Interpretation and Covid-19


As the New Normal settles in around the globe, it is beginning to feel relatively less New and significantly less Normal. Through the re-opening process, it is imperative that heritage and cultural attractions not only review their visitor flow but additionally consider the entirety of the visitor experience. Looking beyond familiar issues such as restricted funding, staff furloughs and general hygiene concerns, creating and following a future proofed interpretation strategy can not only provide the foundations for some semblance of stability during this pandemic, but allow organisations to progress and adapt in an ever-changing sector.

This two-part series looks at some of the challenges and opportunities for heritage interpretation triggered by the Covid pandemic, beginning with a look at the importance of researching audiences and adapting to their changing needs through digital technology.

Understanding audiences has never been more important. In the face of a rapid drop in international visitors we are inevitably seeing an increased focus on attracting local markets and encouraging repeat visits. To develop targeted experiences for these audiences, attractions first need to understand how their needs and wants have shifted during the crisis. For many it is likely that safety and hygiene protocols will be their top priority, and yet expectations for a welcoming and interactive experience still need to be met despite a much-reduced interpretative offer.

There is a wealth of audience information out there. @covidsitor regularly tweets summaries of data collected by UK research agencies. However, it is site-specific evaluation that will provide the most tailored and relevant answers to critical questions: Who is visiting and why? What were their expectations and have these been matched? Despite the inherent challenges in consulting visitors, attractions can continue to carry out physically distanced interviews, online surveys and analysis of admission data. The information collected can help you to make data-informed decisions about short term safety measures, but it can also drive a positive transformation of the visitor experience.

Despite the limits on touch-based interaction, opportunities for digital engagement are vast. It has been well documented that touch screens and many forms of mechanical interactives are expected to be out of commission for the duration of the pandemic, or if in operation heavily monitored for safety and hygiene. When developing new digital solutions it is therefore crucial to consider whether software has the flexibility to transfer to different hardware and platforms, ensuring that essential content is available to the widest range of audiences whatever the circumstances.

Many museums are already in discussion about the possibilities of BYOD (bring your own device) interpretation, whether through downloadable or web-app based solutions. This approach allows you to easily update and expand your offer as well as provide extensive accessibility features for visitors with disabilities. Capitalising on the increase in online engagement, on-site touchscreen content can also be uploaded to your website for use as part of an at-home learning programme.

How can hsd support you?

At hsd we believe that no matter the medium, online or in situ, interpretative design should always be driven by a coherent and engaging message. Our passionate and experienced interpretative planners work with a team of project managers, consultants and designers to ensure that this central principle is followed at every stage of your project, whether it is developing a new gallery or re-opening to the public. Our multi-disciplinary team offers a range of Covid-recovery interpretative services, including:

  • Audience evaluation planning
  • Market research programmes
  • Interpretative assessments
  • Temporary exhibition strategies
  • Collection / contemporary collecting reviews


If you want any advice or support please do not hesitate to get in touch with our New Business and Consultancy Team – info@haleysharpe.com or 0116 251 8555 UK / 1 416 361 3338 Canada