National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Interpretive Development Program

Planning, Promoting, and Presenting using facilitated dialogue

“This made me think about things I’ve never thought about before,” Makayla Givens a 15-year-old visitor shared with me right after this program. She continued, “it made me think of religion, politics, parenting, and my community.”


It has been three years since I visited Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer. Summers in Arkansas remind me of both hot and cold; the very hot days that are certain and the cold splash of pool water. As I planned for a two week vacation to my hometown, I could not resist reaching out to my former park Little Rock Central High School NHS, to ask if they were interested in a one day project of offering an interpretive program around the theme of independence using the facilitated dialogue technique . After reaching out to Superintendent Robin White and sharing my idea, we collaborated in offering an Interpretive program in which Chief of Interpretation Enimini Ekong and I were co-facilitators.


The goal of the program was to identify best practices of civic engagement and facilitated dialogue through observation, reflection, and video -- Yes, video. Just recently, the Interpretive Development Program (IDP) purchased a swivl robot. This program would allow for testing of the technology, which consists of a robot that sits on a tripod and, once blue-toothed, it tracks and records the movement of the person with the blue-tooth device. In this case, it tracked me. The IDP understands the balance of offering visitors and employees a safe place to engage in dialogue, we also understand the importance of acquiring examples that can be used in training.


The program objectives were:

  1. Introduce visitors to the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School.

  2. Engage visitors in a meaningful dialogue with other visitors by using facilitated dialogue as a technique.

  3. Help visitors become more comfortable with having conversations with members from our greater community.


When Enimini and I met in early June, we discussed how this would look and feel not only for the visitor but also for the interpretive staff. Little Rock Central High School NHS is one of few parks where almost all staff have been trained through the IDP facilitated dialogue course. However, many of the staff has had few opportunities to practice their new skills. As a trainer, I know the importance of having “on the ground” support and real-world examples. As for the visitors, we know that many who visit the park are on very tight schedules.


Some of the concerns we brainstormed were:

  • What do we call this program?

  • Would visitors who came for the 45 minute walking tour, stay for a 75 minute program?

  • Would the community pre-register for this event?

  • After registering would they attend?

  • If the program is in the multi-purpose room (which is small) do we restrict the numbers of participants?

  • Do we share that this will be recorded or wait for permission?

As a result of our planning meetings, we decided this program Conversation with a Ranger: What does Freedom Mean would take place on Tuesday, June 30th. The program was offered at 10:00; 11:30; and 2:15 with a restriction of 30 visitors. The park’s Visual Information Specialist, Nick Roll created a social media campaign and the program was promoted on the park’s Facebook and website page. It was also sent via email through the park’s email marketing tool. Visitors were given the opportunity to register beforehand.


Each program started with “Why are we here?” We shared with visitors that the program was not a ranger-led program but a visitor-led program -- that all of us bring rich experiences with us. We encouraged visitors to interact through dialogue and sharing from their own personal experience. Asking visitors to share and explore their views and opinions was relatively new in national parks and that we were using this program as a training tool and would like to record the program. We showed visitors how the robot would follow me as I moved around the room. As they observed its movement—they all agreed to the recording.


The program introduced participants to the story of school desegregation in Little Rock at Central High, but it also asked them to explore their own story of freedom. Many visitors shared their story of freedom as a struggle, privilege, and even innocence (something taken for granted). We encouraged visitors to think about access and opportunity, the legal system, segregation in schools, and the choices they make by asking them open-ended questions that made up our Arc of Dialogue. After each program, visitors stayed around and continued the conversation with one another. I noticed that some visitors stayed in the park many hours after the program and several took the last ranger guided tour into the school.  This program was developed in a short time but it seemed to have a big impact.


I teach a session in the Interpreting Critical Issues Using Civic Engagement & Facilitated Dialogue Techniques course titled Skill is not enough.  In this session, I introduce learners that just attending training and initially gaining new skill is not enough. Successful job performance requires the following four conditions:  

  • skill

  • an opportunity to perform

  • self-efficacy

  • a supportive environment


Skill is easy. If you don’t know how to do something, well, you can’t do it. Practice is easy too. We all have heard “practice makes perfect.”


However, self-efficacy is a condition we don’t talk a lot about. It refers to the judgments we make about our abilities. Self-efficacy isn’t about the actual skill, it’s about the judgments we make about the strength of our skills. People with low self-efficacy don’t believe they can do the things they actually can do. Self-efficacy is important because when people don’t judge themselves able to do something they actually can do, they may not even try to do it. People with strong self-efficacy will not only be more willing to try, they will be more willing to persist in the face of obstacles, failures, or embarrassment.


A supportive environment is one that encourages desired performance. It is an environment in which interpreters are given reasons to perform. Performance, then, requires the presence of skill, self-efficacy, opportunity to perform, and a supportive environment. Collaborating with Little Rock Central High School NHS strengthened my belief in these conditions. One has to not only acquire this skill set but you must practice (and often), support from peers are essential and support from management and visitors will inspire interpreters to create, collaborate, and continue to explore this new engagement strategy.


Over the last few months I have facilitated many programs using civic engagement and facilitated dialogue as a technique. Each time I “do this work” I learn more about myself and the shared heritage of those who participate, because I actively listen. In many cases visitors were not speaking directly to me, they were sharing with one another through dialogue. I believe in the National Park Service, I believe that we can inspire future stewards to care for and about our special places. There is power in facilitated dialogue, but we have to foster opportunities where interpreters can practice, gain the belief they need (to succeed and fail), and to provide support. So that when we reach new audiences -- we will be ready to build a better stronger community, together!