Interpretation planning

Having got a general idea of the potential of a place for interpretation, some planning will be necessary This will ensure that the interests of the organization :md of the visitor will be harmonized, and that the; best methods are employed for the situation.

As in any plan there must be some management objectives, expressed in terms of outcomes from the interpretation programme for the organization and for the visitor. These can be described in the following ways.

– Behavioural: what it is hoped the visitor will do as a result of participating in the programme. This might be to visit particular places, to show more care for fragile areas, to purchase a souvenir, or make a donation.

– Learning: what the visitor is expected to take away from the visit. This might be some salient facts about the place and its evolution or development, or events and personalities connected with it.

– Emotional: what it is hoped the visitor will feel as a result of their visit. This might be a belief that the place and associated features or wildlife should

be protected, that management of special sites is a good thing, and that the organization is doing a goodjob.

Once the objectives have been established, the messages or stories that the interpretation should convey can be developed. There might be one message for a small site or several for a larger one. There is a risk that too many messages can cause confusion, so a single strong theme with a few variations is likely to be the most effective. This theme can be presented in different ways for different people, such as adults or children.

The message should be organized in a hierarchical way, with a main title or slogan that encapsulates the key elements of an issue or the character of the landscape. The main theme can be divided into subsidiary themes with appropriate titles and contents lists, each containing a summary part and a detailed part. In this way, whatever the medium employed to convey the message, its coherence will be maintained, and every visitor should be able to obtain as much or as little of the message as is desired, depending on the circumstances prevailing for a particular visit.

The objectives, message structure and content should be kept under review. Perceptions may change, knowledge may become out of date, and visitor characteristics may shift over time. It is important that the interpretation should meet its objectives and maintain its learning quality at all times.

The theme and the story-lines should be worked up into a script, much like an advertising campaign. Different media may be required for different sections of the script depending on the most effective way of conveying a particular part of the message to particular audiences.

It is often helpful to plot the interpretative plan on a map, indicating the location for different stories with their associated media: in this way the interactions of the interpretation can be monitored by the site managers.

There may be several stages in delivering the message, depending on how the site is expected to be visited. For example, at the entrance pay stations of

US National Parks the visitor is handed a brochure. This introduces the park and provides some orientation. It also contains the basic story-line of what is special about the place, its history and the main interpretative themes.

Often one of the first places to visit is a visitor centre, normally containing an exhibition devoted to the natural and cultural history of the site and its development, using well-designed display panels, models, artefacts and interactive displays with computer software or simple ‘feely-touchy’ samples. In addition there will usually be one or more audiovisual shows, which provide a general introduction to the area using film, video or tape/slide. Breathtaking photos of the landscape over four seasons, the wildlife and human interaction and activities reinforce the quality, fragility and value of the landscape. Visitors are invited to explore it for themselves. A shop area full of books, pamphlets and souvenirs gives people a chance to purchase mementoes or useful articles such as maps, and finally some refreshments may be provided.

Once the visitor centre has been experienced (some parks have more than one, each dealing with a different part of the interpreted message), the visitors may follow the park road, stopping to look at the view (where interpretative panels explain what can be seen), to hike a loop trail (accompanied by a trail leaflet or stopping to look at signs by the route explaining the features of interest) or to picnic, swim, back-country hike or ride, camp or otherwise stay there. There could also be a programme of guided walks, where rangers will take people on varying lengths of hike on easy or difficult trails to see and learn about different aspects in detail.

Children will be provided with their own version of this menu at various points: parts of the exhibition, explanatory talks, a film or slide show appealing to them as well as adults, and the souvenir shop selling items attractive by design and price to different age groups.

People with disabilities will also be catered for, perhaps by barrier-free trails, interpretative signs in Braille, or with audio facilities.

Such an extensive menu of interpretation at a large site of national or international importance has more material than can be consumed during a single visit. Thus repeat visits are encouraged to find something new, especially if temporary exhibits further expand the variety from time to time.

The menu described above introduces the main forms of interpretative media available to interpreters and graphic designers. It is important that the right media are chosen, and that simpler rather than complex solutions are chosen. Not every site requires every medium to be used.