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When Targeting Programs, Take Aim!

How can you expect to hit a target if you don’t aim? The simple answer is that you can’t. The same is true when developing and implementing educational programs. You must do more than assume you know a targeted audience. “Targeting by assumption” is no different than guessing. And, while your willingness to guess may serve as an indicator of good intentions, it is no way to create excellence in programming. (Remember the famous road that’s paved with good intentions?)

Working to assess your audience is the best way to target a program, and a necessary route for determining programmatic validity. Assessing helps define both the needs and desires of the intended audience. And, assessment can reveal if the targeted program actually achieves its objectives.

Developing a Targeted Program

The first step when targeting programs is to learn as much as you can about the intended audience. You can’t tailor programs to fit a specific population without sizing up that audience. This requires discerning what motivates the audience to come to your institution, determining what their learning needs are, ascertaining what level of ability and exposure they have, and being told what the audience hopes to do with the experience after they depart.

Take the time necessary to ask, explore, and gather information. Speak with representatives of that population and others who already work successfully with that audience. For instance, if you are developing programs for people who are visually impaired, visit organizations that work with that segment of the community, contact experts, and enlist the aid of people with visual impairments who will serve on an advisory panel. Allow these people and resources to help you understand the audience beyond your level of assumption. Be a good questioner and a good listener. Learn such things as how people with visual impairments gather information best, what obstacles they find when using facilities like your own, and what might make visits easier and more productive.

If developing programs for school groups, speak with curricular supervisors, other administrators and principals, teachers, and members of parent organizations. Find out what students in the grades targeted are responsible for learning and how your institutional collection might serve as a resource or complement. Find out how a visit to your institution will fit into the school year and how the information derived will be used once the students return to class. Enrichment is good, but relevance is essential. This is especially true during these days of increasingly finite resources and external pressures to devote more time to performance on standardized tests.

During the development stage of programming —when a program has been outlined and its goals and objectives defined, but before the methodology and details are finalized — return to the people and resources you consulted. Ask them to review your concept and ideas for its execution, are you on target? Did you understand and properly process the information and advice you received? Be malleable and willing to make alterations. Remember that this is not the only time evaluation and revision will be necessary. It is simply the first.

Scheduling the Targeted Program

Regardless of whether it is a staff member or volunteer who schedules tours, the strategic importance of that person cannot be overstated. The tour scheduler should do more than simply match time slots and docents with group requests. He or she should have a conversation with the “client” and solicit information about the desires and capabilities of the group.

Beyond dates, times, and numbers of people arriving, the scheduler should query whoever calls about a host of other concerns. Most should revolve around visitors’ expectations and needs. In addition, the conversation that results should help to avoid misunderstandings by addressing any misconceptions the “client” may have about the program or its delivery.

For instance, among the questions a tour scheduler might ask are:

  • Which institutional program is being requested, and why was that one chosen?
  • Is this trip connected to other activities or areas of study?
  • What has the group been told about the purpose and/or content of their visit?
  • Are there special requests to accommodate?
  • Do any members of the group have particular physical needs that will require attention or assistance?
  • If the group consists of students or other people requiring supervision, have the requisite number of chaperones or attendants been secured?

Conducting the Targeted Program

Just as every individual differs from others, every group has its own distinguishing characteristics. Even though one visiting group can be put into the same category as another, the two will not behave identically. It is not appropriate for instance to presume that aU tourists are the same, or that every eighth grade group will react similarly to others. Groups have their own dynamic.

Because every group is different, docents should use part of their introductory time to assess each particular group they greet. “Welcome to our facility. Have you been here before? What did you see the other times? What were you hoping to see today?”

While you may have only a few moments to engage in such conversation, consider this time well spent. First, it makes an audience feel at ease to get acquainted with their docent. Second, conversation sets the stage for interactive teaching rather than passive listening. Third, this abbreviated conversation can avoid some important misunderstandings. If, for example, people were expecting to see giraffes and these animals are not on display, the group should be told. If the participants were expecting to see giraffes but they are not ordinarily on this tour program, the docent must make a rapid-fire decision. Can a visit to the giraffe exhibit be accomplished logistically, and can the lesson be adapted without losing its integrity?

After this quick assessment, tell visitors the theme or subject of the tour. This lets them know how to connect their experiences to a big idea and improves the potential for information retention.

Following Up on a Targeted Program

Several opportunities present themselves for assessing a targeted program after it has been implemented. At the conclusion of conducting targeted programs, docents should be asked about the program’s workability and appropriateness. Their appraisal should speak to issues of teaching, modes of delivery, and logistical concerns.

Evaluations by the tour recipients will reveal what was learned and how much was retained. These evaluations should also tell reviewers such things as the audience’s level of enjoyment and whether the program was considered worthwhile.

Feedback from supervisors or group leaders (such as teachers, principals or administrators) will tell the program developer if the program is achieving its goals and objectives. The program developer’s willingness to listen, refine, and even rework if necessary, should go a long way toward ensuring that other cooperative projects will be undertaken in the future.

Alan Gartenhaus, Publishing Editor

Gartenhaus, Alan. “When Targeting Programs, Take Aim!,” The Docent Educator 10.1 (Autumn 2000): 2-3.

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