This page explains the interpretive planning process, looks at what interpretive plans cover and explores why they are necessary.
Plans can be produced for nature reserves, parks, historic sites, zoos – wherever interpretation is going to be provided for visitors. While often focused on outdoor interpretation, they can also plan for indoor spaces like visitor centres.
Most interpretive plans relate to a single site, or a group of closely related sites, but plans can also be produced that encompass all the sites in a county or wider region.
WHAT IS INTERPRETIVE PLANNING?
Interpretive planning is a straightforward process that involves finding the answers to some basic questions:
Who? Who will this interpretation be for? Who should we target and what do we know about them? We refer to visitors who may experience interpretation at a site as the ‘interpretive audience’.
What? What is at this site that could be interpreted? How do we prioritise what’s important and how accessible are these features?Features at a site are referred to as ‘interpretive assets’.
Why? Why are we providing interpretation at this site? What do we want to achieve? The answer to this will take the form of ‘interpretive objectives’.
How? How can we best deliver interpretation about the assets we have, which meets our objectives, that is steered towards the audience that’s here? Which media should we use and what messages should we communicate? The actual panels, leaflets, digital content, guided walks, activities etc, are known as ‘interpretive provision’ or ‘interpretive interventions’.
The end product of this process is an interpretive plan – a document that sets out how interpretation is going to be delivered at the site(s) in question.
WHAT DOES AN INTERPRETIVE PLAN COVER?
The core of any interpretation plan will be a set of recommendations and plans that will set out how interpretation should be delivered at the site(s) in question. This can include both guided interpretation (e.g. guided walks, talks, activities) and self-guided interpretation (e.g. panels, leaflets, online content).
The rest of the plan will explain how these recommendations or projects were arrived at: a process of bringing together information about the interpretive assets, the audience and the objectives of site managers. There will usually be an ‘inventory’ of interpretive assets, a set of audience profiles and clearly defined lists of learning, emotional and behavioural objectives.
As well as planning for interpretation in its strictest sense, interpretive plans also often cover other aspects of sites that are important to visitor experience – orientation and wayfinding, visitor information, visitor welcome, visitor management, formal education, recreation.
WHY ARE PLANS NECESSARY?
There are many reasons why organisations and groups decide to produce interpretation plans for their sites:
- Good planning ensures that interpretation is correctly targeted at the audience – interpretation that doesn’t take account of the audience may be ignored.
- It is useful to look at the site with a fresh eye and ask whether the assets you have been focusing on are the important ones. Have you overlooked anything? What is important to visitors may be different from what is important to you?
- Being clear about what you want to achieve through interpretation – what you want the audience to learn, what messages you want them to take away, how you want them to behave – can really help to focus your efforts, and not just with respect to interpretation.
- It’s good to look beyond the ‘obvious’ media that site managers often fall back on without questioning – are interpretation panels the best solution for your assets and audience? Can we be more innovative?
- Finally, producing interpretation can be costly, in terms of both the budget and the time involved; a plan will ensure that resources are used effectively.