Publications & Research

ANCA’s Quarterly Journal: Directions

The Directions journal contains news and trends in the profession, relevant resources, and stories of innovative nature center leadership. ANCA members receive Directions each quarter and can always see back-issues on the member portal. All are welcome to see the most recent issue here.

Advertising space in Directions is available for businesses; see the options here.


Director's Guide to Best Practices: Examples from the Nature Center and Environmental Learning Profession
by Norma Jeanne Byrd

directors guideANCA developed this book for busy directors and staff people with many roles and responsibilities, and it includes chapters on five essential areas: leadership, strategic planning, boards, staff, and fund raising. It is a handbook for those new to the profession, and will also challenge and inspire the most experienced directors and their staffs. ANCA members have also found it valuable to give to board members and volunteers. Directors from 23 states and 40 different facilities reviewed and commented on the chapter drafts and evaluated the book's effectiveness. Development of the book was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Victor & Colleen Elderton.

$25 plus shipping



The Search for Extraordinary Leadership: Securing Your Next Executive Director
by Corky McReynolds

monograph leadershipDeveloped to outline a best practices process to engage and complete a successful search and screen for a center's next extraordinary leader, this 42 page monograph includes what to look for in a new leader; how to prepare your center for successful change; protocols for searching, screening, and transitioning; and much more.

$5 plus shipping

Branding & Marketing Your Nature Center
by Greta Bolger

monograph marketingThe purpose of this 70 page monograph is to provide nature organizations with a set of best practices that can be used to increase visibility and impact within their communities and beyond. The Best Practices outlined here are intended to guide marketing professionals at all levels, as well as specialists from other disciplines, in the development of a unified marketing strategy and a cost-effective, measurable tactical plan.

$5 plus shipping

Interpretive Design of Nature Centers: Buildings 
by Donald Watson

monograph buildingsThis 40-page monograph is for nature center administrators, board members, and staff involved with planning new sites and buildings and/or remodeling existing sites and buildings for interpretation, exhibits, and educational programs.

$5 plus shipping

Interpretive Design of Nature Centers: Exhibits
by Donald Watson

monograph exhibitsThis 32-page monograph provides guidelines and recommendations for undertaking an exhibit design project in new or existing sites and spaces. Topics include interpretive planning, visitor studies, interpretive artifacts and anecdotes, outdoor exhibits and interpretive trails, and evaluation. Suggested formats are provided for selecting and managing exhibit consultants and coordinating exhibits with buildings and sites.

$5 plus shipping






Build Resiliency for the Challenge of Change
by Corky McReynolds

monograph leadershipChange can be planned by or happen to an organization. When organizational change occurs, it can have a dramatic effect on its people, productivity, and processes. This change can be drastic for some and relatively easy going for others.This paper identifies Setting strategic direction, Creating a healthy culture, Practicing fiscal responsibility, and Investing in people as four core systems, that when functional and following best practices, will determine the capacity of an organization’s ability to endure, embrace, and empower change.


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The ANCA Blue Ribbon Report, May 2015

In 2014 ANCA commissioned the Blue Ribbon Report, a comprehensive report that explores what leaders in the field view as the societal and economic future of our industry over the next 25 years. The report identifies significant trends and developments and provides recommendations for how ANCA can continue to support the growth of nature centers in the future.

Read the full Research Report here and an article about the research here.

Major Themes:

  • Theme 1: Nature centers will need to establish relevancy in an increasingly nature disconnected society.
  • Theme 2: Nature centers will adapt funding for day to day operations and long-term sustainability.
  • Theme 3: Nature center programming will evolve.
  • Theme 4: Nature center professionals will develop modern skill sets.
  • Theme 5: Nature centers will strengthen their properties.

Recommendations for ANCA:

  1. Support the development of nature centers into conservation and restoration leaders. Champion nature centers which have successfully integrated conservation and/or restoration ethics into their organizations. Develop best practices for nature centers supporting conservation and restoration in their communities.
  2. Lead the conversation about education and advocacy concerning climate change. Investigate how nature centers in currently impacted regions are beginning to address climate change. Provide spaces for directors to discuss how centers can and should react.
  3. Develop best practices for integrating technology into programming and business models. Champion nature centers which have integrated technology in significant ways. Due to the fast pace of innovation, focus on ways to leverage social media and mobile technology rather than specific devices such as iPads.
  4. Develop best practices for resiliency to future economic downturns. Identify lessons learned from nature centers that were affected by the recession.
  5. Support the promotion of the value of nature centers. Conduct evaluation and outcome research on nature centers. Develop best practices for promoting the value of nature centers in the community.
  6. Be a catalyst for collaboration. Champion nature centers which have successfully collaborated with other organizations to increase the scale of their impact. Develop best practices for collaborating to win larger foundation grants. Facilitate discussions on the potential for nature center consortiums and coalitions.
  7. Promote innovative programming. Champion nature centers which have created successful programs for high schoolers, college students, and adults. Champion programs which have successfully integrated issue analysis, field research, and citizen science.
  8. Explore the horizon beyond school programming. Facilitate discussions of the value of traditional school programs. Provide spaces for directors to discuss new models of programming.
  9. Promote boards reflective of their communities. Champion nature centers which have benefited from diverse, reflective boards.


Nature Centers & Communities Study, March 2016

Nature centers hold tremendous potential to serve as hubs for learning and connection, not only between people and nature, but also between fellow community members. This study examined the relationship between nature centers and the people living around them – including both people who visit and people who don’t visit but still perceive value in a nature center existing in their community.

Read the Final Report Narrative here and the Final Report here.


Identifying the Drivers of Success in Educational Programs at Nature Centers and National Parks in the United States, Forthcoming

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Museum and Library Services

Investigators: Robert B. Powell, Clemson University, and Marc J. Stern, Virginia Tech

This study will investigate environmental education (EE) programs for youth across the United States and identify the program characteristics that most powerfully influence positive student outcomes. Research has shown that such programs can achieve multiple positive outcomes, such as enhancing knowledge, skills, attitudes, and interests associated with scientific curiosity, environmental literacy, and civic engagement. Current best practices for delivering these programs, however, are based on the general consensus of academics and practitioners, rather than upon systematically collected empirical evidence. Most empirical research has been conducted on single programs, making lessons about why programs achieve certain outcomes difficult to discern. Such lessons can only be uncovered through comparative research using consistent outcome measures. The study will directly address this gap in our knowledge.

We will visit 40 National Park Service units and nature centers distributed across the country. At each site, we will aim to observe at least 5 day programs over a period of two weeks. The data will be used to compare which mixtures of program characteristics most commonly produce the most positive outcomes for participants.