More than school visits: a big opportunity for heritage sites to support schools post Covid-19

Lockdown measures in the UK are continuing to ease.

The government is planning for all pupils to return to school in September.

School visit destinations are reviewing the way that school visits can be delivered and planning new ways to inspire young minds safely.

For many heritage sites, adapting school visits to enable social distancing presents a challenge.

But with the right support and planning, museums, botanic gardens, and other cultural spaces and natural settings have the opportunity to support schools post-lockdown by providing additional space and teaching resources for classes under social distancing.

The Strategy for rapid provision of fit-for-purpose (Primary) School accommodation in existing cultural settings during times of social distancing is a must-read paper if your site facilitates school visits.

The paper shines a spotlight on the My Primary School is at the Museum (MPSM) project, a successful ongoing programme supported by King’s College London which has placed around 500 children into museums, galleries and botanic gardens for up to 11 weeks at a time. Through this programme, the children have received full-time, cross-curricular education.

The projects have ironed out logistical problems including safeguarding; toileting; refreshment; play-times; travel etc. through risk assessments and careful pre-project planning. The project is considered successful. It has been qualitatively evaluated, with significant quantities of raw material backing up a formal report.

Rolling out MPSM is an opportunity not just to meet a need but to provide excellent learning experiences right at the heart of our nation’s rich and varied heritage, art, culture and nature. It would turn our heritage resources into educational assets for a Covid-19 recovery.

The below Venn diagram outlines the many benefits MPSM has:

MPSM Venn diagram

If taken up by local authorities, this would not be a second class, work around kind of solution – it would provide world-class education via world-class innovation.

Shhh…..Secret Pointers from Successful National Lottery Heritage Fund Applicants

If you are embarking on the exciting and rather terrifying process of applying for a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), we have good news for you. The path to your goal is well-trodden, and the people that have been there before you haven’t just left clues.  They have been awesome enough to give you their words of advice, based on their own first-hand experiences of what you are about to go through.

Here at Heritage Insider, we have worked with over 30 organisations to raise more than £36m in National Lottery Heritage Fund grants since 2014.

Below, you’ll find plenty of helpful advice from your heritage industry peers. First though, let’s start with a bit of background about where the funding money comes from.

Jump to:

About the National Lottery Heritage Fund

The National Lottery was established in 1994 and along with it came the opportunity for good causes within the arts, charity, sports and heritage sector to apply for lottery funding to support their various projects. The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was given the responsibility for the distribution of the heritage share of the lottery funds in the UK and the lottery fund distribution arm of the NHMF subsequently became the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and more recently the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).

The heritage sector was allocated 20% of total funds raised from the sale of Lottery tickets and the then HLF expected to award around £430 million to new projects nationwide. Since its establishment in 1994, the National Lottery players have raised £34 billion which has helped support 450,000 projects across the UK!

Applying for NLHF funding

The National Lottery Heritage Fund offers a range of different grant programmes – from £3,000 to upwards of £5 million – and when allocating funding they take into consideration the size of the project, the outcomes for heritage and who it will benefit.

A big part of acquiring funding is to have a clear activity plan showing exactly how your project is going to benefit people, your community, your organisation and the heritage sector as a whole.

As part of our lottery bid mentoring service we can help you to develop a compelling activity plan, which will showcase the best of your project idea.

We also offer a project document review service. If you are writing your own application, we can support you by giving it a ‘health check’ for applications of any size.

So, what advice would successful NLHF applicants give?

1. Tell a good story

Tell a good story

Penny Williams is the Technical Director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust and a client who we worked with to mentor through the activity planning process.

Penny’s main advice is that your activity plan needs to tell a good story. “The main thing is to tell a good story – you don’t need to stick to the exact order, headings and content of the NLHF guidance docs. The main thing is that your proposal flows well, is really easy to read, and your key points are in there.”

The National Lottery Heritage Fund provides a number of guidance documents explaining exactly what they want to see, to enable you to tailor your application and activity plan to their standards, thus giving you a fighting chance at winning funding.

Penny adds that being certain about project outcomes is important and doing small pilot trials before submitting your application can be a good idea. “If you’re unsure about whether something in your project will work – do small trials (with a class/teachers in three contrasting schools for example) and add the results as an appendix”.

Another tip Penny would give to prospective grantees is regarding the formatting and details of the plan. “Keep the text really short and inspirational. Put all detail in tables and if necessary put extra info in the appendices/appendix tables.” Keeping text short and to the point will show that you know your project inside out and that you know exactly what you need to say.

Trudie Cole is Head of Access and Participation at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and we have worked with her on a number of projects.  She adds to Penny’s advice; “Try to distill your plans into three really clear aims for your project from the start.  Setting these aims will make the rest of the process much easier. You can map your activity plan to those three aims, and they will act as a guide for reporting and telling the story of your project.”

2. Evaluate from the start

Evaluate from the start

Evaluation, and re-evaluation, are important steps in every project. You need to ensure that the project is kept on track and that everything which needs to be considered is being considered. It can’t be an afterthought; in fact, it requires careful forethought.

Build reflection into the project as soon as you begin to design it”, says Trudie Cole. “Reflection and evaluation need to be formative and not just summative”.

The evaluation and consultation process of the project helps you to produce the best possible funding bid. We at Heritage Insider can help you to see things from a different angle and make your bid the best it can be.

3. Don’t forget the importance of engagement

It's all about people

As Penny Williams puts it: “It’s all about people, people, people, people!”

Marie Millward, Project Manager at Ignite Yorkshire, agrees.

“Do not lose sight of the outcomes your project will bring for people”, says Marie. “The best way to keep this central to your activity is to work your project from ‘people’ outwards. No matter what your type of heritage project, you need to ask ‘why are we doing this? Who is it for?’  If your project involves a structural build, it can be all too easy to get lost in that detail and I have seen this before. The human relationships to the project must be reflected in the project team and in the process from the beginning.”

It’s important that your project supports and involves people with sincerity, Marie advises:

“You need to have thought through, in a genuine way, how you are going to tailor your project to support underrepresented groups. Think ahead what the audience role in the process will be, for instance will it be a collaborative relationship? Make sure all project partners are on the same page about this too”.

Trudie Cole adds: “Think beyond the life span of your project, beyond the project legacy and consider how the project supports the bigger picture of your organisation in the very long term. Don’t just think of this process as chasing funding but use this opportunity to support strategic change in your organisation”.

4. Keep it real

Keep it real

Sorry to break this to you, but you are human. Even you heritage industry superheroes have limits to your time and resource. Striking the right balance between your ambitions and the available resources will help to ensure you do not overpromise and underdeliver.

Be strategic in relation to what you can offer for the money you are asking for”, advises Susan Palmer, Community Ranger at Sydney Gardens. “Make sure you are not overambitious in your plan.  National Lottery Heritage Fund want to see as much value as possible for their money and they encourage applicants to be ambitious, but you need to be realistic about your time and make sure your activity plan is achievable.  Once you start your project it will attract attention and energy, so build in capacity to expand and deliver on your proposed activity”.

Don’t think that you must rigidly execute your activity plan ‘come what may’”, advises Trudie Cole.  “It should be a working document that you revisit throughout the life of the project.  If things in the wider context change, you may need to make revisions to your activity plan.  So long as you have strong and focused outcomes, and you make sure you get those right, it doesn’t matter if you need to adapt the outputs or activities. Knowing the difference between what is aspirational and what is essential will help here. If you do need to make adaptations, be sure to keep National Lottery Heritage Fund informed”.

One of the keys to staying flexible in your delivery is in knowing where to be specific with detail in your activity plan. Marie Millward suggests:

“Don’t pin down the ‘how’ in too much detail at the start. The part of the project that requires detail is the process, not every step of the activity. Falling into this trap would mean that you are not able to be responsive, learn from the project and change things as you go along.  In our four-year project, we outlined the process in detail from the start, but we plan the activity yearly.  This gives us the flexibility to make change genuinely happen.  There is an alchemy in having a clear understanding of what to do but being flexible on the details of how to do it. The skills of an experienced Project Manager are required for walking that tightrope.”

Geoff Roberts, Chairman of Aire Rivers Trust who we recently worked with to write the activity plan for their DNAire project, adds “don’t underestimate the amount of work involved”.


There are several points covered here which are extremely important to consider in the application for funding.

Number one, you absolutely need to know your project inside and out. Know what it will involve, how you will implement it, and which programme you plan on applying to with the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Secondly, your project will need to benefit a community, or a group of people, and you need to know how it will contribute to the heritage sector as a whole.

The third thing to keep in mind is that you should begin the evaluation process from the very start of the project.

Lastly, strike the right balance between being ambitious and realistic. We all want to change the world, but you will need to consider the limits to time and resource.  Be strategic about working within those limits so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

How can we help?

Our team at Heritage Insider has provided project planning and mentoring services to over 30 organisations, helping them to acquire over £36m in funding to make their projects come alive. You know the potential your project has, and we can help you show that potential to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

As client Trudie Cole put it “Heritage Insider are able to take woolly ideas, get to the nub of how to articulate them clearly and pull that thread through the entire process”.

We are proud to have a 98% success rate for funding applications we assist with. We’re passionate about people and improving the heritage sector, so you can rest assured that your project will be in the best hands.

We have a 98% success rate

As specialists in the National Lottery Heritage Fund application process, we can work with you to create an activity plan that follows best practice. One example of an activity plan we worked on which NLHF loved was for an application made by the Royal Horticultural Society for their Strategic Investment Programme. Andrew Jasper, Programme Director at the RHS had this to say:

“…my heartfelt thanks for your Herculean effort, great leadership and for helping to keep us all sane in the process. It’s been just so amazing to see how we have all grown during the project and I am so grateful for what you’ve done to keep things going in such an organised and professional way”.

Supporting people to grow is an integral part of what we do. We work in partnership with you to build upon the skills you have in-house, offering support in the areas you need it most. We then help you to bring together everybody’s skills in the most impactful way. Katherine Boler, Fundraising Development Manager at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust shares her experience of working with us:

“We are so glad we employed Heritage Insider to help us with our engagement and activity planning. Heritage Insider guided us through the whole process with endless enthusiasm and skill, bringing together all of the different strands that the in-house team and other consultants were delivering for a complex project. The whole Heritage Insider team are lovely to work with and we are hoping to work with them again for the evaluation of the main project.”

Praise indeed from our happy clients, but really, the pleasure is all ours. We love working with people who are going through or planning to embark upon the process of applying for NLHF funding. That’s why we offer a range of support options to help you, no matter what size your project is or which stage you are at. You can browse through our support options here.  

You’ll find plenty of further information about the project planning service, which focuses on the grant bid as a whole, including the activity plan, on our website.

Our support is just one conversation away, so please contact us for a chat if you would like to learn more about how we can help you.

If you’re not ready to talk, but want to be the first to hear about workshops, opportunities and handy resources, sign up to INSPIRE, our free network of over 1,000 heritage professionals just like you.

Accessibility; more than just wheelchair accessible paths


Accessibility has been on our radar as a sector for many years not least because of the requirements of the Equalities Act.  But how can accessibility be a tool for creating a truly compelling visitor experience? 

Too important to ignore

Looking at UK disability stats is a real wake up call to the enormity of potential audience with additional access requirements.  Nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability (Papworth Trust, 2016). Can you afford to ignore almost 20% of your potential visitors?

The 2.7 million domestic visitors with disabilities that regularly travel (South West Tourism Alliance) are an extremely loyal market with huge spending potential.  Disabled people tend not to travel alone and are often accompanied by carers, family or friends.  So steps to become more accessible immediately have a wider impact beyond disabled and Deaf communities.

It turns out that thinking about access in the widest possible sense and threading it through everything we do can make the visitor experience better for many of our visitors. Accessibility means better visitor attractions, family experiences, inclusion and happier people

Think about easy access paths with stopping or ‘perch’ points being good for visitors with young children and pushchairs; think about the growing audience of older visitors who might benefit from non-reflective interpretation materials or larger print; think about visitors who want a snappy introduction to your site using an easy-read version of your map and welcome information.  They are just a few examples.

Develop a deeper audience understanding

So how do we go about developing this new model of visitor experience at our outdoor sites?  Thankfully it’s not rocket science; we can employ the principles of great masterplanning and getting to know your visitors and potential audiences is a great first step.

We’re all strapped for time and cash but an investment in developing a better understanding of your audience will pay dividends.  It’s an amazing professional learning journey and will help to remove guess work from where to direct resources to gain the most benefit for visitors.  Start by writing down a list of what you would like to find out (once you start thinking you will no doubt have loads!) – use post-it notes so you can order and prioritise your questions and decide which ones to start on first.  For example, you might want to get a better idea of what influences disabled people to visit or the barriers that they face in accessing your site.

At this point consultation, evaluation and research become great tools.  There is a wealth of secondary sources of data you can access for free that can give you local population information.   But talking to your target audience will add the colour and help build-up a rich picture of their particular needs and motivations.

The award-winning Living Options Devon’s Heritage Ability project has improved the access at 20 heritage sites including countryside and outdoor sites.  The range of consultation undertaken during project planning by this user-led organisation (80% of the Board and 53% of employees are disabled or Deaf) has included training a team of volunteers (members of the local disabled and Deaf communities) to undertake 26 mystery visits to 19 heritage sites.  This was vital in gaining a high-level picture of the current levels of regional accessibility and identifying key barriers for the project to address.  As a result of their good work, the project won the Heritage category of the National Lottery Awards 2018 beating over 700 other contenders.

Create a brilliant welcome and mobilise your people

Being welcoming is paramount to a more accessible visitor experience (and it’s actually a key building block of any inspiring visitor experience).  Audience research shows us that just being able to find out what’s going to be accessible for them at a site can be a frustrating experience for disabled or Deaf visitors.

The RSPB Minsmere Discover Nature project found that training staff and volunteers was a really powerful tool to developing a more inclusive welcome for visitors with disabilities.  A raft of accessibility improvements have enabled disabled people and their families to come face-to-face with nature in a wild environment. Positively engaging staff and volunteers was key and the RSPB have worked hard to develop an open culture of learning internally.  Staff and volunteers were trained to provide disabled visitors with an informed welcome; helping them to plan their visit and get the most from their day as well as inputting into developing an accessibility statement.

Mainstream it

Motivations to visit for many visitors are social and disabled and Deaf people are no different.  Therefore, providing interpretation and services separately for those with particular access needs just doesn’t make sense if we have an option to mainstream accessibility.

Shakespeare’s New Place is a new interpretative garden and visitor centre developed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.   From the start the Trust have been thinking about how to plan accessibility throughout their visitor experience, for example, icons and visual imagery in interpretation help visitors with learning disabilities as well as those for whom English is a second language and pre-literate children.

We can also learn from our colleagues in museums.  The Information Age project dramatically transformed the second floor of the Science Museum into a vibrant and accessible space.  There was a clear plan not to ghettoise access and to place accessible interpretation and resources equally alongside other gallery elements.  For example, central in the gallery space is the accessible lift and disabled visitors said they felt this means people now don’t think it is only for ‘special people’; contributing towards changing attitudes towards disability.

Taking steps to be more accessible makes good business sense and shows that as an organisation you really get the importance of being open to everyone. What’s stopping you from starting tomorrow?

If you would like to learn more about the services we offer, then please contact us for a chat.

Written by Kate Measures

Founder of Heritage Insider and Chair of bgen; inspiring people through plants


Credit for photo:

‘Signed interpretation’ – Filming underway at NT Killerton for a BSL signed tour copyright Living Options Devon 2016


See the full article from CJS December 2016 Focus on Overcoming Barriers

CJS the original countryside specialists publishing countryside, conservation and wildlife sector information: jobs, volunteers, news and training since 1994.

How to ask the right questions

Questions feature in most evaluation tools, but it can be difficult to know how and what to ask in order to evoke the desired response and gather the information that you need. The questions which are asked are so important as they shape the response, and therefore the quality of the data received. This article provides some tips and ideas on how to plan and write good questions for your evaluation.

Easy peasy evaluation strategy

  1. Think about exactly what you want to know. To help you with this, think about what you’re going to do with the response data. You might use it to plan something, evaluate something, or improve something. Consider what questions will actually help you to achieve this end result
  2. Think about the most effective way of gaining this information. Do you want quick opinions from lots of people? If so, a closed-ended survey or comments cards might work best. Are you looking for more in-depth, rich information from a small group? Telephone interviews or a focus group could be the best methods to use
  3. Think about how your questions fit in with your organisational context. How will the information you gain help to inform strategic aims? What sort of resources do you have for data analysis? How much time do you have to plan, prepare, and gather your information? Each of these things will have an impact on the sort of question you can ask and the depth of information you can gather.

Find out what works

It’s always worth seeking out similar evaluation types which have been carried out before, to see what has or hasn’t worked. This can provide you with ideas for question design, formatting, and any indications of things to avoid or be careful with. Question banks (links to Constant Contact) and similar resources (links to Questionnaire design document) are a great place to look, as well as seeing what has already been used in your organisation for specific ideas of what does and doesn’t work.

Question types

Once you are clear about the objectives of the survey and what you want to ask, you need to decide on a few more details surrounding the design. An extremely important part of writing better questions is ensuring that you have the correct question types (links to Surveymonkey) for your survey.

Question types:

  • Open questions are used when descriptive answers are required and can provide qualitative data. They allow respondents to answer freely and provide detailed responses. However, they may produce unclear responses and are harder to analyse and categorise
  • Closed questions are simple and quick to answer. The data is easier to analyse and quantify than data from open questions, however the questions may result in box ticking without really thinking about answers
  • Scales and rankings are another type of closed question, which ask the respondent to rate something on a scale, for example asking ‘did the day meet your expectations’ with response options ranging from ‘it exceeded my expectations’ to ‘it did not meet my expectations’.


The formatting of the questions is another important thing to consider. The question order should flow logically. Always avoid leading questions, asking two questions in one, double negatives, and making assumptions, as these may all lead to respondents selecting a particular response due to the question phrasing and not due to their actual thoughts and feelings. Don’t forget to thank respondents at the end of the questions.

Tips and suggestions

– It is important to speak the ‘language’ of your participants, including using age appropriate language and not using technical terminology for a group of participants who are not acquainted with technicalities in your field. Try reading your questions out loud to see how they sound.

– Questions should always be easy to understand, and equally as easy to answer. They should remain relevant, and when drafting them you should keep referring to the agreed aims and objectives to ensure your questions are valid. A small pilot study could be distributed to the target demographic for a review of questions and to locate any gaps, as well as to check that the questions flow logically.

Why making families welcome pays

It’s no wonder families have become key targets for so many museum and heritage organisations. At last count there were 18.6 million families in the UK, and when you add to that all the grandparents looking after their grandchildren (a rapidly expanding trend) it’s too big of an audience for us to ignore.

But for such potential, why are visits consistently falling short for families? At many sites there is a toxic combination of families having low expectations of their visit and lower than average enjoyment. Families don’t expect a lot and often we don’t even meet these low expectations.

49 minutes is the average time a family spends together each day.

So what do families want?

Well, topping the list is to feel welcome. Surely this isn’t too much to ask? Really thinking about how families visit and their motivations and needs can help to supercharge our welcome and make a museum or heritage visit one they want to repeat, recommend and share with friends. Who doesn’t want that?

It’s also about being welcoming across the whole site, not just having a sign above the entrance that says ‘welcome’ or creating a focused family welcome at reception with the rest of the site not following suit.

The average amount of time a family spends together each day is 49 minutes, so it’s not surprising they’re picky about what to do with their leisure time. They’re risk averse as well; they want what they choose to do together to be a success (who hasn’t had disaster days out with the family?).

We need to make it really clear that we have a fantastic offer for families, and if we do we need to make sure we’re honest about it.

Hampton Court Palace is hitting the right notes – it has a relaxed and welcoming tone on its website, some über-friendly meeter-greeters as well as the varied on-site offerings for families. At times the family interpretation at the Palace outstrips that intended for adults alone.

The Palace has even added playful touches, such as providing Tudor cloaks so the whole family can conduct their visit in resplendent royal finery. It’s this attention to detail that can uplift a visitor experience from humdrum to magical.

Families can’t all be the same so why do we often provide just one or two family-based things to do on-site? Families come in all shapes and sizes and every conceivable variation of ages, ability and so on – providing a menu of activities as part of an informed welcome is a great thing to work on.

The National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ is a prime example of an organisation increasing the visibility and range of their offer and welcome. What they’re basically saying is: families, we’re for you and we want you to come and play with us.

It’s essential this kind of offer is backed up by on-site staff and volunteers, as is being able to provide a personalised welcome to visitors. If not, it’s just a smart marketing campaign with no substance – we need the ability to win the hearts of families for the long-term, not just one visit.

And why stop at the welcome? Let’s get people excited about their museum or heritage visit. We rarely see a conscious effort to do this – it’s almost as if we’re ever so slightly embarrassed.

Some organisations have been going beyond the welcome. The Enchanted Palace installation at Kensington Palace (2010-2012) and the Welcome to Monsterville exhibition (2011) at the Discover Story Centre both encouraged a heady mix of anticipation and excitement.

This is when the welcome really starts to ‘kick ass’ in terms of creating a buzz for family audiences – museums and organisations are pushing to be the thing everyone is talking about.

Families can be part of the solution

The most exciting and fundamental shifts are in our relationship with families as an audience. Some museums and heritage sites are breaking down the boundaries between our organisations as ‘providers’ and the families as ‘consumers’ of the visitor experience.

Families can be our consultants, co-producers, designers, testers, volunteers, makers and reviewers. ZSL London Zoo’s new Animal Adventure proudly proclaims itself as “designed by families, for families.”

Improving the welcome must be a priority, and it makes sense because it’s what our family audiences want. But it also makes sense because in these times of funding flux we have to make hard decisions about where to spend valuable resources.

This articles was originally written for Guardian Professional, published in May 2012. 

If you are looking to improve your offer for families, or review how you welcome them and work with them at your organisation then you might want to check out these resources:

Top tips for communicating environmental policies to visitors

Heritage Insider went along to the Green Knowledge Cafe as part of the West Midlands Museum Development Reducing Bills programme, which is supporting a cohort of museums to become more environmentally and financially sustainable. Kate presented her top tips on how to communicate successfully and cost-effectively with visitors.

Here is a summary of the workshop as posted on the Marches Network website. Top tips included:

  • The green agenda can help you to achieve other objectives. Telling visitors about behind the scenes work helps to establish a more relaxed and personal relationship that can improve the overall visitor experience. It can also help show stakeholders and funders how you help to meet their aims
  • Plan this work as per any other interpretation project: your motivation, audience and resources will determine your technique
  • How you frame communication is really important; use a positive message that doesn’t make visitors feel guilty. We saw some great examples that used questions and humour to engage visitors effectively (see some of these examples here)
  • Find the right technique for your audience, for example a geo cache trail with information about conservation might work really well for families
  • Don’t forget that the medium shapes the message: where possible use sustainable materials. Eco foamex, upcycled materials (see example here) and panels made from recycled materials are all options
  • Think about how the green agenda fits in with your overall interpretation strategy. Is it a big story or is it just part of the work of your organisation? Research has shown that for most sites, visitors want behind the scenes information to be woven in throughout their visit. Existing stories and collections can be presented with a green emphasis where appropriate
  • Celebrate your successes and communicate future ambitions.

For more information on Green Museums project checkout their blog.

Here are Heritage Insider we are passionate about being environmental and socially responsible and work hard to reduce the impact of our work and travel on the environment.

We will more than happily talk to you about how to make your site or organisation more sustainable, just get in touch.

10 top tips for testing resources

It is easy to waste money getting new resources beautifully designed and produced to later find they don’t work, or with a few tweaks could have worked a lot better. Avoid this potential disaster and test, trial, prototype and experiment. Article written by Jennie (Audience Insight and Evaluation Officer) May 2015

Formative evaluation sounds pretty formal, but really it is just a fancy way of saying testing. It can just be working out if your hunch for a good idea will work practically. You can never be sure how end-users will respond to a new resource, so testing it out in advance will give a much clearer idea. Testing in the development phase will help to reveal any problems, highlight those niggly little complications and maybe even show ways to improve.

Testing doesn’t have to be complicated or scientific, it can be quick and informal and still highlight a lot. The level of testing will probably depend on the level of investment. If you are planning to invest a lot of money in a new resource such as an app or new guide book, then you will want to do some extensive testing. If you have a good idea for a new activity sheet you plan to produce in-house, then a quick trial with some colleagues or willing visitors will do the job.

Based on our own experiences of testing resources we have put together these 10 top tips for testing resources.


1- Pick a fair, unbiased audience

Don’t choose an audience of yes men who want to please. Try selecting a sample of participants who will be fair and happy to offer critical feedback as well as positive.

2- Be prepared.

Have a back up plan in case the resource you are testing really doesn’t work. It could just be a slight alteration of the original idea, or a different way to explain it.

3- Try not to call it testing

People don’t want to feel judged so if you call it testing they will think they are being tested themselves. That in turn will effect how they use it. If you are asking visitors to help then start with something like: “would you like to try our new resource we are developing, we would really like some feedback to help make it better”.

4- Make the testing fun.

Making it fun is especially important with kids. If you are doing some pretty extensive testing for a big investment then we can get bogged down with forms, questionnaires, box ticking and a million questions. Participants will soon get bored and you will get less insightful feedback. Keep it fun and simple.

5- Don’t push your own judgements or assumptions.

Just because you thought it would definitely work, doesn’t mean it definitely will. Avoid using leading statements or questions like: “How much fun did you find it?” it’s hard for someone to reply with, “not at all”, even if that’s how they felt.

6- Allow yourself to be surprised.

If something works a lot better than you thought, or not as well as you thought, then don’t assume it is bad testing, or the participants did it wrong. Maybe it really is better than you thought, or not as good as you thought.

7- Keep your eye out for things you might never have considered.

You can have something planned to the finest detail and then someone uses it in a completely different way. Great, don’t force them to do it your way, give it a minute, maybe their way is better.

8- Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong.

If you were totally off the mark with something then that is OK. Really, it is OK to be totally wrong sometimes. Better to work that out before you invest money, time and energy into it.

9- Don’t give up straight away, maybe you just need to try a different angle.

Although it’s important not to keep pushing your own judgements, don’t give in at the first hurdle. If participants are not getting something, maybe you didn’t give clear instructions, or maybe something just needs tweaking.

10- Think way outside the box.

It’s never too late to make changes if it makes the end product better.


Want some help or advise to test your resources, then get in touch to find out how we can help.

10 top tips for interpretation

Is it time to review and revamp your interpretation?

Here are some really quick and simple tips to get you started.


1. Before you start planning new interpretation, find out how visitors are using your museum or site at the moment. How do they spend their time?

2. Know your product. What ‘big story’ are you really trying to tell? Have you got an interpretation plan to focus your ideas? Do your visitors understand your ‘big story’?

3. Your staff and volunteers are a vital tool in building a first class visitor experience. Do they know what your interpretation offer is for each of your audiences?

4. Make it easy for visitors to engage with your stories.

5. Think beyond object labels and text heavy panels. Look outside the sector for inspiration on creative techniques. Food packaging, children’s publishing and hotels are good for clear communication, creativity in techniques and fantastic customer service (in that order).

6. Visitors don’t see an exhibition or trail in isolation. Your shop, cafe, car park and even toilets can help tell your ‘big story’ – make them work hard too.

7. Big events are great for creating a buzz but can take a lot of time, energy and money to organise. What would be the result if you did one less event and improved your everyday interpretation offer instead?

8. Interpretation isn’t about telling our audience things, it’s about a two way conversation with our visitors. How can they help to create compelling interpretation?

9. Spend your time and money wisely. Try out interpretation before investing in the final product.

10. Finally and above all start simple. Some of the simplest interpretation techniques are the best.


We love the write up of this real life project, together with honest reflection of a new visitor space at Forestry Commission Bedgebury in Kent. The article starts on page 13 of Roots, June edition.


A few more great places to get help:

Check out our Flickr Gallery which is packed with great examples of excellent interpretation

Association for Heritage Interpretation

A Sense of Place – interpretation planning guidelines

Scottish Natural Heritage guidelines

Sharing Our Stories  Interpretative Planning Handbook

What have we got and is it any good? A practical guide on how to survey and assess heritage interpretation


‘The content for this article was created by an Arts Council England funding project as part the South East Museum Development Programme Re:Fresh project which was coordinated by Heritage Insider Ltd.’