Previously we were exploring why we continue to replicate the teacher-directed classroom approach in tours versus providing a more student or visitor generated approach. Students could be given a choice from a menu of topic-connected art pieces guided by their own interest. However, it is critically important to offer a free choice within an outcome-focussed, mission- driven, enticing slate of interactions, not just a free-for-all. These need to engage at different levels that will be meaningful, memorable, tangible and flavourful. This is what author Steve Van Matre calls the 4H holistic approach: the head, the heart, the hands, and the hunger. (Interpretive Design And The Dance of Experience, 2008). Stay tuned for an in-depth look at this concept.
On the other hand, there are benefits to being channelled to notice works that you would usually pass by for various reasons. But when given some context and allowed free responsive choice to engagement, those works of art can provoke, amuse and/or enlighten. I’d like to share with you an example of how to address this passing-by phenomena in an outdoor setting. This will demonstrate the concept of guided discovery and the power of purposeful nudging tied to intent.
Many moons ago, as an interpretive naturalist, I designed a walk called the "Floral Frolic" as a light, refreshing exploration of flowering plants. Identification was not the primary outcome. Engaging with the complete plant, slowing down, discovering diversity when least expecting it and “truly seeing“ flowers for the first time were my visitor goals. So often, visitors never crouch to really look at and absorb a non-showy plant, as they are so often focussed on the showy flowering portion only. I was going for a response beyond “the nice red flower - what’s it called?” For many it was an eye-opener, for some, transformation occurred.
For brevity sake, the following rudimentary description of what I did all sounds somewhat cold and regimented in approach. Far from it, because the set-up and facilitation required thoughtful planning and visitor concern, while incorporating many experiential and behavioural mechanics, easily the topic for an extended workshop.
Purposeful Nudging: Visitors
First off, participants were provided with clipboards and various tools for writing, drawing, colouring. I placed each participant beside a different species of plant, each having quite different characteristics. Next each person would sit or lie in a comfortable position at ground level. They were all within viewing distance of each other, evenly dispersed on both sides of a trail - one stretch that normally would have been quickly covered as a stretch of nondescript trail.
I asked them to record their impressions of their plant (leaves, stem and flower arrangement) in whatever format they wanted - sketch, essay, poetry, song, diary, etc. I gave them a time limit, which always needed to be extended, as people became entranced with details along with a sense of getting to connect and “know” this other life form.
Next, I had them pair up to experience another’s plant perspective. Finally, as a group we formed a sharing circle where each individual got a chance to express “the neatest thing for them” that they had experienced. Needless to say, we had moving, humourous, educational and uplifting moments interspersed with amazing unleashed creativity.
The visitors left with new observational and exploratory skills that they could apply in future situations thanks to the power of purposeful nudging. In the future I won’t have to be there because now they can use these skills themselves.
Purposeful Nudging: Interpreter
As innovative naturalists and goal-challenging art gallery educators we are pursuing similar paths: "Guides on the Side" for visitor DIY experiences. Even though Jackie’s blog is intended for an art gallery tour, it is applicable to many interpretive situations, as I attempted to point out with the "Floral Frolic" example above. This is a polite nudge for all of us to explore interpretive realms not just within our specific expertise of interpretation or institution type. I am always surprised how success at a science centre is not readily shared over in the park visitor centre realm, or how research findings within museum visitor studies are not applied in the botanic garden sector. EID will continue to encourage this cross fertilization in our work with sites and in future blogs.
Caution: Be aware of reading only or attending only within your affiliated association “journals” and conferences. Pick a crossover right now and commit to investigating their smart practices.
This two-part post focused on the interpretive delivery for guided discovery. However, a broader and much more all encompassing approach is what Experiential Interpretive Design advocates. Certainly in Part 1 of "A Slice of Guide on the Side", Jackie Delamatre's blog alludes to this fact. If one of the goals is for the tour and visitor experience to excel, then the design of the experience must be an integral part of developing a holistic gallery, site and building design. It cannot be an add on after the structure(s) have been built. When I say we could use more programmatic purposeful nudging, it is sure easier to implement if the site or building design also reflects that intentional concept - a key part of our advocacy.
I’ll leave you to ponder what architect and founding partner Craig Dykers of the eminent firm Snøhetta is expressing here (and whether he is thinking about the interpretive role to be played) :
“We used to think that the public realm could be engineered–that if you make a little amphitheater here, people will be cultural, and if you made a bench over there, they’d sit and relax. And you engineered these places. Now we see that doesn’t always work because people like to make up their own minds about what they want to do and when they want to do it. So instead, we nudge people in different directions so they can make up their own minds about how they wish to use that space–so that they feel they own it.”