The changing role of cultural heritage institutions in the digital realm
Learn more about digital cultural participation matters
A participatory process is a sequence of participatory activities (e.g. first filling out a survey, then making proposals, discussing them in face-to-face or virtual meetings, and finally prioritizing them) with the aim of defining and making a decision on a specific topic.
Examples of participatory processes are: a process of electing committee members (where candidatures are first presented, then debated and finally a candidacy is chosen), participatory budgets (where proposals are made, valued economically and voted on with the money available), a strategic planning process, the collaborative drafting of a regulation or norm, the design of an urban space or the production of a public policy plan.
About this process
Learn more about digital cultural participation matters
The scientific motivations that led to and underlying the conceptual map “the 8 Impact Areas” of active digital cultural participation were developed by the researchers and partners of the inDICEs project. We carried out a set of analyses to assess the role that digital technologies play in promoting and facilitating cultural participation. We applied a computational social science approach to better understand the behaviour of a huge amount of users in digital platforms (Wikipedia, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to gain insights into the collective behaviours that are shaped and conveyed by each specific platform. In the report “D1.7 Guidelines for the best practices regarding the maximisation of the impact of digitisation of cultural heritage” you can find an overall description of the ecosystem that embraces the different research designs conducted (as detailed in D1.3, D1,4 and D1.5) on the most important digital open platforms. The report, traces a common thread that clearly and coherently defines the context of the discourse, the theoretical approach, and the main trends in terms of digital creative production and cultural participation both in general and in relation with the heritage and cultural institutes.
Today, digital technologies enable everybody who potentially wants to create to do so with semi-professional and even professional standards. Cultural producers and users are enabled to interchange roles in a wide range of possibilities. As we can observe by the analyses conducted, many institutions have accelerated the digital transformation of their collections and operations. However, this is not always embedded in an overarching strategy or, if it is, the digitisation workflows may lack a participatory strategy that can generate positive outcomes. The results of the analyses converge on the same point: there is still a huge participation gap. The fact that open platforms enable people to participate does not immediately translate into actual participation. Even if the web 2.0 digital space creates space for interaction and active participation, users are likely to behave more like a traditional, passive audience than like prosumers/co-creators.
On the other hand, research also tells us that collective processes of active participation can generate impressive positive psycho-social impacts in several areas. CHIs can reverse the process by switching from a top-down to a bottom-up digitisation strategy. By this, we mean a strategy focused on production and re-use of cultural assets, where both CHis professionals and visitors take active part in the digital creation process. The Statens Museums for Kunt together with the Young People's Meeting developed a great example regarding the topic. Indeed, SMK joined forces with this public event and organised workshops where a young crowd used the SMK free digital artworks collection to create visual expression of some difficult emotions. This led to discussions on difficult topics and life situations that young people could struggle with.
In particular, according to the data analysis that we conducted on the most commonly used open platforms and social networks in Europe, CHIs are perfectly embedded in the typical dynamic of the digital space. The economy of attention is a main element of this domain, constituting the logic of the mass media in contemporary social life and focusing on very few creative producers as the key manifestation of the accumulation of attention capital: such a predatory dynamic characterises social media, whose companies commonly design platforms in a way that renders them addictive. In order to differentiate CHIs from the business model of the economy of attention, a possible change of direction concerns the push from below of marginal or communities’ specific based contents, in order to return to enrich the value of the common digital space.
The fact that open platforms enable people to participate does not immediately translate into actual participation tells us that social skills and capabilities play a fundamental role in creating effective interrelations and in creating platforms of collective intelligence. There are two interrelated types of barriers that might make active participation difficult: digital skills barriers and social skills barriers. It is necessary to consider the social capability dimension, the area of social functioning, underpinned by social skills, identified within the theory of deep democracy associated with healthy living. They not only concern the ability to live to the end of a complete human life, as far as possible (Amartya Sen, 1988), but also regarding the ability to imagine, to engage in critical reflection, to feel positive and functional feelings: the capability to choose, to form goals, commitments, values, to create healthy relations and to participate in the community, to participate politically and be capable of social and environmental justice but also to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational and cultural activities. The development and strengthening of capabilities have many sources, and literature shows us that culture and cultural active participation is one of the most powerful means. Given that actual digital open platforms can leverage upon a large amount of distributed intelligence and skills, such as the ones that regard cultural and artistic creation, a great challenge for CHIs on the digital platform is supporting the development of these capabilities.
The most important take-away is that cultural institutions need to consider the necessity of creating the conditions for truly inclusive active participation, based on the evidence provided by the impacts that these processes generate not only face-to-face but also online and as a result of hybrid interactions.
It seems that there is a gap in the process that should be filled by CHIs by assuming the Culture 3.0 perspective and the role of orchestrators of digitisation processes. This is fundamental to empower the possibilities given by the collective intelligence by entitling the actual communities to participate in the decisional phases of the digitisation (cataloguing, curating according to their perspective).
CHIs can tackle these challenges with a new role, by basing their value chains on their public mission and acting as empowering structures for collective creativity of orchestration and not of monetisation. This would open up the potential of digital platforms, helping the digital environment to erase barriers that create powerless communities/customers, in which the competitive dynamics of the attention economy deplete the possible value produced by the collective active participation.