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Getting started with

Interpretation A quick start guide for small groups and individuals

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


What is interpretation? “Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.” – Freeman Tilden Interpretation aims to reveal meanings and engage people with heritage, rather than simply convey factual information. It should relate to people and connect them with the subject matter. When Tilden talks about protection, this is the result of an emotional connection and a caring for the subject. The term ‘sense of place’ is used to refer to this sense of significance and connection, i.e. an appreciation that something is special. A place, an object, a collection, an idea, event or activity. It reveals the meaning of places, things, people & events It encourages people to relate to the sense of place It provokes and stimulates thought It encourages exploration It adds to enjoyment and is memorable - Fitzpatrick Woolmer

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


How will interpretation benefit your project? Think about your project, who your partners are if you have any, and how interpretation could benefit your project. If you are working with larger partner organisations then they may already have interpretive guidelines, or even in-house resources or regular contractors. If your partners have experience in producing or commissioning interpretation, speak to them first. Consider whether interpretation is going to help achieve your aims.

Have a plan Having an interpretation plan is key, as without knowing the why, what, who, when and how, it’ll be difficult to take things further. Use your interpretation plan to structure your process and consider several basic aspects: who is involved, the aims of your project, the messages you want to communicate, your audience and the physical aspects of your site(s). All of this will inform your method of interpretation – it may turn out that your original idea (e.g. a panel) is not the right solution and that something else (e.g. an event, a website, a leaflet) may be better. SNH provide a step-by-step overview of planning interpretation.

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


What makes good interpretation? Good interpretation is clear, concise and engaging. It should communicate stories through a clear theme. Don’t bombard your audience with messages, instead, have a small number of themes, perhaps even just one, which you wish to communicate. Interpretation should be engaging, and aim to be entertaining, as audiences are there during their leisure time. While your target audience may not know much about the subject, don’t underestimate them. You may have the desire to challenge or change people’s attitudes, but be subtle, and never preach to them. It’s much more effective to have people arrive at points of view on their own.

A word about text Interpretation should never be a “book on a wall”. Sections of text should be short, around 150 words. If you’re producing a panel, there should be no more than 300 words on it, divided into sections. Try to keep your language straightforward and conversational, and aim for a reading age of around 9-12. You can check the reading age of any block of text using a free online SMOG calculator. This doesn’t mean that you’re aiming at 9-12 year olds, it simply means that it’s comprehensible for most readers.

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


A lasting legacy? It’s important to consider the longevity of your interpretation. How long do you expect your interpretation to last? If it’s a panel it will have a limited life expectancy which will vary depending on its location. If it’s outdoors, will it require regular cleaning or maintenance, and are you able to conduct repairs if it is damaged? Will the information become outdated, and how and when will you update or remove it? This could apply to any form of interpretation including digital media, websites, leaflets, exhibitions or panels. Think about how will you evaluate whether your interpretation has been successful. The scope of your evaluation will vary depending on the scale and aims of your project, but it’s always worth considering from the beginning of a project, especially if you have used external funding sources who may require this.

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


What to do next So you’ve decided that some interpretation is really going to help your project and engage audiences with your site. Your plan has outlined and articulated why your site is significant and helped you identify your themes. You know your site well and what aspects you want to communicate to your audience, and decided on what form your interpretation will take. So where do you go from here? Your interpretation plan should also consider the following: 1.

What can you do? Carefully consider what you can do yourself and what you may need help with. For example, do you have competent designers in your group or will you need to enlist one? Can you produce any text or will you need some expert input or editing?

2.

Involve your designer. Depending on your budget and interpretive media you may need to enlist the help of an interpretive designer. Involve them at the earliest opportunity, even during the planning process if possible, as they may have valuable experience and input. The Association for Heritage Interpretation has a list of interpretive professionals.

3.

Materials and placement. Carefully consider what materials you are going to use and how they will be placed or fixed. Bear in mind the limitations of any material you want to use, and seek professional advice.

4.

Events. If you are planning any events, for example a guided walk or activity day, always ensure that you have conducted risk assessments and have adequate insurance. Get in touch with your local voluntary networking organisation, there may be short courses available to you on risk assessing and related activities.

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


Perfect Panels One of the most common forms of interpretation is a panel. Panels can provide simple and robust means of interpreting a site with low maintenance. However, they are often used ineffectively and you should carefully consider whether a panel is the best solution, as they can be expensive, especially if designed to survive outside. If you decide that a panel will work for your project there are some important points to think about. Remember, people decide within seconds whether they will read your panel or not! Simplicity. Text should be large (around 18-24pt) and sans-serif, as this is easier to read. Break down text into layers using headings and sub-headings. The main points you want your audience to take away should be large, while more detailed sections for those who want to read more could be smaller and less prominent. Have a look at other panels for inspiration. Height. Panels should be placed at a convenient height for reading by most people. If placed down near the ground, taller and older people will find it uncomfortable to bed down to read it. If it’s too high it can be difficult for children to see. Information is not interpretation. Although interpretation is informative, information itself is not necessarily interpretation. SNH provide important points on how to write for interpretation. Visuals. Use photographs, illustrations or maps to help communicate your messages, as well as thinking about the overall design. For example, if interpreting an ancient site, you could design your panel as a carved stone people can touch, or include illustrations of carvings. If discussing nature, you could use animal characters as narrators or design your panel as a leaf or tree. Visual cues like this help to enhance the experience to something greater than simply reading a panel. Definitely a panel? Interpretation isn’t just about panels. It can be art, sculpture, poetry or even a trail itself. Almost any communicative method can be used and panels can incorporate many of these elements. Be creative!

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


Useful links A Sense of Place interpretive planning handbook

https://portal.uni-freiburg.de/interpreteurope/service/publications/recommended-publications/ carter_sense-of-place.pdf Association for Heritage Interpretation http://www.ahi.org.uk/ Heritage Lottery Fund interpretation guidance https://www.hlf.org.uk/interpretation-guidance Natural Heritage Interpretation http://www.snh.gov.uk/policy-and-guidance/heritage-interpretation/

Text reading age (SMOG) calculator http://www.learningandwork.org.uk/misc/SMOG-calculator/smogcalc.php Writing effective interpretation http://www.snh.gov.uk/policy-and-guidance/heritage-interpretation/writing-effectiveinterpretation/

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership


Photography: Front cover (RSPB Baron’s Haugh) © Archibald Photography; page 2 (RSPB Baron’s Haugh) © Archibald Photography; page 3 (New Lanark WHS) © Donald Thompson; page 4 (Corra Castle, Falls of Clyde) © Archibald Photography; page 5 (Corra Linn, Falls of Clyde) © Archibald Photography; page 6 © Margaret Dewar ; page 7 (Lanark) © Stuart Stevenson; page 8 (Nethan Gorge) © Archibald Photography Designed and produced by Ewan Bachell. Download this publication from www.clydeandavonvalley.org

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Getting Started with Interpretation  

A quick start guide for groups and individuals

Getting Started with Interpretation  

A quick start guide for groups and individuals

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