance interpreter can do.

a) When possible, talk to audiences who don't like the interpretive services offered-their criticism can lead to better understanding of what people of their group want and need.
b) Do not force yourself on audiences or pry, but when there are opportunities for relaxed conversation with audiences, ask questions like:
(1) What does this place mean to you?
(2) What did you think about when you encountered a given resource?
(3) If you were a ranger, what would you want visitors to understand or care about?
(4) What should your kids know about this place and why?
(5) What made you decide to visit this place?
(6) Has your experience been what you expected?
(7) What did you know about this place before you came here?
(8) What does it feel like or what does it mean to you when you do a given recreational activity?

6. Talk to stakeholders-groups with a special or specific interest in the resource.

a) If possible, seek out leaders, elders or other respected members of groups.
b) Be aware of the official relationship between a given group and management.

(1) Do not interfere with an official relationship
(2) Be clear and accurate about what you can and cannot speak to
(3) Understand you are always an ambassador for the resource and the agency

c) Know enough about the group to, if appropriate, ask the right questions, show respect, and display courtesy.
d) Ask similar questions to those in 3 of this section
e) If possible, ask stakeholders to make presentations to resource staff and fellow interpreters.

D. Personal research-Secondary sources

1. Demographics

a) Know the demographics of audiences interacting with their resource.

(1) Have any demographic studies been completed?

(a) Are they comprehensive?
(b) Are they current?

(2) If necessary, a full performance interpreter should advocate for such study.
(3) At the very least, observe, talk with others, and make educated guesses about the demographics of audiences interacting with the resource.

b) Know the demographics of communities in the areas affecting the resource as well as regional and national trends and priorities.
c) Resource-specific demographic data is a critical starting point for researching KA.

(1) Research all types of audiences captured by demographic data.
(2) Strategize their sequence of research:

(a) Which group(s) are impacting the resource the most?
(b) Which group(s) are least understood?
(c) Which group(s) are least represented and why?
(d) What are the management goals of the resource?

(3) Consider ways in which different group characteristics overlap in the same individuals. For example, a resource that has a significant visitation of senior women with college educations requires understanding group characteristics of seniors, women, as well as of those with higher levels of education.

d) Demographic Sources

(1) Sources already available at the resource.
(2) U.S. census materials-Use the World Wide Web to access census records and demographic analysis. These sources are numerous and can be found through entering "U.S. Census" on any search engine.
(3) Local chambers of commerce and visitor information bureaus; state divisions of tourism; international visitor information from the NPS WASO Office of International Affairs; international visitor information from the U.S. Commerce Department

2. Questions for investigation

a) What is the culture of a given group?
b) What is the history of a given group?
c) What are the issues of a given group?
d) What are the customs and traditions of a given group?
e) What is relationship to the resource of a given group?
f) What is the motivation for interacting with the resource of a given group?
g) What are the physical needs of a given group?
h) What gestures of respect would be meaningful to a given group?
i) What is common ground between one or more given groups?
j) What are the differences between given groups?
k) Does a given group have a specific jargon or technical vocabulary that can be shared or avoided?
l) What is relevant Kr for a given group?
m) What are appropriate interpretive techniques for a given group?

3. Sources

a) Read a variety of sources:

(1) Sources intended to describe a group's characteristics (studies, educational sources)
(2) Sources that express group characteristics (usually authored by group members that convey group interests, values, culture)
(3) Sources that conflict and disagree (they are often indicative of either differences within a group or mistaken or unfair generalizations placed upon a group).

b) Books, journals, educational materials, magazines, etc., can provide a great deal of information about general and specific group characteristics.
c) The World Wide Web is likely the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to learn about audience groups. The Web provides fast access to thousands of sites-many that describe culture and group characteristics and many authored by group members that demonstrate group characteristics. Like all sources, web sources need to be critically evaluated.
d) Talk with experts and access oral histories.

(1) Group representatives, sociologists, ethnographers, people of that culture
(2) Know enough to know what questions to ask and not to ask

E. Research conclusions

1. Record impressions and conclusions.
2. Continually measure personal conclusions against new research and data.

a) Demographics change
b) Groups change
c) Understandings of groups change

3. Share and check conclusions with the conclusions of others.
4. Avoid stereotyping and definitive characterizations of individuals and groups.
5. Recognize the inherent limitations of all research methods.

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Module 110: Visitor Needs and Characteristics

Module 201: Identifying and Removing Bias from Interpretive and Educational Programming

Interpretation and Inclusion Newsletter - Constantine J. Dillon

Issue 1: Definitions of diversity and importance to interpretation.
Issue 2: Changing visitor profile
Issue 3: Value of formal study
Issue 4: "History, Inclusivity, and Responsibility" Douglas E. Evelyn
Issue 5: "Tree of Life" activity
Issue 6: Demographics
Issue 7: Landscape and gender
Issue 8: Resources for dealing with diverse visitors
Issue 9: "Re-examining a Metaphor for America: An Argument for Work Force Diversity in the National Park Service" Dennis A. Vasquez
Issue 10: "Gestures: A Non-Universal Language"
Issue 11: "Do the Right Thing: Inclusion in Interpretation" Bill Gwaltney
Issue 12: Cultural diversity


Glassburg, David. "Presenting History to the Public: The Study of Memory and Uses of the Past." Cultural Resource Management. Volume 21, Number 11, 1998

Goldman, Theresa L., Chen, W. Jasmine, Larsen, David L. Clicking the Icon: Exploring the Meanings Visitors Attached to Three National Capital Memorials. Journal of Interpretation Research. Volume 6, Number 1, 2001.
Part I
(1,295k) Part II (998k)

Katz, Judith H., White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training. Norman and London, University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

Shamos, Morris H. The Myth of Scientific Literacy. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1995. Chapter 3.

Audience Evaluation from a Museum Education Perspective

Hein, George E. Learning in the Museum. Routledge, 1998.

Screven, C.G. ed. Visitor Studies Bibliography and Abstracts. Screven & Associates, 1999.

Serrel, Beverly. Paying Attentions: Visitors and Museum Exhibitions. American Association of Museums, 1998.

Taylir, Samual ed, Try It! Improving Exhibits through Formative Evaluation. Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1992.

Social Science Research Review Series

Gramann, James. "The Effect of Mechanical Noise and Natural Sound on Visitor Experiences in Units of the National Park System." Social Science Research Review. Volume 1, Number 1, 1999.

Floyd, Myron. "Race, Ethnicity and Use of the National Park System." Social Science Research Review. Volume 1, Number 2, 1999.

Tuler, Seth. "Employee Safety in the National Park Service." Social Science Research Review. Volume 1, Number 3, 1999.

Haas, Glenn. "Visitor Capacity in the National Park System." Sociel Science Research Review. Volume 1, Number 2, 2001.

Force, Jo Ellen, & Forester, Deborah. "Public Involvement in National Park Service Land Management Issues." Volume 3, Number 1, 2002.


Focus Groups: A Tool for Evaluating Interpretive Services. National Park Service Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Idaho and National Park Foundation.


NPS Social Science Partners

NPS Social Science Program

NPS Visitor Services Project

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Suggested Developmental Activities

1. Evaluate several of your own interpretive products for advance Ka. Do you know much about your audiences or do you assume that most of your programs address a "general" audience? If so, what makes your audiences general? Are your general audiences different than general audiences at other resources? How would knowing more about your audience affect the tangible/intangible linkages you choose to present as well as the techniques you use to present them? Hypothetically identify several types of audiences that might interact with your interpretive products. How do you know about them? Determine how you might change your products to provide opportunities for intellectual and emotional connections to the resource for each of those audiences

2. After consulting your supervisor, conduct several audience focus groups that attempt to determine the meanings audiences ascribe to the resource, their interests in the resource, and ways in which they make connections with the resource.

3. Formally or informally identify the demographic make-up of audiences for your resource. Begin your research with published sources or on the Internet. Look for information about the types of people who interact with your site. Locate information written about these people as well as information written or created by these people. Start an information sheet for each group you identify using the questions in section IV. D. 2 of the outline above. Go through the same process with groups who do not visit your site.

4. Informally ask visitors questions about what meanings the resource holds for them; what interests them about the resource; and what kinds of connections do they make with the resource. Create a log documenting these responses.

5. If Visitor Service Project studies exist for your park or a similar park, review them and create a profile of visitors based on the studies' findings. Ask questions like, "Do seasonal variations exist?"

6. Create a set of questions about your resource that provide you valuable information about your audiences but are not intimidating, prying, or make audiences feel like they are being surveyed.

Next Component

Appropriate Technique: Connecting Multiple Resource Meanings to Multiple Audience Interests and Perspectives

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Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

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