UNESCO -  Arab World Heritage Young Professionals Forum
Olga Ruitenbeek, MA
creative director
januari 16, 2020

UNESCO Workshop for young professionals on Emotion Design


32 young professionals from the Arab region, attended the ‘Arab World Heritage Young Professionals Forum’ in Tunis. This Forum, organized by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, aimed to empower youth in peacebuilding through the protection, preservation and promotion of World Heritage. At the end of a week full of lectures on the role of heritage in conflict and the prevention of youth extremism, it was time to get more practical. During a full-day workshop, I trained the participants in creating a communication plan for a heritage site and conveying these plans to their stakeholders in a pitch. 


Emotion Design Method for heritage in conflict

Heritage is often targeted during a conflict, but it can also play a critical role in enhancing a sense of belonging after a conflict. Changing the way people feel about their heritage can contribute towards a better understanding of each other’s culture. It can make people realise we often have more in common than we think. But how to engage youth with a heritage site? And how to promote peace by doing so? You can build awareness by giving a relevant message to your audience. In our work, we do this with Emotion Design. A method with which we search for the message in each story, creating a meaningful, emotional and innovative visitor experience. 


During the workshop, the UNESCO young professionals were divided into 6 groups and were asked to design a communication plan for one of three sites: Palmyra (Syria), Sidi Bou Said Mausoleum (Tunisia), Memphis and its Necropolis (Egypt). They are all sites that are either under threat or – like Sidi Bou Said – are recovering from terrorist attacks. What message to define for such vulnerable sites and such politically sensitive matters? Creating a core message and designing a communication plan for these sites is not easy, especially when doing this in just one day. However, the participants were up for the challenge and worked strenuously on their plans. I guided them through the Emotion Design Method step by step. I was quite proud when I watched them pitch their ideas to Tunisian heritage professionals the next day. 


Creative ideas full of Emotion Design

The outcomes of the workshop demonstrate that our Emotion Design method successfully helps to develop ideas that better suit your target audience. It enables heritage experts to create unforgettable visitor experiences that change the way people feel about heritage. 


Take for instance the site of Palmyra in Syria. The site has suffered greatly from conflict and the inhabitants of Palmyra are spread all over the world, often living in refugee camps. The Forum participants wanted to revive the warm memories of this site that many people who grew up here have – memories that are currently overshadowed by the recent hardships. The participants strongly felt that it’s important to not only rescue the tangible heritage, but also the intangible. Thus they came up with a travelling VR installation where everyone can add their memories of Palmyra before the conflict. An installation that can easily travel from one refugee camp to the other and that can recreate a sense of belonging to the site.  


Another case study was the site of the Sidi Bou Said Mausoleum in Tunisia. A site that was attacked in 2013 for religious reasons. But these types of shrines are not only used for religious purposes – they can have a different meaning to different people. Two groups of Forum participants worked on this case study. It was interesting to see that they both created a journey to change the way visitors feel about the site. An emotional journey, either digital or physically on-site, to show the non-religious importance of the mausoleum. By changing the way people feel about the use of mausoleums, the participants aimed to contribute to the prevention of future religiously motivated attacks.


After two fruitful days, it was time to leave Tunisia and the UNESCO young professionals behind. I sincerely hope that my Emotion Design workshop turned out to be a memorable experience. That this method of structuring a story, by defining facts, determining a message and constructing an emotional effect will help to take better care of heritage. That the participants go home with fresh ideas and new motivation to work on the preservation and presentation of our world heritage. And perhaps even contribute to the prevention of damage or destruction during conflict.


The Arab World Heritage Young Professionals Forum was organized by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, under the World Heritage Education Programme, within the framework of the UNESCO/UNOCT project on the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, co-funded by Canada. It was organized in collaboration with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).