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The role and prominence of the CultureLabs platform for WE-Hope Project

Building on the extensive know-how of the CultureLabs Consortium in participatory approaches and in addressing the needs of various target groups, the CultureLabs project reviews and compares participatory approaches and practices towards inclusion in the cultural field and beyond. Its participatory approaches focus on three major areas :

The first focuses on the needs and practices of institutions, primarily CH institutions but also government authorities, and civil organisations such as non-profit organisations and social enterprises, by collecting data via interviews and questionnaires from a broad network of stakeholders.

The second is concerned with the social integration/innovation needs and living grassroots heritage of the community, and especially of community groups that are marginalised and/or disconnected from dominant cultural heritage. Within this context, it focuses on immigrants communities and investigates a number of case studies referring to different micro-communities of this broad and heterogeneous target group.

In parallel with the above, a third area of focus investigates the role of technology as an inclusionary force and as a facilitator and mediator of participatory approaches in the fields of cultural heritage and social innovation.

Digital technologies underpin the way some forms of participation around heritage occur (for example through interactive exhibitions, but also via online discussions and content sharing/tagging) and provide means of reaching out, communicating and working together with stakeholders.

At the same time, the digital space mirrors many aspects of social exclusion and poses certain challenges with respect to its relation with material culture and physical space (i.e. when digital content and tools distract from or overshadow the actual heritage assets people readily enjoy), as well as with issues of access to digital tools and resources and digital literacy (i.e. when access requires certain tools or digital skills that certain groups might not have).

The CultureLabs platform utilizes ICT tools for interaction with and creative reuse of CH, tools that facilitate co-design and two-way interactions, and tools for reaching out to target audiences and engage them in dialogue. It also addresses socio-scientific sensitivities and assesses the effectiveness/suitability of ICT tools in different circumstances. An innovation to the state of the art regards the role of ICT for participation. Digital technologies are underpinning the way some forms of participation around heritage occur (for example through interactive exhibitions, but also via online discussions and content sharing/tagging) and provide means of reaching out to stakeholders. ICT platforms for cultural heritage are a lively area of study for disciplines such as human-computer interaction, information systems, digital humanities and digital heritage. Participatory approaches to the design of digital technologies for heritage have also been adopted, however they tend to be fairly limited “case study” examples, due to the difficulty of preserving the legacy of such projects in the long term. Challenges are also often posed by the demanding nature of facilitating co-design and participatory design teams in the long term when they bring together a wide variety of expertise, interests and skills.

The meSch project studied in detail how co-design and co-creation occur around the digital toolkit for tangible interactive exhibitions developed by the project. The meSch toolkit however, is not explicitly focused on participatory projects or exhibitions, nor on the social impact of CH.

In the Pluggy Project, a set of plug-in apps had the goal of fostering the involvement of citizens into CH activities, such as social networking and crowdsourcing. This project has done work with a clear focus on social engagement with heritage through ICTs: it has, however, no participatory framework as such, and has no explicit focus on issues of on exclusion and inclusion.

Other ICT toolkits for CH are aimed at the introduction of specific types of digital experiences and interactions, such as OpenExhibits for multi-touch installations, and CHESS, for authoring digital storytelling experiences of heritage through Virtual and Mixed Reality.

What distinguishes the CultureLabs platform is its holistic approach : it provides in a novel integrated way digital tools and services supporting the whole process of designing and realising participatory projects for social innovation in culture, from searching and discovering resources to facilitating collaboration of diverse stakeholders as well as to engaging users through innovative ways of interacting with CH. Although there exist the aforementioned ICT tools for (at least partially) supporting these different needs individually, the CultureLabs platform is unique in that it integrates them in a systematic, holistic and user-friendly way.

Another important aspect distinguishing the Culture Labs framework and toolkits from other digital/online platforms is that it appeals to both institutional stakeholders and community members, seeing them both as culture carriers and producers that are engaged in dialogue and mutual exchange. At the same time, it keeps a clear distinction of roles and separation between different layers of services, access levels and communication channels. Furthermore (without excluding proprietary resources), the vast majority of Culture Labs’ pool of ingredients and the accompanying added-value facilities will be open, shared and made available for others to use and improve on. The platform is addressed not only to CH institutions/actors but is a shared space that appeals also to different stakeholder groups, from creative individuals and software developers to community associations, who can reuse its resources and services but also contribute with their own material. Overall, in terms of service innovation, as far as we are aware, there exist no platform that provides template-based digital services that assist CH institutions and other stakeholders to design their own projects-recipes for social impact and create custom online spaces where they can publish and organise information specific to their implementation. By cultivating and expanding participatory engagement in CI operations for reaching diverse societal goals, CultureLabs paves the way for participatory governance of cultural heritage.

Within this context, CultureLabs reserves a dual role for ICT : on one hand it focuses on aspects related to efficient and inclusive governance, in the sense of tools facilitating the collaborative design and operation of participatory projects, information exchange and structuring, and collective decision making; on the other hand, it seeks to investigate the use of digital services and tools that can offer to community members novel experiences for interaction with CH, creative reuse, enrichment and co-creation.

This article was written by George Marandianos, Vassilis Tzouvaras, Eirini Kaldeli from NTUA.

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