Interpretive Planning


Our Interpretive planners - experienced field interpreters themselves - work closely with park colleagues to shape the visitor experience and creat a roadmap for effective use and development of interpretive resources.

How Interpretive Planning Assists Parks

Harpers Ferry Center has been providing the National Park Service with interpretive planning expertise for more than thirty years. Interpretive planning addresses visitor experiences in parks, including interpretation, orientation, education, safety, and resource protection. It is a goal-driven process that recommends strategies to help parks achieve their mission, protect their resources, and provide the best service to visitors.

HFC Interpretive Planners assist parks with many types of planning:

  • General Management Plans (GMPs)
  • Long-Range Interpretive Plans (LRIPs)
  • Pre-Design Workshops for Interpretive Media and Facilities
  • Visitor Experience Planning
  • Value Analysis for Interpretive Media and Facilities
  • Assessments of Interpretive Media and Facilities
  • Research and Evaluation of Interpretive Media and Facilities
  • Special Resource Studies (new area plans)

Funding Sources for Interpretive Planning

Harpers Ferry Center provides interpretive planning and evaluation services through the entire spectrum of planning through installation of interpretive media and facilities. There are many sources of funding that can be used:

  • HFC base funding (no charge to parks)
  • General Management Planning funds (no charge to parks)
  • Fee demo
  • Park base
  • Cooperating Association, Friends’ Groups, Partnerships

How to Start an Interpretive Planning Project

Harpers Ferry Center interpretive planners are experienced field interpreters who are trained in visitor experience planning, facilitation, interpretive media effectiveness, and assessment and evaluation. Planning teams often include HFC media specialists in areas such as exhibits, audiovisual programs, digital media, publications, wayfinding, and wayside exhibits.

How does a park initiate a planning project?

  • Assess your needs: What are you planning for? What results do you want?
  • Talk to your regional office of interpretation (especially for HFC-funded LRIPs).
  • Read this and other websites; find out what options are available.
  • Call for information. Harpers Ferry Center has an initial contact point to assist parks with all their planning and media needs. Call or email us for more information or to obtain HFC assistance in your interpretive planning needs.

Interpretive Planning Guidelines

Planning for Interpretation & Visitor Experience (69 pages - 2MB) – This document describes current perspectives and approaches in interpretive planning by Harpers Ferry Center. It discusses approaches, criteria, options, and philosophy. It is not a "how-to" manual or directive. While interpretive planning comprises a spectrum from short-range through long-range planning, this document addresses mostly long-range planning.

Comprehensive Interpretive Planning (15 pages) – Interpretation is about choices. We choose what stories to tell, whom to tell them to, and how to tell them. While these choices are rarely easy, an effective planning system can guide our decision-making and help us to "do the right thing." This document provides an introduction and overview to the process.

Interpretive Media Selection

Selecting interpretive media solutions is as much art as science. To reach your audience you may use wayside exhibits, publications, audiovisual programs, museum exhibits, and personal services. There is rarely only one way to achieve a goal, and each situation has its own particular mix of factors to consider. Learn how to determine which media are best suited to which tasks with our Interpretive Media Selection.

Evaluation of Interpretation and Education Services

An NPS Evaluation of Interpretation and Education Services gives interpreters, interpretive programs and media, and park management credibility. In addition, evaluation makes them accountable and responsible for visitor experiences. Can NPS interpreters provide proof that their programs and media are accomplishing the goals they have set?

The National Education Council funded an Evaluation of Interpretation and Education Services (September 2010 - May 2012) conducted by MPR Museum Consulting. That allowed three parks to answer that question. The project included three pilot park and one servicewide component. The parks that were selected to participate were Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HAVO), Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CUVA), and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (KEMO).

The three pilot park projects informed and improved the relevancy and effectiveness of programs and media for underserved audiences. All of the projects employed multiple evaluation methods. Park staff assisted MPR Museum Consulting. with some of the evaluation studies and conducted others themselves. All applied the results to create new and improve existing interpretive services.

A "Fearless Evaluation" webinar was presented on March 6, 7, and 8, 2012 and more than 60 NPS interpreters and educators participated. The webinar discussed the pilot park studies and revealed practical, economical, and useful evaluation methods that all parks can use. The "Fearless Evaluation" manual was a companion piece to the webinar.

A Literature Review was conducted and the Summary Report of the NPS Evaluation of Interpretation and Education Services Project was completed in May 2012.

Last updated: August 27, 2018