Interpret Europe web conference | 8-11 May 2020 | #iecon20

Conference theme: Fostering heritage communities

Heritage lives through the people dedicated to it. What role could such communities play in interpreting natural and cultural heritage? 

While many parks, monuments and museums might agree that a lively heritage community is invaluable for their site, they often feel challenged by debates with local people and by engaging with volunteers in interpretation, who all bring their own issues and opinions to the site.

Our conference intended to bridge that gap between abstract concepts such as participation and citizenship building and the very practical need to ‘get things done’. It sought to explain the ideas behind contemporary approaches to heritage interpretation and to exchange experiences of practitioners how to bring the theory to earth.

Considering the political background, the conference intended to bring, especially, two European conventions to life: the Faro Convention and the Florence Convention.

Heritage communities

"A heritage community consists of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations" (Faro Convention, Article 2b).

Heritage communities are a cornerstone of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention). The preamble of this outstanding Convention highlights "the need to put people and human values at the centre of an enlarged and cross-disciplinary concept of cultural heritage" and "to involve everyone in society in the ongoing process of defining and managing cultural heritage". The Convention asks us to "encourage everyone to participate in the process of (…) interpretation" (Article 12a) and to enhance "respect for diversity of interpretations" (Article 7a). In the Faro Convention’s wider understanding, cultural heritage "includes all aspects of the environment resulting from the interaction between people and places through time" (Article 2).


'Landscape' means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors (Florence Convention, Article 1a).

In terms of open landscapes, the Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention (Florence Convention) mirrors many of the aspects mentioned in the Faro Convention. It defines a landscape as a "basic component of the European natural and cultural heritage, contributing to human well-being and consolidation of the European identity" (Preamble). It expresses the need to "increase awareness among the civil society, private organisations, and public authorities of the value of landscapes" (Article 6A) and it claims "participation of the general public, local and regional authorities, and other parties with an interest in the definition and implementation of the landscape policies" (Article 5c).


What does all of this mean for heritage interpretation? In relation to the conference title ‘Fostering heritage communities’, we invited proposals for presentations and interactive workshops that particularly address one or more of the following questions:

  • What turns the living experience of heritage into a process fostering active citizenship?
  • How can we involve favourable as well as critical stakeholders with heritage communities?
  • How can we encourage people to reflect upon heritage sites from different perspectives?
  • How can co-creation of interpretation help people to understand heritage?
  • What role do acknowledged experts play if other stakeholders start to interpret heritage?
  • Can anybody be an interpreter?
  • What triggers engagement and boosts a sense of fulfillment for volunteer interpreters?
  • Considering a shift of paradigms, what new qualities does interpretive training need to have?
  • Are values of heritage defined by communities, or do communities enhance the value of heritage?
  • How do the Conventions’ concepts of heritage and heritage communities compare to current theories of heritage interpretation, and what conclusions can we draw from that?

Apart from dealing with these questions, we also welcomed presentations and workshops that focus on the theory and practice of heritage interpretation as a discipline. Besides theoretical essays, descriptions of case studies of outstanding sites, or remarkable practices, did also fulfil the requirements.