Relevance in a Changing World is a professional development opportunity for those who work in the informal learning sector in Canada: museums, heritage sites, parks, and other environments where our visitors choose to engage with us on their own terms.
Over eight two-hour sessions (with opportunities for reading, discussion, and individual work in between), participants will examine their own practice, and that of their institution, in relation to their evolving communities and missions.
Change is Hard
First, we begin by examining some of the challenges facing many of us: demographic change in our towns and cities; changing generational values; changing attitudes, feeling, and knowledge toward Canadian history, changing climate, changing responsibilities toward Truth and Reconciliation, and more. Many of the assumptions that informed our missions are no longer true, or perhaps no longer as relevant to our communities as they once were. How do we adapt? By digging up our existing interpretive plans, mission statements, and strategic plans, we will help each other identify opportunities to enhance our future relevance.
Together we will work at defining relevance in a museum context. What is the difference between history and heritage? What are the tangible and intangible meanings that visitors ascribe to our objects and our history, and how do different visitors make meaning around them? How can we work to understand what relevance means to our newer audiences?
Understanding Audiences Today
Who are the communities around our sites, and what is our potential new relationship with them? How do we use data—both internal and external to our organizations—to understand their lifestyles, needs, interests, and values? We will work ]to identify a handful of market personas or types, both existing and new, with whom we might forge a mutually rewarding relationship.
Updating Our Stories
We will investigate the power of story and theme to connect our newer visitors to our museums’ content. How do we tell old stories in new ways? How do we take a reconciliatory approach to settler history? How do we incorporate our visitors’ lived experience and daily reality to subjects that have traditionally excluded them?
We will do a simple inclusivity/representation audit of our sites, to learn how our new audiences are represented in our stories, our artifacts, our human resources, our imagery, and our marketing.
We will workshop and encourage each other through new programming techniques, particularly dialogic interpretation and experiential programming. What does an arc of dialogue look like? How do we craft discussions that allow visitors to make their own meaning?
Together we will explore experiential tourism and brainstorm how we can borrow some of its techniques. How do we give visitors agency to craft their own experiences—programming in which the interpreter is nearly invisible?
Taking it Forward
Lastly we will create individual “Relevance Champion” plans, in which participants may undertake to advance their sites’ relevance in the future.
- Define relevance in a museum context
- Identify changes and evolutions within Canadian society that influence our institutions’ relevance
- Segment our current and potential visitors by geography, demography, and psychography to find the way to their heart
- Revisit and re-evaluate our sites’ interpretive themes and storylines from a contemporary, pluralistic, inclusive perspective
- Undertake an inclusivity/representation audit of our site’s stories, human resources, imagery, and marketing material in relation to our newer target markets
- Understand and adopt dialogic interpretation techniques to extend our relevance among visitors
- Understand and adopt experiential programming techniques to enhance our potential relevance to our visitors
- Draft a task list and work plan to allow us to become relevance champions within our institutions