Interpretation Basics

Interpretation Basics

Effective interpretive techniques create opportunities for individuals to make meaningful, emotional and intellectual connections to climate change and other complex issues. By knowing the audience and which interpretive technique is most effective for conveying a particular message to that audience, a guide or interpreter ensures that they relay information that will engage and help the visitor relate to the topic. Interpreters are highly credible sources of information, so audiences listen, even if they don't agree with the message. To quote Freeman Tilden, "The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction but provocation." Through effective interpretive techniques, we can leave our audiences mulling over new ideas or actions they might take.

The Certified Interpretive Guide Training Workbook (NAI) shares that the most effective interpretation, regardless of the content of the message:

  • Serves a purpose: shares a story that informs, entertains and enlightens
  • Is well-organized: lays a well-researched foundation rather than long discourse
  • Is enjoyable: engages the audience
  • Is thematic: presents a theme with meaning beyond information
  • Is relevant, follows different approaches for each audience
  • Makes a difference, coming from you as an interpreter, a credible source

When talking about climate change in particular, it's helpful to avoid using lots of scientific data, which tends to engender suspicion from general audiences that don't have a strong scientific background.

In short, beware of:

  • Data, charts, graphs
  • Long, complex explanations of complicated phenomena
  • Unfamiliar scientific terminology
  • Links to particular religious or political affiliations
  • Threats, bad news, gloomy forecasts

Instead, try to use:

  • Positive examples of actions that are helping
  • Good news
  • Positive vision of the future
  • Personal and collective actions we can take to make a difference
  • Actions that young people can take (recycling, limiting energy use, etc.)
  • References to shared values (ingenuity, innovation, energy independence, helping other creatures and the environment, conserving resources).

In this Unit, we showcase techniques in informal settings that help engage a variety of audiences in discussions about climate change, whether melting glaciers or oil in the Arctic or warming seas. Lesson 1.1 distinguishes between tangibles and intangibles, such as output from a smoke stack versus health concerns related to that smoke stack's output. In Lesson 1.2, framing complex issues helps engage the visitor with ocean challenges, as does sharing multiple points of view about a controversial topic. Lesson 1.3 depicts ways to engage the audience's positive emotions even when faced with complex topics.