Hiring heritage interpretation consultant

Advice on hiring professional heritage interpretation consultants, planners, writers and designers

Hiring professional heritage interpretation consultants, planners, writers and designers can be a challenge.

There is likely to be a lot at stake if you make the wrong decision!

Unfortunately, anyone can, and do call themselves heritage interpretation consultants, planners, writers or designers. There are lots of ex-museum people, high-street graphic designers, architects, copy-writers and environmentalists that claim to be heritage interpretation professionals...but what makes them professionals? The fact is that very few out there selling their services are actually professionally trained, qualified and/or accredited in any way.

Heritage interpretation is a profession similar in many ways to the architecture profession. Both professions are a mix or the technical and creative and both require extensive, prolonged, specific training that takes at least 3-years, which results in specific, formal qualifications.

So when hiring a heritage interpretation consultant, writer, planner or designer, how do you sort the "wheat from the chaff"?

Top 10 things to consider when selecting or hiring a heritage interpretation professional!

1) Ask for information on their actual training in heritage interpretation. Ask where did they learn how to do it “correctly”? What qualifications do they have? What accreditation do they hold? (membership of a heritage interpretation association is not a qualification or accreditation!). Anyone can call themselves an interpretive consultant – but do their academic and professional credentials back it up?

2) Don’t automatically assume that they know more than you! Depending on their actual academic training in interpretation and length of real field experience – they may not.

3) Ask to see sample of past projects – photos of exhibits, trail guides, interpretation plans, evaluations and so on. Do the examples they provide; "Provoke, Relate, and Reveal"? Are they outcome, objective or benefit based? Are there clear interpretive themes? Do they pass the IIEHI Acid Test?

4) Ask for references – and actually call them!

5) Projects will probably cost more, and take longer than you think (especially if you are doing it right!). How will your project costs be estimated by the consultant? How will you know that that is a fair fee to be charged? Remember the adage: "do something right to avoided the need to do it twice." There are always lots of "chancers" out there that will do it cheap, but will they do it well?

6) Selecting a consultant should be based on their knowledge, skills and demonstrated experience – not on the “lowest bid”. While you get what you pay for, you also don’t get what you don’t pay for! Remember that for a heritage site interpretation isn't the icing on the cake - it is the cake! It a sites heritage interpretation that attracts, holds and brings back visitors.

7) Ask how they might have their products “evaluated” – pre- and post-test evaluations, etc. You don’t want to buy something that looks nice but doesn’t work...we see a lot of that! Be prepared to pay for the evaluation work, it's important.

8) Interview perspective consultants – at least the top three. Here is your chance to see samples of products, and ask about their approach to developing your interpretive products, their training and experience.

9) Is the consultant professional and confident? – does your perspective consultant have an air of confidence and self-assurance about them? Do they have years of successful projects to back up that confidence?

10) Do you like them? What does your gut feeling tell you? Can you work together well in a creative process over a prolonged period of time? Selecting a heritage interpretation professional you or your organisation can work well with is vitally important to the success of the project.

Contact us if you would like some clever interview questions and answers that will help you the genuine heritage interpretation professional!