Two-Way Interpretation about Climate Change: Preliminary Results from a Study in Select Units of the United States National Park System

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Brian E. Forist and Doug Knapp, Indiana University Bloomington, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies, Bloomington, IN, United States
Much interpretation in units of the National Park System, conducted by National Park Service (NPS) rangers and partners today is done in a didactic, lecture style. This “one-way” communication runs counter to research suggesting that long-term impacts of park interpretive experiences must be established through direct connections with the visitor. Previous research in interpretation has suggested that interpretive experiences utilizing a “two-way” dialogue approach are more successful at facilitating long-term memories than “one-way” approaches where visitors have few, if any, opportunities to ask questions, offer opinions, or share interests and experiences. Long-term memories are indicators of connections to places and resources.

Global anthropogenic change poses critical threats to NPS sites, resources, and visitor experiences. As climate change plays an ever-expanding role in public, political, social, economic, and environmental discourse it stands to reason that park visitors may also be interested in engaging in this discourse. Indeed, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis stated in the agency’s Climate Change Action Plan 2012 – 2014 that, “We now know through social science conducted in parks that our visitors are looking to NPS staff for honest dialogue about this critical issue."

Researchers from Indiana University will present preliminary findings from a multiple park study that assessed basic visitor knowledge and the impact of two-way interpretation related to climate change. Observations from park interpretive program addressing climate change will be presented. Basic visitor knowledge of climate change impacts in the select parks as well as immediate and long-term visitor recollections will be presented. Select units of the National Park System in this research included Cape Cod National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Cascades National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Zion National Park.