The National Park Service (NPS) Interpretive Development Program is based on philosophical and theoretical principles formulated by over 300 field interpreters. IDP principles suggest that interpretation should provide opportunities for visitors to form their own intellectual and emotional connections with the meanings and significance of park resources. To validate the theoretical foundation of the IDP, the NPS contracted with Dr. Doug Knapp to conduct research into the impacts of interpretive experiences.
Dr. Knapp developed a multi-park qualitative longitudinal study to identify the themes visitors remembered from an interpretive experience. The study involved:
- Observation of a wide variety of interpretive programs at multiple parks,
- Mapping of opportunities for audience connections,
- 12 month follow-up phone interviews with visitors to investigate long term impacts of interpretive experiences.
Interpretive experiences that are participatory in nature result in the ability to recall detailed information about the activity and its meaning a year after the interpretive experience occurred. Park specific results included the discovery of ten common themes between the content of the programs and the content of visitors’ recollections six months after their experiences at Lowell National Historic Park. In addition, visitors exhibited constructivist learning by connecting the indoor museum interpretive media with the outdoor Pueblo ruins programming at Grand Canyon National Park.