About Policy Recommendations
Executive summary, aproach, key stakeholders, context
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
This process belongs to Policy Recommendations Toolkit
“Towards Community-Focused Cultural Heritage Institutions Operating in the Digital Realm”
“Towards Community-Focused Cultural Heritage Institutions Operating in the Digital Realm” is a set of policy recommendations designed to assist cultural heritage institutions (CHIs) in fulfilling their public mission in the digital realm. Its goal is to further the democratic and community-focused digital transformation of CHIs, and to support access to, and the reusability of, digital cultural heritage.
The brief is authored by inDICEs, a Horizon 2020 research project that aims to empower decision-makers in the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) to understand the social, economic and environmental impact of digitisation in their sectors and to address the need for innovative (re)use of cultural assets. It is the end result of an inclusive, collaborative process led by inDICE partners and outside experts, with contributions from over fifty Europe-based heritage professionals representing diverse organisational backgrounds and areas of expertise.
Its purpose is to better prepare CHIs for the digital transformation and empower the systemic changes needed in order to make CHIs open and digital, facilitating active participation based on reuse of digital collections.
The proposed policy recommendations are intended to be implemented at the local, national, or European level by the key stakeholders of digital cultural heritage policies: EU and national policy makers, heritage networks, CHIs, CCI professionals, and other relevant stakeholders collaborating with CHIs. However, the ultimate beneficiaries of these policies, once implemented, will be the citizens, represented through their communities.
The recommendations come in the context of major transitions under way in the cultural heritage sector. With COVID-19 spurring the need for new, hybrid models, and people exploring novel ways to interact with heritage, CHIs have been pivoting online, experimenting with new formats and ways of communication as they reevaluate their relevance.
CHIs will have to adopt a broader vision of heritage in the digital realm, and embrace collaboration and dialogue with their communities. They will need to reorient their approach to digitisation, focusing on quality and possibly redigitising previously digitised assets. Furthermore, CHIs must rethink their roles as stewards of digital public spaces, placing a greater emphasis on communities and social objectives, and providing a venue for debate and the exchange of ideas. At the same time, institutions have a responsibility to weigh the ethical ramifications of making digital cultural heritage freely accessible, and consider how certain communities may be affected by heritage objects, such as those obtained through violent means, or which perpetuate bias or prejudice.
This reorientation necessitates the development of new legal frameworks. Intellectual property laws need to be revised in order to empower CHIs to promote the reuse of digital cultural heritage in education, research, creation, and recreation.
The inDICEs Policy Brief introduces policy recommendations that aim to assist cultural heritage institutions (CHIs) in flourishing and fulfilling their public mission in the digital realm. inDICEs perspective is anchored in empowering the democratic and community-focused digital transformation of cultural heritage institutions supporting access and reusability of digital cultural heritage.
The policy brief is based on research and close observation of changes occurring in the cultural heritage (CH) sector and in European societies. These recommendations are inspired by the Culture 3.0 paradigm by Pier Luigi Sacco,*1 which stresses the importance of considering the multiple forms of value and impact culture has on society and different forms of value creation, leading to a more participatory, community-based ecosystem. The authors also refer to the work of Mariana Mazzucato who argues that the capacities and role of government within the economy and society have to be rethought, putting public purpose first.*2 Furthermore, an important point of reference for this document is the process of evaluation of the 2011 European Commission recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation,*3 which created a space for reframing Europe’s digital heritage strategy.
The policy brief demonstrates how a commitment to the access and reuse of digital cultural heritage can support the organisational strategic commitments of cultural heritage institutions in a range of areas, in particular inclusivity, innovation, and sustainability that came to the forefront of the discussions conducted during the co-creation process of this policy brief. Focusing on these elements can allow cultural heritage institutions to flourish and fulfil their public mission also in the online environment, through appropriately designed digital transformation that might result in value creation relevant to various communities.
inDICE’s ambition is to shape policy recommendations in a collaborative and inclusive way, following a participatory approach, ensuring that the document represents not only the research and the way of thinking of the inDICEs project, but those of the wider professional heritage community. For this reason the process involved experts from the inDICEs consortium as well as a broader community of heritage professionals contributing to the policy work at various stages. In result, the policy brief is the result of a co-creation effort by a group of more than fifty Europe-based experts representing diverse organisational backgrounds and areas of expertise. The process was built as a collaborative work based on a number of brainstorming sessions and feedback loops. The work was led by a core team of experts — again both inDICEs partners and experts from outside of the consortium.
Key stakeholders of digital cultural heritage policies
The inDICEs Policy Brief is directed to four key stakeholder groups essential to shaping the future cultural heritage ecosystem:
- Policy makers at the EU and national levels involved in decision making relevant to the CHI sector.
- Heritage Networks (e.g., Europeana network association and Europeana Aggregators Forum, NEMO) on European and national, regional, cross-sectoral levels.
- Cultural Heritage Institutions and the sector at large.
- Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) professionals and other relevant stakeholders collaborating with CHIs (enterprises from other sectors, etc.)
inDICEs’ policy recommendations are intended for implementation at local, national or European levels to better prepare the CHIs for the digital transformation and empower the systemic changes needed in order to make CHIs open and digital, facilitating active participation based on reuse of digital collections.
The main beneficiary of all the recommendations remain the citizens, represented through various communities, whose needs are to be addressed by CHIs creating space for citizen engagement and contributions, thus influencing their sense of belonging, social cohesion, and quality of life in general.
Context: digital transformation of the European cultural heritage sector
Need for relevance and sustainable development
The European Cultural Heritage (CH) sector is in a phase of a major digital transition, with cultural heritage institutions observing and witnessing the different ways in which people interact with heritage (both on-site and online). One can note a variety of interactions with heritage collections by various communities, varying from spectatorship practices to active creation or co-creation. Increasingly, cultural heritage institutions have started exploring these types of interactions and have been redefining their role and mission, taking into account the impact they have in many areas of social life. At the same time, in 2021 the New European Bauhaus*4 initiative was introduced by the European Commission, bringing focus onto culture and heritage in a political and economic context, including sustainable environmental solutions and social wellbeing. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced CHIs to imagine new, hybrid models for the sector. Many CHIs decided or were pressed to take a ‘crash course’ in digital transformation, pivoting their activities online, experimenting with new formats, tools, and new ways of communicating with relevant communities.
Shaping dialogue with digital heritage communities
In order to remain relevant in the changing socioeconomic landscape, cultural heritage institutions must embed their operations within the communities and networks they aim to serve. ICOM recognises this in its newly released museum definition*5 by making, for the first time, a direct reference to collaborations and dialogue with communities. Also the Council of Europe Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention, 2005)*6 promotes a wider understanding of heritage and its relationship to communities and society. The time has come to apply the same vision in the digital realm, namely by fostering the recognition of (new or existing) digital heritage communities that live around — and are fed by — specific virtual cultural assets, e.g. from the digital collections of local museums and libraries to cult movies preserved in fan archives, etc. Digital heritage needs to be better situated in relation to communities and society, and at the same time the production of digital assets and digital spaces need to better support social and community engagement.
Quality-focused approach to digitisation
Digitisation is still a significant area in the heritage sector, with many basic challenges present in the daily operations of cultural heritage institutions. The long-term management of digitised and born-digital collections following international preservation standards and protocols requires considerable investments (in hardware, software, licences, electricity, and last but not least, expert knowledge). In the European Commission’s recent recommendation on a common European data space for cultural heritage,*7 it is stated that digital preservation goals may include not only cultural heritage assets that are considered a priority for digitisation, but also previously digitised assets that require revisiting and repeated digitisation of higher quality. Digitisation has therefore to some extent become a repetitive activity constantly searching for improved quality, also taking into account the needs of the users and potential reuse of the digitised collections.
CHIs stewarding development of digital public spaces
Important shifts in how cultural heritage institutions see their mission have led to greater focus on communities and societal goals, as opposed to strategies focused solely on cultural goals. We see CHIs experimenting with taking on a stewardship role for the whole of the online environment. This is aligned with a vision of digital public space in which the internet is seen not as a market, but a place where we live together as a society. In Europe today, a range of activities are taking place that can be framed as building a digital public space. Tellingly, participation in a digital public space is one of the Digital Principles proposed recently by the European Commission.*8 As part of the path to the Digital Decade strategy, several steps have already been undertaken — for example, the development of common data spaces (including ones for cultural heritage and for media) or regulation of online platforms. This approach further prioritises the common good, the empowerment of citizens, and conditions for debate and sharing of ideas. Cultural heritage institutions should lead the way in designing and stewarding online spaces that are optimised towards civic engagement and community building through cultural value chains, instead of prioritising economic gains. In order to differ from the business model of the attention economy (constituting the logic of the mass media in contemporary social life, focusing on very few creative producers as the key manifestation of the accumulation of attention capital),*9 CHIs should push towards promotion of the value of the common digital space, prioritising societal objectives before any financial profit.
New impact and legal frameworks
Nevertheless, the current focus on quantitative targets in reporting and evaluation practices imposed on cultural heritage institutions by their organisers — referring mainly to content digitisation and online accessibility and statistics on online users — prevents them from fully understanding and embracing the difference they make for various communities accessing and reusing their collections, services and products. inDICEs aims to empower cultural heritage institutions in promoting the reuse of digital cultural heritage in education, research, creation and recreation. We encourage sharing based on the understanding that this is part of the mission of cultural heritage institutions across Europe. And it is not separable from their legal obligations. To achieve this, CHIs guided by a public mission should be equipped with appropriate legal instruments. In particular, it seems necessary to remodel the current shape of intellectual property law, including copyright, to allow for the implementation of this public mission.*10
Ethics of open sharing
However, when acting in favour of removing barriers to the use of digital cultural heritage, one must simultaneously consider the ethics of digital open sharing and the reuse of data, with the possible negative implications, stemming either from direct harm created through the sharing and reuse or maximised by it. While ethics must be taken into consideration within both the physical and digital, broader access to collections via digital means might amplify certain ethical issues. Sharing digital cultural heritage alongside descriptive metadata might be harmful, contested or offensive to an individual or a community. Certain heritage objects might have been obtained through wrong, violent and/or imposed circumstances, e.g. genocide or colonialism, or may depict certain people or communities through the lenses of perpetrators (with all the bias and prejudice related to this gaze); this entails a certain responsibility towards the community. Some heritage might be recognised as conflicting, and thus requires CHIs to enable negotiations and introduce procedures that will allow conflicted voices to be heard. Ethical practices of sharing digital collections must be therefore embraced in CHIs’ daily operations, not only in their high profile policies. Ethical considerations should become one of crucial elements of curatorial and archiving strategies, along with the integration of emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence and the risk of potential algorithmic bias.
Given all the turbulence in the current world and the dynamically changing value models functioning between cultural heritage institutions and society, CHIs, supported by the relevant stakeholders and communities that they need to build relationships with, need to introduce measures that will allow them to prepare for the digital transformation and will ensure they fulfil their mission in the digital realm meeting the communities’ needs. The research conducted under inDICEs*11 proves that CHIs must learn new mechanisms for more community-focused, including community-driven, cultural production in order to address a very relevant gap in online participation which doesn’t immediately translate into actual active participation. The best way to achieve this goal is to rethink the reuse of cultural heritage collections by turning them into a driving force empowering active participation among various communities.