How to Attract and Engage Hard-to-Reach Audiences (Case Study: Parks Canada)

Museum Hack - Renegade Tours

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Historic sites are messengers from the past.  When interpreted well, historic sites come alive with stories and secrets while shedding light on who we are now and who we may become in the future.  Yet many historic sites struggle to appeal to broader audiences, especially millennials. 

It’s a challenge familiar to Parks Canada, which protects and interprets a variety of natural parks and historic sites integral to Canada’s cultural heritage.  The agency seeks to foster public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment in ways that not only preserve the sites but also impart the lessons of the past and invite visitors to reflect on their own lives.  Parks Canada was struggling to bring in millennials and people who didn’t like history.  How could they invite audiences who only visited when it was part of a mandatory program?  And once the visitors got to the park, how could Parks Canada ensure they remained engaged throughout their visit?

Parks Canada wanted a fresh perspective on how to attract and engage new groups that were outside their typical audiences.  They called Museum Hack!

Parks Canada staff ready to hack Fort George!
Parks Canada staff ready to hack Fort George!

Our Customized Audience Engagement Strategies

Our VIP Guides, Kate Downey and Zak Martellucci, traveled to Canada on a mission: find new ways to present and interpret history that were adaptable to a variety of natural and cultural sites.  Having worked with a variety of historic sites in the past, we knew that the key wasn’t just in the audiences – it was in the docents and guides who helped facilitate the visitor experience.  By focusing our efforts on refreshing staff training, we set out to give them new skills to engage those hard-to-reach audiences.

Kate and Zak led Parks Canada staff through two workshops: one customized to meet the needs of historic sites, and another that focused on the needs of national parks.  By customizing our Audience Engagement Workshop, Kate and Zak were able to showcase a variety of methods for engaging audiences that were adaptable to the resources and needs of each site.

Parks Canada staff during our workshop for National Parks.
Parks Canada staff during our workshop for National Parks.

5 Elements of a Hack

Integral to our workshops was the 5 Elements of a Hack, our signature method for engaging audiences.  This method breaks down the visitor experience into a series of steps designed to engage visitors from the get-go and keep them engaged through the use of passionate, personal storytelling.  Our methods turn the focus of interpretation from telling history to sparking personal engagement.  In so doing, we demonstrated how a visitor-centric entertainment-first approach draws audiences in and fosters personal connections.

We then challenged Parks Canada staff to create their own “hacked” object stories!  Check out the items they chose in these fun pictures:

Parks Canada staff with a grandfather clock
Grandfather clocks…
Staff pose with an animal skin and skull
Animal skins…
Staff with a wolf skin and iPad
And a wolf on an iPad, oh my!
Parks Canada staff posing with antlers
Antlers up for audience engagement!

Next, we led Canada Parks staff through an interactive demonstration of “hacked” tours.  This demonstration utilized objects that Parks Canada requested – such as pelts, bones, and stuffed birds – to tell engaging stories while keeping “museum fatigue” at bay through fun activities.  By treating Parks Canada staff as visitors themselves, we demonstrated how pacing, participation at varied levels of intensity, and different archetypal approaches can successfully engage a wide range of visitors – including millennials.

Kate, Zak, and Fred dressed as Canadian military
Kate and Zak rockin the #AirGuitarGun at Fort George National Historic Site with Fred S. (Image courtesy @geoillogicalguy on Twitter).

By the end of the workshops, Parks Canada staff were ready to implement our techniques to draw in and engage new audiences with their incredible cultural and natural sites.  Check out this great testimonial from Rod Constantineau, Visitor Experience Planning Advisor for Parks Canada:

Rod later emailed us his thoughts on the workshops, stating,

“There were many highlights for me, including:

  1. The mini-hack tour was great to help people see that it’s OK to have fun while on tour.
  2. The positive engagement from Parks Canada people.  I’ve been to other workshops where people are negative and not buying into things.  This was different.
  3. The simple document handouts were well appreciated by participants.
  4. The awesome facilitation.  Zak and Kate were a great tema keeping the energy high at all times.
  5. Some participants left saying they could incorporate some lessons learned as soon as they got back!

A big thank you to Zak and Kate for an awesome week!”

Thank you to Rod and Parks Canada for having us!  We had a great time learning about Canadian history and helping facilitate new ways to engage audiences at natural and cultural sites throughout the country.

Ready to attract and engage new audiences at your museum? Contact us to find out more about how we can help your institution develop fun activities and new audience engagement strategies.

 

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