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The THING Project Thing Sites International Networking Group 2009 – 2012

Interpret it THING Project Interpretive Guidelines

May 2010


Introduction Background Interpret it Plan it Theme it Design it Access it Select for it Write it Print it Evaluate it Contacts Further reading

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APPENDICES Appendix I: Activity sheets Appendix 2: Extract from Heritage Lottery Fund document Appendix 3: Text standards

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Introduction This document gives a broad outline of the major aspects involved in interpretation, and provides guidance to all partners in the THING Project. It aims to help you with your interpretive projects, and to bring a unity of voice to the various projects. Throughout, the document encourages you to: • • • • • •

Be truthful and authentic. Respect the essential characteristics of your site. Be creative with your interpretive projects. Find ways to engage with your audience through stories and activities. Encourage visitors to think for themselves – the more involved they are, the more they will engage and learn. Do more than just present facts and figures. Just because a site has some information panels it does not mean it is being interpreted!

Background The overall objective of the THING Project is: to exchange knowledge, specify, develop and test new and improved services for sustainable management and business development at the Northern European Thing sites. The project results should also contribute to a future nomination process of a serial inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List of the North Atlantic Thing sites. The Project comprises four work packages, the largest of which, work package 3, is concerned with analysis of good practices and specifications of new service models. One of the specified activities is to establish a common set of interpretation methods adapted to the Thing site regions. The project partners are: • • • • • • • •

Sogn og Fjordane County Council, Norway (lead partner) Gulen Municipality, Norway Thingvellir National Park, Iceland Kunningarstovan, Faroe Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Orkney College, Orkney Highland Council, Scotland Manx National Heritage, Isle of Man


Interpret it Over recent years interpretation has become part of how we manage and understand heritage, and an important part of tourism developments. But what actually is it? “Interpretation is about helping people appreciate something that you feel is special”1 Interpretation helps people discover what is interesting about a place. It adds depth to visitors’ experience, and convinces people of the value of a place. Some describe it as information with explanation. Interpretation does much more than present facts and figures – it engages with its audience, and makes them feel and believe. Good interpretation is memorable, and captures and sparks the imagination of its audience. Interpretation aims to improve understanding and enjoyment through provoking interest, relating to experience and revealing something new.2 A range of communication methods are used in heritage and tourism. These include marketing, visitor information and orientation as well as interpretation. Some of these communication methods may use the same types of media, such as panels or signs. It is important to be aware to the differences between these communication methods: Marketing sells a product; visitor information tells people what there is to do and see; orientation helps people find their way around; interpretation reveals underlying stories and meanings.3 Keep your interpretation about interpreting. If interpretation takes on another role, your message will become weakened and lost between conflicting purposes. In his 1957 book, "Interpreting Our Heritage", Freeman Tilden defined six principles of interpretation. For the past 50 years, Tilden's principles have remained highly relevant to interpreters across the world. 1. Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile. 2. Information, as such, is not Interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information. But they are entirely different things. However all interpretation includes information. 3. Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable. 4. The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation. 5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase. 6. Interpretation addressed to children (say up to the age of twelve) should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach. To be at its best it will require a separate program.4 1 2

3 4

Carter, J. (Ed.), A Sense of Place, Tourism &Environment Initiative, Scotland 1997 Extracted from Extracted from Tilden, F., Interpreting Our Heritage, University of North Carolina Press, 1957


All different types of things can be interpreted, these can include: • buildings • an area of countryside • an aspect of cultural life • an object or collection of objects • an industry • a historical event or period • an activity Interpretation can be especially useful in bringing a historically important site alive, where there is little to see, such as archaeological sites. An excellent example of this is Old Scatness in Shetland, where a combination of live interpreters, re-enactments, reconstructed buildings and a visitor centre bring the Iron Age settlement to life.

Making meal the hard way, at Old Scatness.5




Plan it For your interpretive project to be successful it must be appropriate for the site, for the people coming there, and for the organisation and individuals involved. And that requires planning. The starting point for any interpretation project is an Interpretive Plan. This is a document that sets out in a clear and logical manner what you want to achieve and how you intend to do it. It can be a long or short document depending on your needs and circumstances. Typically a plan will include: • • • • • • • • • • • •

your aims – what you want your interpretation to achieve; your audience – who you are interpreting for; your themes and topics – the messages and subjects you wish to communicate; your objectives – what you specifically want people to experience, learn, feel and do as a result of the interpretation; what you will implement – the media you propose to use, usually with a timetable and costs for their implementation. This part of a plan might also include concept designs to show how the interpretation will appear; a review of any management issues that will affect your interpretation – such as conservation policies, staffing levels and financial considerations; how you will evaluate the interpretation – what you will do to find out whether the interpretation is working.6

Each part of the plan requires thorough consideration. To help kick-start your interpretive plan, try using the activity sheets provided in Appendix 1. These will help you identify target audiences, themes and content. Themes are an important part of organising and focusing interpretive content, and are discussed further in the next section of this document. Themes can be used to orientate, inform, entertain, persuade, explain, promote and organisation, influence behaviour, develop a local sense of place. Without a clear theme, interpretation can become a jumble of unconnected facts.


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Theme it A theme is an idea or message you want your audience to engage with. This is different from a ‘subject’ or a ‘topic’. ‘The early Ferguson tractor’ is a subject, and would only attract interest from a select group. However if this is turned into ‘The early Ferguson tractor revolutionised farming in Britain, and changed the life of the countryside’ it becomes a theme, of much wider appeal. Themes are concerned with the big picture, and pull out the most fascinating aspect of the subject. Using a theme helps focus the material, and enables you to cut out a lot of excess information. In the long run, it makes the experience more interesting and memorable. Using a theme: • • •

Gives interest and structure to interpretation, and avoids it being a summary of information or a collection of unconnected facts. Helps your audience by giving them a clear thread to follow. However, each individual will understand or relate to the theme in different ways, using it as a basis to make their own personal meaning. Gives you a focus for your work – and inspiration, if it’s a good theme. From the mass of facts you could give your audience, you can concentrate only on those which support your theme.7

Themes need to be specific and agreed by all those working on a project. Write them down and use them to check the relevance of what you write or include on your panel or display. The theme may never appear in these words in the finished interpretation, but it should be implicit in both its content and style. Themes should: • Be interesting. • Contain one main idea. • Make sense. A theme should stand alone as a statement in its own right. • Be brief. If you have more than three sentences, you’re starting to write an essay! Good themes often share one of more of these qualities: • They inspire you • You can illustrate them on your site or through your collection • They’re specific to your place of collection • They involve individuals, or show how your subject relates to people • They have a sense of drama • They imply an emotional response They do NOT cover all the bases – a good theme is a way of looking at something that will stimulate your audience’s curiosity. It shouldn’t try to summarise everything there is to know about a subject. A single panel can only cover one or two themes. An exhibition likewise may only cover one or two themes. To help you develop a successful theme for your interpretive project, try using the theme generator included in Appendix 1.


Carter, J., Interpretation writing workshop handout, 2009 5

The main theme should become an overarching subliminal message, reinforced by each exhibit. Exhibits are developed from cluster of sub-themes that support the main theme. (see Example 1 below).

Example 1


Design it Exhibits should be designed for their audience. Identifying the kind of people that will encounter your interpretive product will help you make it relevant and appropriate to them. It can be useful to undertake surveys to gather information on who your visitors are and why they come. Here are a few of the most common audience types, and their particular requirements (to help prioritise audience groups for your project, trying using the activity sheet provided in Appendix 1): • General visitors require layered interpretation that offers something for everyone, regardless of knowledge, ability or interest in a subject • Local people are interested in the local significance of your site. It can often be beneficial to involve locals in the project planning. • Children love to play, and have a short attention span. Simple activities, games and interactive displays are best, and should be family orientated, fun and easy to use. • Repeat visitors don’t want to see the same thing twice. They require changing displays that offer something new on a regular basis. • Specialist interest visitors are looking for more in-depth material, and require more detailed information than a general visitor will be interested in. • Formal learning groups require interpretation to be linked to the national curricula or their particular learning programme or (further, higher and adult education) Your interpretation will provide a learning experience, so it is worth considering how people learn while undertaking your interpretive plan and design brief. People learn best when they are actively involved in any process, using as many senses as appropriate. In a survey by Lewis (1998)8, he found that visitors remember only 10% of what they hear; 30% of what they read; 50% of what they see; and amazingly 90% of what they do. It makes sense then, to design interpretation around these findings, and be aware that people learn best when they ‘do’ it. People are also more interested in subjects that relate to them personally, as Tilden describes “the visitor’s chief interest is in whatever touches his personality, his experiences, and his ideals”9. Common everyday experiences can help hook people into a subject, and allow them to relate to it in a personal and intimate way. Giving people expectations at the beginning of an activity can also help improve attention span and focus on an activity. John Veverka, author of “Interpretive Master Planning”, provides a neat summary of important learning principles: • Categories can blind us • First impressions are especially important • Unless helped we often fail to find, see or comprehend • To understand the parts, we must first see the whole • Discovery makes learning fun 8 9

as cited in Ververka, J., Interpretive Master Planning, Acorn Naturalists, California 1998 Tilden, F. Interpreting Our Heritage, University of North Carolina Press, 1957 7

• • • •

Meanings are in people, not words Information overload causes distortion and fatigue Simplicity and organisation clarify messages A picture can be worth a thousand words10

Access it There are a number of common barriers that block people’s enjoyment of a site, and can stop them from taking part or learning. It is important to remember that people do not have patience in an interpretative situation, if the interpretation doesn’t ‘work’ for them immediately, they will walk past. With careful planning and consideration, many of these barriers can be removed, and their learning experience improved. This is easiest to achieve when considered at an early design stage, and should be related to audience type: • Intellectual barriers make the content of interpretation difficult to understand, for example text that is too long and uses technical language. Being aware of this barrier is also about giving information in a variety of formats so that if people don’t or cannot read they can access the content in other ways. • Sensory barriers make interpretation difficult to see, hear or otherwise sense, for example text that is too small to read. • Physical barriers make interpretation difficult to access, for example a display that is too high for children and people in wheelchairs to use. • Cultural barriers fail to reflect the cultural perspectives of different audiences, for example interpretation only in English at a site visited by many foreign tourists or closely linked to an immigrant community. • Financial barriers exclude people on low incomes, for example a site with a parking charge, an entrance charge and a further charge for an audio tour. • Organisational barriers exclude visitors because of the way the interpretation is provided – for example an events programme running only during midweek.11 There are simple and practical ways in which you can overcome these barriers, and where possible you should follow nationally recognised accessible design guidelines in creating any interpretation. Within the UK, under the Disability Discrimination Act (UK) it is unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably. You must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the way you deliver your services so that disabled people can use them. This means that if you provide interpretation you should do this in a way that considers the needs of people with disabilities.


Ververka, J., Interpretive Master Planning, Acorn Naturalists, California 1998


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Select for it Once you have identified your theme, your aims and objectives, and your audience, it is then time to give consideration to which types of media are most relevant to your interpretive project. You may wish to consider using specialists to provide advice in this respect. The Heritage Lottery Fund provides some helpful guidelines on working with designers and consultants (see Appendix 2). Many types of media are available. It is important to choose media appropriate to your site and content. Each media type has good points and bad points, some are more costly than others, and some require more maintenance than others. Before you commit to the media type, make sure you have available resources to cover maintenance. It is possible that more than one media type will be required for your project. This can be especially helpful in reinforcing a theme. Remember that different people learn in different ways, having more than one ‘experience’ on offer can increase learning opportunity. Media type Live interpretation: tours, walks and demonstrations

Pros • usually regarded as the most effective interpretive medium; • very responsive because an experienced interpreter will tailor each presentation to their audience; • provides opportunities for volunteers and staff to have direct contact with visitors; • can incorporate a Sign Language presentation for hearing impaired visitors

Cons • usually only reaches a limited audience; • is restricted to when the tour or demonstration takes place; • can require significant administration and marketing; • can be expensive in terms of staff costs in the long term. • can be ubiquitous, giving rise to the ‘not another panel’ syndrome; • can be intrusive in unspoilt landscapes and environments. If you use outdoor panels you should consider very carefully where to site them so they serve a useful function without detracting from the landscape, townscape, architecture or archaeology.

Panels and graphic displays (e.g. graphic panels)


Media type Low tech interactives (e.g. story sacks, simple games and activities, colouring in sheets, dressing up)

High tech interactives (e.g. working models, or mechanical apparatus with moving parts)

Pros • a good way to target family groups and encourage children and adults to learn together; • keeps children occupied, which can be an important benefit to their parents/ carers; • can be linked to the relevant national curricula; • can be revenue generating if sold. • can be very effective; • relatively cheap and robust; • generally these are tried-andtested designs. • an excellent way to encourage hands-on interactivity; • can be a powerful touchstone’ with the subject matter; • dressing up encourages children especially to imagine and play in character; • can truly delight children and adults. • can be very effective.


Cons • need space to store them; • can be heavy on administration – need checking and replacing after use. • can be a bit simplistic for adult audiences; • need daily checking to make sure everything works and there are no broken pieces causing a hazard; • may need to be regularly reset by staff (for example a jigsaw that has to be taken apart for the next child to use).

• usually complex and often expensive to produce and maintain; • can date as technology moves on.

Media type Audio (e.g. audio tours, listening points and audio presentations)

Publications (e.g. leaflets, booklets and guidebooks)

Pros • can be very evocative, especially if the presentation makes good use of sound effects and creative editing; • a good medium for presenting dialogue and first-person narrative; • a good medium for bi-lingual and multi-lingual content; • audio can encourage visitors to look and listen at the same time; • audio is a good medium for visually impaired people; • audio tours can make use of visitors’ own equipment such as mobile phones and MP3 players; • audio tours are a good aid for orientation and general way finding; • audio tours can avoid the need for permanent installations in a sensitive landscape; • mobile phone audio tours can generate automatic evaluation feedback, and can potentially provide an income. • can contain significant amounts of information; • leaflets and booklets are small enough to be carried around a site and can aid orientation and visitor information; • leaflets and booklets are usually cheap to produce; • guidebooks are a take-home memento and can help market a site when shown to friends and family; • can be revenue generating (especially guidebooks); • large print options can be provided for visual impaired people.


Cons • headphones can isolate visitors from one-another.

• need space to store them; • can be off-putting when poorly designed; • can be out of date if something about a site changes.

Media type Websites

Social media: (e.g. YouTube, wikies, blogs, social networking sites) Live interpretation: performances and theatrical events

Multimedia (e.g. computer based interactives and games)

Pros • a vital tool for marketing, visitor information and pre-and post visit activities; • reaches a very large audience; • can be used for downloadable audio tours (podcasts) and site leaflets; • can contain interactive games and activities; • can provide up-to-date reports, for example of recent bird sightings, the latest archaeological find, or a forthcoming guided walk; • can contain a special education area for teachers with curriculum related activities and learning exercises; • can contain large text versions of your interpretive publications. • strong appeal to young people; • reaches a large audience; • cheap to set up and maintain. • costumed characters can be powerful interpretive tools; • can create a very evocative sense of place; • can create an entertaining spectacle that becomes a core part of the visitor experience.

• strong appeal to children and young people; • allows the presentation of a large amount of material in a small physical space; • can provide a virtual ‘tour’ of a site or building, especially for older people or people with disabilities; 12

Cons • can exclude visitors without access to the internet; • needs to be regularly updated and maintained.

• can exclude visitors without access to the internet; • requires daily monitoring. • usually only reaches a limited audience; • is restricted to when the performance takes place; • requires suitable performance space and can be spoiled by inclement weather; • can require significant administration and marketing; • a relatively expensive option. • can exclude audiences who are not comfortable with technology; • relatively expensive; • can usually only be used by one or two people at a time; • can date as technology moves on.

Media type

Audio-visual (e.g. still images, film and video)

Tactile media (e.g. etched metal plaques, braille and swell, embossed or vacuum formed paper, 3D models for people to feel. Arts media (e.g. sculpture, poetry, mosaics and murals)


Pros • digital presentations can potentially be transferred to other media such as a website; • can provide opportunities for volunteers, especially young people, to help new users by showing them what to do. • can be a very effective and immersive experience; • can be a good way to introduce a site and a range of themes and messages in a single presentation; • if produced digitally can potentially be available on a website; • can be projected onto blank walls or glass instead of screens, thereby avoiding disturbance to a historic building. • excellent media for visually impaired people; • extends the sensory experience for sighted visitors; • can be used as part of a rubbing trail or activity pack for children. • have strong creative appeal; • a good medium for engaging audiences at an emotional level; • public art can be a pleasing feature for regular visitors each time they come; • can be a good way to involve local people and schools • can be a good way to celebrate a site, event or collection; • enhances a sense of place.


• relatively expensive to produce; • can be distracting; • can date as technology moves on; • can result in bottlenecks as visitors emerge from a presentation in a group.

• only a small proportion of visually impaired people read braille; • not good for complex or colour images. • may not be effective at communicating specific messages; • can be expensive; • some visitors can object to spending public money on arts projects.

Whatever media you chose for your interpretation, it is the quality of the content that matters most. Poorly-conceived, written, designed or presented material will fail, however appealing the media. 12

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• • • • •

Each piece of outdoor interpretation should clearly and specifically relate to features, objects, or events in their immediate surroundings: For fixed media such as panels, it should be possible to see the subject of the interpretation from the location of the panel; For media such as leaflets designed for use on the move, the interpretation should refer to specific features that can be seen or otherwise appreciated when exploring the site. Fixed interpretation should use materials sympathetic to the surroundings and be located so it does not impinge on the character of a site or building. Effective use should be made of pictures and graphics. They should: o be clear and easily understood; o be visually stimulating; o have a clear relationship to the text; o complement the text, or what your visitors can see, rather than duplicate it.


Write it Interpretive text writing is a skill, distinct from other forms of writing. Writing interpretation is more like writing a letter to a friend than a report for a committee or an academic essay. It needs enthusiasm, rhythm and life in its language. When writing, think about what will interest your readers, not what you want to tell them. Try to find ways to connect your subject to their experience, interests and culture. Get points across by referring to things they can see, touch, smell or hear. Where appropriate, suggest things for them to do, look for, discuss or think about. But vary the way to do this – too many bald statements can sound abrupt. Vary the length of your sentences. Aim for an average of ten to twenty words per sentence, and use short paragraphs – less than 50 words. This is shorter than you’ll find in books or official reports. Shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs usually make text easier to read. Paragraphs should be short and focused – people tend to skim read panels and dart from one section to another in no particular order. To help make the text easier to read, keep each paragraph focused on one single idea. Make sure each paragraph is understandable without having to read what comes before or after. Simple, short words make your text more accessible. If you need to include technical terms, explain them in the main text or in brackets the first time you use them. Beware! Words that seem common to you may not be familiar to your audience. In meeting the needs of a wide audience be careful not to dumb down the content for those who wish to know more. “Keeping it simple is not about dumbing down, it is about giving all your visitors the best possible chance of understanding what you are trying to say.”13 Using a layered approach can help with this. One way of doing this is by developing a text hierarchy. This means using titles and introductory panels that clearly communicate the ‘big’ idea, then using secondary panels to provide more detailed information for those with a more specialist interest. These are the usual text categories, and their functions. Maximum word counts Titles Title of the panel, and sections within it. 5 They should give a clear indication of what the section is about. They also need to ‘entice’ readers. Main introductory This block of text introduces the main theme 120 text panel of the panel. This is a vital piece of text: it should tell visitors what the panel is all about and hook them in enough to encourage them to read on. Secondary text These should relate to sub-themes within 100 panel the main theme. These sections can be used to give more in-depth information for visitors with a specialised interest. Picture captions These are powerful bits of text. Many people 30 who don’t read the rest of the text will read the captions. When writing text: 13

Emma Morehouse, SMC Museums Officer, Communicating with your Visitors August 2004 pg. 5 15

Explain difficult concepts by relating them to something familiar. Use analogies and metaphors to help explain difficult ideas or concepts. ‘A blue whale’s heart is as big and heavy as a small car’ rather than. ‘A blue whale’s heart weighs 450kg (1,000 pounds)’.

Use the expressions and language you’d use if you were talking to someone. ‘We bought this vase in 1979’ rather than ‘The Council purchased the vase in 1979’. Do you tell your friends that you’re going down to the shops to purchase some bananas? Try reading your draft to a friend (they’ll be more objective than a colleague) and get them to tell you when it sounds too official.

Involve your reader by addressing them directly as ‘you’. If you need to refer to your organisation, try using ‘we’. This gives your writing a more personal feel. It also makes it clear that the writing is one person’s viewpoint, rather than objective and absolute truth. You could find a remarkable degree of hostility to this idea, and in some circumstances it may not be acceptable.

Use pictures, diagrams, maps or graphs to get your messages across. Make picture captions work hard! Use them to reinforce your message, and add to what visitors can see in the picture: don’t just describe it.

Use active verbs rather than passive where possible. For example, try: ‘We can use evidence from below ground to reconstruct the past’ rather than ‘Evidence from below ground can be used to reconstruct the past.’ Too much use of the passive sounds guarded and dull. It can also give the impression that things happen ’by themselves’, removing people from the story. However, the passive form is appropriate: o If you are concerned with the object (the person or thing affected by something that’s happened) than the agent (the person or thing doing it). Newspaper reporters would write ‘Buckingham Palace was destroyed by fire this morning’ rather than ‘Fire destroyed Buckingham Palace this morning’. o If the agent is obvious or unimportant: ‘The noise could be heard all over town’ rather than ‘Everybody could hear the noise all over town’.

Use dialect words as they would normally be used. Dialect is an integral part of our everyday lives and should be an integral part of our interpretation too! Dialect words should be presented in a way that show they are used in everyday life and are not obscure or novelty words. However there is a need to highlight them, and explain what they mean, for visitors who are not used to the dialect and/or whose first language is different to yours. Dialect words should be used within the main body of text, but slightly italicised to help distinguish them, with the equivalent word in your first language (e.g. English) in brackets e.g. ‘She is carrying a kishie (straw basket) on her back.’ There are many variations of spelling of dialect and where possible one source should be used.

Have a non-specialist read your draft content to check it is clear and jargon-free. Make sure you allow plenty of time for proofreading and editing as mistakes can be costly to correct later. Print it 16

Clear print is a design approach endorsed in many countries, and developed in the UK by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, that considers the needs of people with sight problems. Simply put, a clear print document will find a wider audience. Solutions are straightforward and inexpensive, focusing on basic design elements. The following guidelines are based on advice from RNIB and Disability Shetland. For more information go to •

• • • • • • • • • • • • •

Text should not be underlined or in italics, as it makes it more difficult read; different line weights, or inverted commas, should be used instead. The exception to this is dialect and Old Norse words; these should be slightly italicised. Block capitals are also difficult to read, and some readers have trouble recognising the shape of the letters. Block capitals are to be avoided, however the exception to this is boat names and book titles; these should be set out in SMALL CAPS. Take care to ensure that text is always against a plain background that provides sufficient contrast. Avoid setting text on a patterned or textured background. Blocks of text are to be aligned to the left margin only. This allows the reader to find the start and finish of a sentence easily, and keeps the spaces between words the same size. Document text size should be 12-14 pt, preferably 14 pt. Make sure panel text is large enough to be easily read from where the panel will be viewed The font you choose should be clear, avoiding anything stylised Use bold sparingly, only highlight a few words rather than a paragraph Keep the text layout clear, simple and consistent The substrate or coatings should not be glossy or reflective Ensure the paper is thick enough to prevent show through The contrast between the text and background is as high as possible All text should be the same orientation on the page Space between columns of text is large enough to be distinct Any information conveyed in colour or through images is also described


Evaluate it Evaluation is the part of the process that is easiest to ignore. However evaluation should be carried out before you begin and during your project to inform the process, and afterwards to help improve future projects. Evaluation helps ensure that you are achieving what you intended to. Front-end analysis is done at the start of a project and aims to find out what your visitors are interested in, or already know or feel about a subject. This information can be used to help determine exactly what areas you want to interpret. Formative evaluation is done during the content and design development stage, and is used to discover whether a draft script, computer game or design layout is working. This can be extremely useful and should be a part of any larger interpretation project (£50,000+) – but do make sure this is built into your design brief, timetable and budget. If you are providing interpretation for an audience with specific needs, such as visually impaired people, you should consult with them and test your ideas and designs to ensure they work. If you are interpreting a potentially contentious or emotive subject, you should consider involving representatives of the relevant audience groups in your editorial process. Summative evaluation is done at the end of a project and is used to determine whether the resulting interpretation is meeting its objectives. You should use this information to make future adjustments to your interpretation and to help others learn from your experience. There is a range of evaluation data-gathering techniques such as questionnaire surveys, focus groups and visitor observation. These observations can measure indicators such as the ‘stopping power’ and ‘holding power’ of a display (i.e. the proportion of people who stop at a display, and how long they spend reading or interacting with it). Whichever techniques you choose you should make sure they will give you the information you need in a cost-effective way.14


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Contacts Project co-ordinators Arild Bergström Siri Ingvaldsen

Sogn og Fjordane County, Norway (lead partner) Berit Gjerland Gulen Municipality, Norway Anne-Karin Misje Thingvellir National Park, Iceland Einar Á E Sæmundsen Kunnigarstovan, Faroe Ingigerð Á Trøðni

Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Eileen Brooke-Freeman Orkney College, Orkney Sarah Jane Gibbon Highland Council, Scotland Liz Cowie Manx National Heritage, Isle of Man Andrew Foxon


Further reading Some of these books may be out of date, but are worth trying to source. Beck, L., and Cable, T., Interpretation for the 21st century, Sagamore Publishing, Illinois, 2002 This excellent book introduces the classics of interpretation, then covers everything from the bigger picture to the details of specific practices. Carter, J (ed.), A Sense of Place: An interpretive planning handbook, Tourism and the Environment Initiative, 1997. Download from This practical handbook on interpretive planning is very clearly written and especially useful for those new to interpretation. Ham, S., Environmental Interpretation: A practical guide for people with big ideas and small budgets, North America Press, Colorado, 1992 This very accessible publication is a valuable and comprehensive source of information, practical tips and advice. Leftridge, A., Interpretive Writing, InterPress, 2006 A good handbook on writing effective interpretive copy. Pearce, S.M., Interpreting Objects and Collections, Routledge, 1994 A review of the role of interpretation in presenting museum-based materials and collections to the public. Pert, T., History in your hands: using mobile devices in heritage interpretation, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, 2008. Available from the RCAHMW website or An up-to-date bi-lingual publication on the use of mobile technology in heritage interpretation using case studies and giving advice on hardware and software, with lists of further published and website resources. Rayner, A., Access in Mind: Towards the Inclusive Museum, National Museums of Scotland Publishing Ltd, 1998 This practical handbook contains very useful guidance on designing interpretation for people with learning or communication difficulties. Regnier, K., Gross, M. and Zimmerman, R., The Interpreter’s Guideboook Techniques for Programs and Presentations, UW-SP Foundation Press Inc., University of Wisconsin, 1992 This easy to use guidebook has been a long time standard to train interpreters on how to deliver effective presentations and walks. It is also an excellent refresher for professionals in the field. Serrel, B., Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, AltaMira Press, California, 1996 A vital reference tool for all exhibit professionals.


Tilden, F., Interpreting Our Heritage, University of North Carolina Press, 1957 This seminal work is the best introduction to interpretation and its philosophy. Trapp, S., Gross, M., and Zimmerman, R., Signs, Trails and Wayside Exhibits: Connecting People and Places, UW-SP Foundation Press Inc., University of Winsconsin, 1992 A comprehensive, visual guide to planning, designing and fabricating effective interpretive panels and trails. Contains useful reference material for planning outdoor media or trails. Veverka, J., Interpretive Master Planning, Acorn Naturalists, California, 1994 This essential planning guide offers a easy to follow, step by step approach to planning exhibits and programs. Useful websites pretation.pdf Other online resources BT Countryside for All, 2005 (extended CD edition) Available from the Fieldfare Trust: Tel: 01334 657708 This highly practical guideline document includes a section on how to develop and design interpretive facilities that are inclusive and accessible to disabled people, with advice on matters such as accessible text size and panel height. Carter, J., Masters, D., What have we got and is it any good? A practical guide on how to survey and assess heritage interpretation, Highland Interpretive Strategy Project, Inverness, 1999. Download from This report is a useful guide on auditing and assessing existing interpretation. Community Walking and Interpretation toolkit, Brecon Beacons National Park Download from This toolkit offers guidance and help to communities wanting to develop local interpretation and walks for visitors. It takes you through the stages involved in researching and planning as well as offering practical advice. See It Right, Royal National Institute of Blind People Available from the RNIB on-line shop The book and accompanying CD-Rom provides guidelines and advice on producing accessible print information, details of producing audio and Braille information, and guidelines on using common software packages. 21

Standards and Guidelines: A good practice guide to disabled people’s access in the countryside Sign Design Guide, Sign Design Society and Joint Mobility Unit Available from the RNIB online shop, This is a useful guide about the siting and design of accessible signage.


APPENDIX 1 ACTIVITY SHEETS Activity Sheet 1, Identify your audience Use this form to help you think about different groups that your audience can be divided into, and their specific characteristics. You may not need, or be able, to provide a different form of interpretation for them all, but you can use the list to decide which are your priority groups. Identifiable audience group

What interests What How often do How long do or expectations background do they visit? they stay? do they have? they have?


Activity Sheet 2, Identify your theme Theme generator15 1. Start by completing the sentence, ‘Generally, my exhibit (or talk, leaflet etc.) is about ___________.’ This will be a topic, like a library classification, for example ‘birds’. 2. Write another sentence, this time beginning ‘Specifically, I want to tell my audience about ______________.’ Perhaps you might write ‘nocturnal birds’. 3. Do the same again, this time completing the sentence. ‘After looking at my exhibit (or hearing my talk, etc.), I want my audience to understand that _______________.’ This time, what you write is a theme. It should work as a sentence in its own right, for example: ‘Because they’re rarely seen, nocturnal birds are the subject of many superstitions.’


Ham, S., Environmental Interpretation, North America Press, 1992 24

Activity Sheet 3, Developing exhibits Use this form to help you plan each of your individual exhibits. They will help you build up a ‘picture’ for your project. You may end up with many of these forms, depending on how many interpretive elements your project has. As you develop your exhibits refer back to these forms to make sure you are achieving what you set out to. Project: Client: Exhibit: Overall theme: Specific subthemes covered by this exhibit: Exhibit title: Audience group: Learning objectives (what do you want people to learn from this exhibit?):

Behavioural objectives (how do you want to people to behave afterwards? Do you want to change any of their behaviours as a result?):


Emotional objectives (how do you want people to feel afterwards?):

Materials available for this exhibit (working list):

Exhibit presentation ideas:


APPENDIX 2 EXTRACT FROM HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND DOCUMENT Working with consultants and designers Interpretation is a specialist field and if you need to build in costs to use consultants and designers they must have a track record in the field. Some companies offer both design and consultancy, whilst others offer one and collaborate with others to undertake a complete project from start to finish. Unless you have specific expertise available within your project, you should consider the use of consultants and designers to produce your: • illustrations, designs and finished artwork; • copy and scriptwriting; • audio and AV production; • manufacture and installation; • project and production management; and • maintenance plans and service agreements. How to develop a brief You will get the best out of your contractors by having a well-written brief. This document should clearly describe your goals and the project’s background, scope, aims and objectives, outputs, timescales and ideally budget. You must allow a decent timetable for tendering (at least 3 weeks), with time set aside to meet potential contractors and discuss your project with them. For projects with a larger interpretive element (say £50,000+) you could consider a two-stage selection process with an initial call for interest followed by a shortlist of companies you wish to invite for a full tender and interview. You will usually get the best results by appointing the same contractor (or team of contractors) to plan, design and implement the interpretation. In this way you will ensure the best continuity between the different stages of your project. How to assess a tender In assessing a tender you should consider cost, quality and the contractor’s track record. Membership of the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI), the industry’s professional body, is a good indicator of a specialist supplier with an established knowledge of interpretation. In your assessment you should consider: • how the contractor has understood your brief; • their responsiveness to you; • the rigour of their project management and reporting procedures; • their references (and here it may help you to visit examples of their recent work or to telephone their previous clients); • how you think you will get on with them (you will be working closely together and delivering good interpretation is always a collaborative effort). You must also ensure that your contractor has adequate insurance cover and is qualified to produce the necessary risk assessments and method statements and undertake the proper handling of health and safety issues. 27

Community involvement There are a number of ways in which you can involve local people and communities in your interpretation, which might help you to meet our strategic aims on learning and participation. We can fund you to involve people in: Preparing your interpretation plan. For example, this might be through a series of focus groups, workshops or public meetings at which you discuss the significance and meaning of your heritage asset and invite their thoughts and contributions. This can be especially useful if you are interpreting public spaces such as a historic town, village or landscape. Developing the content of your interpretation. This might include the preparation of scripts or quotes for interpretive panels and museum displays, or community illustrations such as a Parish Map (a visual representation of the features of a local parish). Arts projects and activities, the outcome of which then becomes part of your interpretation. A good example would be an artist working with a school group to create an interpretive mosaic about a site. You can find out more about how to involve the local community in your project from our guidance Thinking about community participation. Training staff and volunteers You will need to consider the interpretation-related training needs of your staff and volunteers. This training could be very low cost and relate to practical matters such as how to: • operate your interpretation – for example, how to correctly switch computer touchscreens and video projectors on and off; • maintain your interpretation – for example, how to oil the pivot on a revolving interactive display, or which paint to use to touch-up a scratch on a display case. (This information should be provided for you in the operating and maintenance schedule prepared by your interpretive designers.) Or you might need to buy in training. We can fund you to provide training for staff and volunteers that is linked to your project, for example, in: • interpretive copywriting, both to produce the initial scripts and to update and refresh your interpretation in future; • facilitating workshops and consultation; and • offering live interpretation (including walks and talks, etc.) Being a good live interpreter is quite a skill and involves a range of techniques that can be learned and practised. You will also need to have a good knowledge of the subject you are interpreting, and be able to handle a number of visitor-related issues including health and safety, customer care and disability awareness. For more information on training please refer to our guidance Thinking about training.


APPENDIX 3 TEXT STANDARDS Sizes and measurements should be stated in metric, with the imperial equivalent in brackets ‘This broch was 10 metres high (20 feet)’. If the historical context means the imperial size has significance, the rule should be reversed, "Duncan had orders for 14-foot (** metre) keel fourareens". Dates can be difficult to grasp and are sometimes better explained in words. ‘This pot sherd was found about 3,000 years ago’ rather than ‘This pot sherd was found 1000 BC’. Be specific with dates, and avoid vague time periods. ‘1900-1930’ is more informative than ‘early 20th century’. Try to use either the specific date (1923), specific decade (1920s), or circa (c.1920). When using circa, do not use italics, do not leave a space e.g. “c.1900”. AD should only be added to dates under AD 1000, and should be added as a prefix. BC should be added as a suffix ‘3200 BC’. More specifically: • • • • • • • • • •

Use AD as a prefix, and only for dates under 1000. ‘3000 BC’ but ‘AD 83’. Numbers should be entered as numerals. Only numbers under ten to be written as words. Title Case to be used only for proper nouns and names Species names to be Title Case, e.g. ‘Atlantic Cod’, but ‘cod’ would be lower case as there are many different types of cod. All headings to be Sentence case – avoid use of FULL CAPS Boat names and book names to be in SMALL CAPS Ensure place names mentioned in text are labelled on maps Photo credits to be small and discrete Orientation arrows should be added to all maps, and maps orientated with north to the top. THING Project logo to be applied top left. Refer to Graphic Profile guidelines for use of partner logos, EU logos and colour bar.


THING Project Interpretive Guidelines  

This document gives a broad outline of the major aspects involved in interpretation, and provides guidance to all partners in the THING Proj...

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