Interpretive by Design: Engaging a Community to Create Interpretive Park Signage


  • Joan Wharf Higgins University of Victoria
  • Lorraine Brewster
  • John Buxcey
  • Stevie-Rae Robinson


interpretive signage, public parks, community consultation, focus groups, surveys.


Executive SummaryThis paper describes our experience of engaging community residents and stakeholders in a nine month process of designing interpretive messaging in a popular public park on Salt Spring Island, B.C. Located close to the downtown core, the park covers 56.6 acres with a trail length over 8 km, and serves multiple users including tourists. The need for interpretive signage was identified to facilitate park staff to manage park issues among multiple users, educate visitors on the importance of the park's fragile ecosystem, offer correct historical and cultural information, as well as manage behaviours of visitors within the park (e.g., litter, vandalism, protecting flora/fauna etc.). The process included two phases: to begin, we engaged in three months of initial consultations through 11 focus groups with 89 residents and 16 park and recreation professionals to explore their experiences with and knowledge of the park. From the analysis of the focus group data, the general content of six signs were identified as important for the park: history, ecology, park behaviour guidelines, dog walking guidelines, directional sign, and one about the health benefits of being in nature. As well, a connecting theme emerged that captured the core beliefs, values and attitudes of focus group participants with regards to the park that we labeled “by nature.† This was followed by three months of designing and piloting 6 draft signs with 104 residents and 56 tourists who completed brief surveys about language, visuals, and comprehension. In the second phase, informed by the piloting results, signs were finalized, constructed and mounted in the park, and 68 park visitors were surveyed to evaluate the influence of the signs on their learning and park experience. We also gathered observational data using the Physical Activity Resource Assessment to assess the impact of the signs on park incivilities. In sum, a total of 265 Salt Spring residents and tourists contributed to the content and design of 6 signs in Phase I of the project. In Phase II, evaluation data from 63 park visitors revealed the signs to be very well received as evidenced by high scores for comprehension, interest and improved park visits. Answers to open ended questions on the survey confirmed the numerical ratings: 95.6% reflected positive terms, with ‘informative,' and ‘interesting' the most oft included terms. One year following their placement, none of the signs have been vandalised or stolen.

Author Biography

Joan Wharf Higgins, University of Victoria

School of Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education, Professor





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