BM interpretation team in Aswan
Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation & Volunteers, British Museum and Jane Batty, Interpretation Manager, British Museum
Broadly speaking, interpretation is anything that helps visitors make sense of their visit to a museum. It could be wayfinding signage, a helpful suggestion from a member of staff, or a really well written label text. In order to develop effective interpretation, and to offer an excellent visitor experience, it is essential to maintain a visitor focused approach. However, there is a challenge there. When you work in a museum, it is inevitable that sooner or later you begin to stop seeing and experiencing it like a member of the public. It also becomes easier to forget that not all visitors experience the museum’s displays and facilities in the same way.
To get everyone involved in the International Training Programme thinking from the visitor’s point of view, we split into four groups, each adopting the perspective of a different group of visitors. Each group then spent an hour exploring the beautiful Nubian Museum from that particular point of view.
One group adopted the perspective of a family group with two young children. Anyone who has visited a museum with children will tell you that it is the youngest child that drives the visit; once the youngest child loses interest, everyone else’s visit can become less enjoyable quite quickly…! Another group looked at the visit from the point of view of time-limited American tourists who were keen to focus on the highlights of the collection. The third adopted the point of view of a school teacher on a pre-visit, looking at how they might bring a group of pupils for a cross-curricular visit to the museum. And the final group looked at the building and displays from the point of view of a group visiting with a family member with access needs.
After the visit the four groups reconvened and each fed back their thoughts about what they found particularly helpful and where there were challenges. The group shared their ideas about how the visitor experience could have been enriched even further for ‘their audiences. The groups also made suggestions about how to help their adopted audience plan in advance, or to support them post-visit. The session generated lots of discussion and debate and got everyone thinking about the places where they work – who does their museum cater for particularly well? Where might there be opportunities to enhance the visitor experience?
I have been in Egypt for less than 48 hours and what a lot we have packed in so far. This is my first visit to the country and I have been bowled over by the views of Aswan, the Nile snaking into the distance and the desert beyond. Everyone here has been tremendously friendly and welcoming. We are based at the Nubian Museum for the ITP – an impressive museum with a fabulous collection.
Yesterday was spent preparing and today began with a music and dance performance arranged by the Nubian Museum to officially launch proceedings. My British reserve meant I was a bit apprehensive when we were invited up on stage to join in, but we soon got into the swing!
Today we heard a series of inspiring talks about interpretation by colleagues from the UK, India and Uganda. There was plenty of food for thought on the challenges organisations face, the creative ways they are being overcome, and exciting plans for the future.
I was pleased to discuss examples of Room 3 projects and to share what we have learnt from evaluating them that has helped inform interpretation at the British Museum.
The day ended with the visitor experience task, where each group adopted the perspective of a different audience, which was taken on with gusto. It was great to see the ‘teachers’ asking to see the school room and the ‘American tourists’ making enquiries in the foyer. All the groups put thought and care into the exercise and generated plenty of feedback and good suggestions.
It’s a pleasure to meet colleagues from such a range of organisations who are passionate about delivering an excellent visitor experience, and I’m looking forward to our interpretation workshops tomorrow.