3.6 Best Practice: Telling the Story

What We’re Hearing

Weak partnerships affect the ways that stories are told at historic sites, limiting the development of sound interpretive strategies that effectively engage citizens and visitors. Interpretation is most often addressed almost entirely by operators with the support of third parties and high level oversight of site owners.

Owners may work more closely on interpretive projects in the case of some publicly owned sites, such as Parks Canada sites, where owners hold interpretive expertise. Programming becomes restrictive and potentially poor when owners enact too much control over interpretive development, or when political perspectives of a government limit storytelling.

Another common issue exists in the logistics of offering public programming and events, as operators and third parties find themselves challenged by impractical permit requirements or restrictive policies, regulations, and public access imposed on by site owners.

Best Practices

Interpretation, programming, and community engagement are essential to animating sites to render meaning in the public realm and relevancy to people’s lives. Sites that are thriving are usually communicating stories in innovative ways, drawing on place-based histories to address contemporary themes and issues. Mutual trust must be established between partners so that those responsible for animating the site can do so with freedom, flexibility, and creative vision that re-imagines the function of historic sites as socially relevant spaces.

Best Practices for Owners

  • Maintain control over liabilities while providing operators with enough freedom and flexibility to lead the development of programming.
  • Encourage operators/third parties to address current topics that align with community needs - without imposing too much direction.
  • Try collaborating in your programming. Can you include the operators/third parties of the site in your own event planning?
  • Don’t make it harder for operators and third parties to animate the site! Explore ways to exempt them from unnecessary permits or offer a reduced partner rate. Understand that your partners are trying to create cultural and recreational experiences for the public that benefit the community.
  • Best Practices for Operators

  • Pay attention to the goals, objectives, and community interests of the owner and design your programming to reflect it, on a high level.
  • Advocate for a diversification of the stories you tell – you may need to demonstrate the traditional approach of historic sites is being re-envisioned.
  • Don’t forget your primary role as keeper of the site’s stories. It is easy to become distracted by financial and operational responsibilities. If you are limited in your ability to fully address interpretation, consider involving a third party to focus on animating the site.
  • Consider collaborating with the site owner to develop stronger programming, or with other sites under the same ownership.
  • Private operators: Don’t exclude third parties working to integrate interpretation and public use into the site, try to find compromise in allowing public access that does not affect private events/rentals so that the site’s history can still be told.
  • Try This – Owners, Operators, and Third Parties

    Too often, sites are fully engaged in the business of staying alive and interpretation falls to the wayside. Try having an annual board/committee meeting of all partners that examines the year’s interpretive offerings and provides feedback on each event’s successes and difficulties. Formulate the discussion into direction to continue moving the interpretive program forward.

    Point Ellice House

    Photo Credit: Point Ellice House