Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making

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Left Coast Press, Feb 1, 2013 - Art - 176 pages
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Museum professionals' increased focus on visitors in recent years has been demonstrated by, among other things, the enhanced practice of evaluation and the development of interpretive plans. Yet too often, these efforts function independent of one another. This book helps museums integrate visitors' perspectives into interpretive planning by recognizing, defining, and recording desired visitor outcomes throughout the process. The integration of visitor studies in the practice of interpretive planning is also based on the belief that the greater our understanding, tracking, and monitoring of learners, the greater the impact museums will make on public understanding of the science and humanities disciplines. An approach that advocates thoughtful and intentional interpretive planning that constantly integrates visitor perspectives is the next step in working with, rather than for, our communities; a step toward truly becoming visitor-centered and impactful as essential learning institutions of the 21st century.

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Journal article on problems with segmentation models in museums is now available free access on Visitor Studies' website:


List of Tables
1 Introduction
2 Conceptual Foundations
3 Interpretive Planning
4 The Outcomes Hierarchy
5 Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Master Interpretive Planning
6 Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Project Interpretive Planning
Appendix A Example of Outcomes Hierarchy Used as an Executive Summary of Visitor Perspectives
Appendix B Sample Tables of Contents of Interpretive Plans
About the Authors

7 Concluding Thoughts

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About the author (2013)

Marcella Wells is President of Wells Resources, Inc. a woman-owned, small business that specializes in interpretive planning, visitor studies, and project management. Founded in 2000, Wells Resources works with federal, state, and local land management agencies, informal learning settings (museums, nature centers, arboreta, etc.) and non-profit organizations as an advocate for visitors an informal learning. Before founding the company, Marcella was a faculty member in the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University where she mentored graduate students and taught several courses in interpretation, interpretive planning, environmental education, and leisure studies. She is past Vice President of the Visitors Studies Association, current member of AAM's Education Committee (EdCom), and Steering Committee member for the Children and Nature Connection in Fort Collins, Colorado. Marcella's recent clients include the National Park Service, Adirondack Museum, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado State Parks, Denver Museum of Natural History, National Park Service, royal British Columbia Museums, Walking Mountain Science Center, and numerous other public, private and non-profit organizations. In 2012, Marcella was awarded the Enos Mills Lifetime Achievement Award for the Colorado Alliance for Environment Education.

Dr. Barbara Butler's academic credentials include a BA in biology from Millikin University, Decatur, IL; an MA in anthropology from the State University of New York at Buffalo; and a Ph. D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. Barbara taught at North Texas State University, Denton, TX and the University of Delaware, Newark, DE before becoming the director of the Delaware Museum of Natural History. In 1990, she joined the staff of the Informal Science Education program at the National Science Foundation as program director of Informal Science Education and section head of the Science Literacy Section. Her tenure there was 10 years. Barbara has been active in Visitor Studies Association since the early 1990's, serving two terms on the board, chair of the Albuquerque annual meeting local arrangements committee, and as chair of the VSA professional development committee.

Since retirement she has consulted with a number of informal learning organizations including the Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego, CA; Biodiversity Project, Madison, WI; Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL; The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden, Pasadena, CA; and the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, Wilmington, DE, among others. She also serves on the board for the Placitas Artists Series, a local organization that provides chamber music, visual art, and a school outreach program in southern Sandoval County, New Mexico.

Judith Koke is the Director, Education and Interpretive Programs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Previously, Judy was Deputy Director, Education and Public Programming at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she developed and implemented a pan-institutional program of visitor research, leading a cultural change to support data-driven, visitor-centered decision making. Koke served as an instructor for the University of Toronto's “Museum Interpretation and Meaning-making” class in 2010 and 2011, and as an instructor in “Visitor Research and Evaluation” at George Washington University in Washington D.C. She was previously a Senior Researcher for the Institute for Learning Innovation, where she did a nationwide study of all IMLS-funded youth programs. She was also the evaluator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for seven years, where she managed visitor studies and evaluation.

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