Helena Vičič (IE) and Matteo Rosati (UNESCO) at UNESCO Bureau in Palazzo Zorzi in Venice, during the IE postconference tour on 25 March 2024, Image: Thorsten Ludwig

The first regions around UNESCO designated sites will be turned into hubs for value-based heritage interpretation by the end of 2025. 

Since 2020, value-based interpretation has become IE’s unique proposition to the heritage sector which is increasingly being urged to contribute to a better future. Learning landscapes are a comprehensive manifestation of value-based heritage interpretation in interpretive planning. At last year’s IE conference, ‘Creating learning landscapes through heritage interpretation’, a joint initiative with UNESCO was announced to explore the potential of this approach. This will now be IE’s key project for the next two years.

In partnership, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and Interpret Europe launched the Learning landscapes initiative to turn UNESCO designated properties into regional hubs for value-based heritage interpretation. This is an innovative conceptual and operational approach to enhance UNESCO designated sites as learning environments. The pilot region will be the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor, a World Heritage Site in Montenegro. The initiative is financed by UNESCO’s internal funds and the EU funded Culture and Creativity for the Western Balkans programme.

Most recently, UNESCO’s International Centre for the Interpretation and Presentation of World Heritage Sites (WHIPIC) showed great interest in the initiative and will monitor the process in order to draw from it for shaping principles and guidelines for contemporary heritage interpretation.  A quick historic outline reveals that the learning landscapes are a logical next step of IE’s past work. The IE conference 2016 in Mechelen already showed the critical role of heritage in bringing Europe’s shared values back to people’s minds. One year later, IE’s award-winning Engaging Citizens paper suggested how heritage interpretation could connect people with values IE didn’t only have progressive ideas, but also excellent know-how in the form of the training programme for at least three profiles of heritage professionals. 

After the first workshops delivered for UNESCO, recommendations for ‘value-based heritage interpretation’ as a contemporary approach to presentation and communication around UNESCO designated sites were published by UNESCO in 2020. A greater shift towards human and UNESCO values brought IE closer to its long-term vision of becoming a perceptible player in Europe. Working with values makes perfect sense also for international policies and green transition requirements that suggest heritage should open up for participatory approaches and integrate sustainability in its management and operations. Therefore, it was a strategic decision to align IE’s training programme to UNESCO’s recommendations for value-based heritage interpretation (VBHI). To find out more about VBHI, you can join IE’s webinar on 14 May, and a recording will be available afterwards from the IE members’ area of the website. A paper on this subject is also featured in the IE conference Proceedings 2023 (Ludwig). 

In 2021-22 IE was commissioned to run two WH-Interp courses on value-based interpretive planning for 42 World Heritage properties in Kotor (Montenegro) and Ljubljana (Slovenia) and additionally, 6 participants have prepared fully-fledged interpretive plans for their sites. WHS managers who attended the courses reported high relevance of the training for their work, and the need to work with communities around WHS became more pressing. Meanwhile, IE has worked towards community involvement for a couple of years (the conference in 2020 and Fostering communities case studies) and realised that stakeholder involvement in most of the interpretive projects in Europe is not satisfactory. 

Since UNESCO designated sites comply with the mission to foster Education for Sustainable Development, a typical learning landscape would practise the following qualities: 

  • Give stakeholders a greater role in planning of a regional strategy and single site plans (participatory approaches) 
  • Exchange with residents and visitors towards sustainability values, in order to learn from the past for the future
  • Strengthen UNESCO’s human values in connection with Education for Sustainable Development
  • Implement capacity building in heritage interpretation along the vertical axis from the managerial to front-staff levels in order to “empower all who inspire meaningful connections with Europe’s natural and cultural heritage to shape our common future” (IE Mission)
  • Provide visitors with inspiration for transition in their own environments

In the learning landscape development process, regional authorities or UNESCO sites organise interpretive training for a wider range of experts in the region. An initial training for interpretive agents who will then facilitate the regional strategy development process and several IE certification courses help local experts to devise plans on three levels, from the regional interpretive strategy, to interpretive plans for individual sites and to exhibit and programme plans for single interpretive services. 

So how will we go about all this high flying theory? 

  1. The first step will be to develop new training for interpretive agents. A pilot international course will take place in Kotor (Montenegro) this autumn. Interpretive agents are interpretive planners with excellent community facilitation skills, who will, after the training, foster the creation of interpretive strategies in their regions together with stakeholders.
  2. Based on the strategies from the first stage, training for interpretive planners will follow in early 2025 in every region separately. It will provide up to 18 planners connected to the regional development with interpretation skills and help them to devise full plans for their individual heritage sites within the region. 
  3. Based on the regional strategy and individual site plans, the third stage of training will take place in the second half of 2025. Interpretive guide and writer courses, will help heritage experts to devise personal and non-personal interpretive services in the regions that encourage thinking about human values. 

It looks like a lengthy process, but we believe the initiative has the power to profoundly change the way heritage interpretation is perceived and placed in local strategies and management plans. HI often appears to be a half-professional sporadic activity with weak interrelatedness of its results, while in the learning landscapes, it is a professional process with a clear pathway and efficient methodology that requires qualified experts. 

In order to deliver on these expectations and also to streamline value-based heritage interpretation in other training events, IE trainers will gather for a summer school in Croatia in June 2024.

UNESCO designated sites (but not exclusively) and their areas will be able to apply to IE to join the initiative in 2024-2025, provided that they can partly co-finance activities in their own territories, have all necessary capacities and are committed to implement all activities in order to achieve concrete results.

Some regions have already shown interest but there are still a few places available. Another call for this will be sent out shortly.

To cite this article: IE Management (2024) ‘UNESCO and IE launched Learning landscapes initiative‘ in Interpret Europe Newsletter 1-2024, pg.10-11.
Available online: https://interpret-europe.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/PDF-Newsletter_2024_1-spring.pdf