INNZ Spring Conference 2016; a participant’s perspective

This post has been provided by new INNZ member Irene Wallis, of

This afternoon I sit in the shade of a tree in front of Zion Lodge. From there I could hear a US Park Ranger interpret the valley’s formation for a group of children. For me, it was a scene that epitomized traditional interpretation. The New Zealand interpretation community is deeply rooted in this tradition. But the recent INNZ workshop showed that there is also an appetite for innovating new ways of reaching people.

 US Ranger programme

Two sessions brought together modern technology to traditional interpretation practices

mock social media postHelen Brown and Takerei Norton presented a cultural mapping project. They had gathered Ngāi Tahu stories in a respectful and sensitive manner, and then placed them in a database with an interactive map interface. I really appreciated their description of challenges they were facing around how the mapped data will be used in the future and by whom, and look forward to hearing more about this project in future.
Michelle Sim stepped up to share her social media experience and guide workshop participants though best practice. She had thoughtfully explored this space herself, and in the process created a solid online following for the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. This lively session turned ruckus when Michelle sent us out into the sunshine to make social media posts. It was a hoot! (And even a quack #duckface).

The 2016 theme ‘how to’ hit the spot for participants

Sessions about effective guiding techniques, crafting labels for exhibitions, and how to evaluate the interpretation needs of a site demonstrated the practical training and community-sharing opportunities that INNZ creates. I saw many people, newbies and old hands, gain pearls of wisdom out of these sessions.
The tour of the recently built hub in the Botanical Gardens became, in itself, a ‘how to’ session. The information centre was engaging. I particularly enjoyed the displays that mixed children’s interactive spaces with adult spaces that allowed families to linger. I’ve been similarly impressed by the high quality information centre displays in the US National Parks—they’re uncluttered, welcoming spaces that skillfully orient people in the landscape—and would encourage anyone visiting the US to seek them out for ideas.

Guest speakers provided ample inspiration

Last night I asked a young ranger about the state of interpretation practice in the US Park Service. He replied that the zealous enforcement of the thematic framework was too restrictive. He wished there was more room for creativity. It was as if the Park Service was burdened by its own history.
There were two Department of Conservation presentations on the second day of the workshop. Annabelle Studholme described how DOC is working to engage youth in conservation. Oli du Bern talked about the new stretch goals where the stories of 50 historic icon sites are told and protected.
Neither presentation came with a sense of historical burden described by the young US ranger. Both projects faced the future with lateral thinking and a consultative approach. The future of conservation depends on creating new ways to partner with and empower a wider group of people, and DOC is really taking up this challenge.

INNZ members put their collective thinking caps on

Part of the workshop was dedicated to considering the future; in particular, how INNZ network can best serve its members. There was a storm of ideas, but three themes resonated for me:
1-We value networking
The workshop was a great networking opportunity, but creating ways to connect between workshops would also be useful. Suggestions included providing a contacts list for those who attended the workshop and perhaps re-thinking the vendors section of the website. Effective networking though INNZ will improve access to resources and specialists, as well as strengthening the supportive nature of our interpretation community.
2-We want and seek partnership opportunities
Seeking partnerships could create new opportunities for INNZ, and perhaps also result in innovation by bringing together different perspectives. Potential partners could include government bodies or other associations where interpretation, in one form or another, is part of their remit.
3-We need to market ourselves better
We need to build greater awareness outside INNZ about what the network does and who belongs to it. Of the group I sat with for this session, more than half had first heard of the network through word of mouth. This highlights how we are all responsible, though our day to day conversations, for the strength of the INNZ network. But perhaps there’s more we can do.
Thomas Edison, a great innovator, once said: “Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Now the 2016 workshop has captured inspired ideas on how to strengthen the network, it’s time to see a little perspiration from all of us to realize the vision.

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Interpreting the heritage of New Zealand