Behind the Panels: Collaboration to Tell a Story

15 Feb 2020 8:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Sarah Rauh, Parks Canada, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

When thinking of Dialogic Interpretation, we often think of the personal interpretation opportunities that it provides. However, dialogue is just as important “behind the scenes” and in non-personal interpretation. Over the last number of years, I have worked on a variety of projects with outside organizations to tell their stories. We had to work collaboratively and use dialogue to create meaningful stories and valuable visitor experience opportunities. But, how do we work collaboratively with these organizations who often have no background or understanding of interpretation?

By incorporating dialogue, we can work effectively with these organizations to create an outstanding visitor experience. In this session, I shared some of the methods that I use as well as gathered suggestions from session participants. This is the resulting Collaborative Guide to Success that we created… collaboratively!

Things to keep in mind

Challenge your natural role:

  • Some individuals will naturally fall into leadership roles; others will naturally feel more comfortable letting someone else take the lead. Remember to be open to this and step into the role that is needed by the group!
  • Be aware of what your natural role is in case it causes any misunderstanding of who is leading the project.

Some stakeholders don’t want to be involved in the entire process.

One of the key things that comes up in discussions is choosing stories. With some groups, you may need to act as facilitator or the “Interpretive specialist”, providing advice and recommendations on which stories to choose. With other groups, you can work with them to choose the stories. As you work with these groups, be flexible and step into the role that is needed.

Snacks are key!

Steps of Collaboration

When working with a group you can use the following steps to help work through the process:

  • Goal setting – what is the purpose? What is the final result?
  • Determine roles – Who is responsible for what?
  • The Plan – how will you get there?
  • Negotiation – figuring out the “nitty-gritty”
  • Collaboration – creating the final product

Another strategy that you can incorporate is: RACI

1. Responsible (Who is responsible for the project?)

2. Accountable (Who are we accountable to?)

3. Consulted (Who needs to be consulted?)

4. Informed (Who needs to be informed about the project?)

Tools of Facilitation for Interpretive Panels

Here are some of the tools and strategies you can use when facilitating conversations around interpretive panels:


Take the topics related to the project and write them down on chart paper spread out around the room. The group then walks around the room and adds stories or information related to each subject. This allows us to see the breadth of stories that the group believes is important or were linked. Then in phase two, the group goes around again and votes for their favourite points in each grouping. Once this is complete, you can discuss and narrow down the stories from there into panels and themes.

Physical mapping of ideas:

For a series of panels, take a map of the place and place the panels in locations on the map to visually see where they would be laid out. This allows a chance to determine if spots are too crowded, where stories can be told best, issues with locations, etc. This is also a useful step to use after the mind-mapping exercise.

Matrix matching:

For groups that have multiple organizations involved, use this tool to make sure that the objectives or themes of each group are covered.

Put all the panel themes/subjects along the side bar and have each organizations objectives or must haves along the top. Then, go through each panel and see which ones match each objective. Then, determine if there are any gaps in the themes or objectives.

Group Development

When working with groups, there are some theories and information that can help you as the facilitator to keep the group moving and manage conflict. If you are looking for ways to assist a group, look into some of the following group development theories:

- Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development

- Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument

- The “Iceberg” of Conflict (Cloke and Goldsmith, 2000)

Dialogue is a key part of ensuring success in interpretation – both personal and non-personal. When we work with others, our collaboration can create meaningful connections, stronger bonds, and amazing interpretive products!

Sarah Rauh is the Interpretation Officer/Coordinator III at Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (Parks Canada). Sarah has worked in the interpretation field for 4 years within Ontario Parks and Parks Canada. She graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Outdoor Recreation and a Bachelor of Education.

Interpretation Canada c/o Kerry Wood Nature Centre 6300 45th Ave Red Deer, AB, Canada  T4N 3M4

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