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What to interpret


Before you begin interpretive planning, you should be clear as to what you want to interpret. Are you interpreting a collection of objects, or an historic building, or a combination of the two? Are you interpreting a specific event, or an individual’s life, or a particular time period? Are the objects that make up your collection connected in any way? Would it be beneficial to interpret this relationship?

The best approach for interpreting a modern art collection might differ from the best approach for interpreting the personal life of an individual, for example, but the same approach might work for both. It is important to take an open-minded approach and plan what works for your organisation, your users, and whatever you are interpreting.

Considering interpretation

Before deciding what to interpret, think about what is special or unique about your collection or site. It can be useful to view your collection or site with fresh eyes. Consider:

  • The meanings that can be revealed or suggested through different combinations of objects.
  • The stories you can tell through carefully considered combinations of objects.
  • How the resources you are working with will impact on your interpretive possibilities
  • What in particular will be of interest to your primary audience?
  • What else is being interpreted in your local area? How do your plans relate to this?

To help you be aware of this you will need to know who your primary audiences are, and what your desired outcomes for this interpretation will be.

In order to objectively determine the above, it is important to discuss these considerations with as wide a group as possible, including your museum’s workforce, stakeholders and targeted user groups. This is important to do at an early stage so that it is not only one person's interests being interpreted or given an undue weighting.

You could hold a discussion session to discover which ideas, or themes, are most significant, popular, or worth telling. Discussing this with a group of people should reveal themes that either recur, or appear as one-off suggestions. This will help you to identify the main theme or sub themes that should flow through your interpretation, whilst eliminating others that are simply personal favourites.

Learn more

Interpretive Planning

Why do you want to produce this interpretation?

If you would like to discuss any of this further, please contact our Collections and Engagement Manager.

Thanks to Michael Hamish Glen, Principal of Touchstone Heritage Management Consultants for proofreading these pages.