Journal of Interpretation Research
Volume 21, Number 1

A Note from the Editor

Carolyn Ward

The editor’s note from the previous issue of the Journal (Vol. 20 No 2), started like this: “I have had lots of conversations lately about research, the Journal, and the field of interpretation in general. Many of the conversations were uncomfortable and unsettling. Questions were asked that were challenging and difficult to answer, but made me think…made us all think. If we, as professionals in the field, are unwilling or unable to ask difficult questions, to challenge the status quo, to advance the ideas, then who will?”

This editorial was followed by a call to action requesting my colleagues to join in a conversation to discuss solutions, review options, and generate ideas for advancing the field. I would like to thank all of you who responded to my request for feedback in the last issue of the Journal about the current state of research, the Journal itself, and the field of interpretation in general.

Unlike many of the previous conversations where problems and issues were outlined, these conversations surrounding solutions and ideas were uplifting and promising. Three key ideas emerged along with several approaches to begin implementation.

One underlying idea is that research is essential to advance and evolve the discipline. In fact, one of the basic elements defining a profession is that knowledge and skills developed and practiced are derived from research. Without the advancement of the methods, theories, and strategies of interpretation through critical examination, the practice will suffer and the profession will die. With changes in technology, the environment, and the population, we simply cannot continue to practice interpretation as we have always done, just because it has always been done that way. For many this will require a paradigm shift, and to be successful that new direction must be informed through careful critical research. It was refreshing to hear so many colleagues echo the absolute need to ask difficult questions that challenge many of our basic tenets. In order to accomplish this task, more research needs to be funded, conducted, and disseminated.

A second main idea that emerged is that research must be more accessible to practitioners, managers, and administrators. Research itself needs to be physically (or virtually) readily accessible. Individuals need to be able to easily find the answers they are looking for to improve their practice (and thus reinforce the value of research). Think about how an interpreter at a small state park, a remote Forest Service location or a large National Park acquires information? How easily accessible is the Journal to the members of field? And once the research is accessed, how valuable is it? There was wide agreement that published research needs to include a section of “application” value. What does the average reader do with the information? How can it be used to inform either the practice or the science of interpretation? This is the “So what?” of the research. If the field is to continue to evolve as a profession, research and development needs to be communicated to the field in a way that allows for application of the new ideas. This field testing of new advancements is a critical step in ground-truthing ideas.

Another aspect that became clear is that we must break down the silos that are pervasive in interpretation. Interpretation is not a function in a vacuum. Environmental management challenges, protection of cultural resources, and critical law enforcement issues should all be guiding forces for interpretive programming. Interpretation should be as critical of a management function as any other. And using research and evaluation, we can begin to show the bottom-line value of our interpretive programs for all other divisions within resource operations. In addition, we must remove the barriers separating work in environmental education, museums, and zoos from interpretation. There is much that we can learn from each other, and the value of the research in these closely related fields often has wide applications to interpretation.

Strategies for helping address some of these concerns have been identified, and working with leadership from NAI, many will begin to be implemented immediately. One key approach to expanding the reach and impact of JIR is through direct dissemination of the Journal. I have begun working with key leaders in many of the agencies to determine the most efficient mechanism to get the Journal into the hands of field practitioners, managers and administrators for free. Increased accessibility to research will not only benefit the field but the researchers conducting evaluation who will see their work more widely distributed, valued and applied.

A second strategy identified to bring interpretation research into the 21st century is to index the Journals and get them on Google Scholar. Like everything, time has evolved how research is accessed. The days and nights I spent in graduate school searching indexes and pouring through paper copies of Journals in the corner of a library are no more. Today, the primary method for accessing information is electronic and searchable through a variety of key words, filters, and other features I could not have imagined years ago. The ease through which information is obtained today is staggering, and most journals are already easily accessible on-line. I am happy to announce within the next several months the Journal of Interpretation Research will also be available and searchable on-line.

A third approach will involve strategic partnerships and alliances with other journals, organizations, and agencies. I will be seeking out opportunities to cross promote, publish and otherwise partner to expand the reach of interpretation research and to expand the research interpreters are exposed to. We will also work with key leaders to begin to identify gaps in research and critical questions. Imagine if the leaders in public land management agencies got together and identified the key research questions they need answered, and NAI partnered with universities to promote the research.

A final area of emphasis will be working directly with authors to help them promote and distribute their work independently. There are numerous avenues that authors can use to help increase the access and application of their work from LinkedIn to ResearchGate. We will no longer be requiring JIR to have exclusive rights to the work and thus can help authors promote and disseminate to a larger audience. Proprietary rights to research are less important that the ultimate impact of the work for the field.

These strategies should have several long-term outcomes including increased interest in conducting interpretation research, publishing it in the Journal, and increased funding for research. These outcomes will all help in preserving and growing the profession of interpretation.

I want to thank those who are asking hard questions, challenging the answers and thinking. These steps outlined above should be considered the beginning. Please call me with ideas, thoughts and questions. I challenge each of you to ask yourself how you can help. I look forward to many more conversations to come with you all. Thank you all for your time and commitment to interpretation.