Sharing is Caring conference takeaways (pt.2)

The following post has been written by Sanna Marttila, designer and researcher for digital design and media and board member of Open Knowledge Finland. At the end of December, she attended the Sharing is Caring conference in Denmark. Sanna has kindly written about the conference and has mainly focussed on the different keynotes. Because of its length, the post has been divided in two parts. In this second part, she will mainly discuss the session about strategies and business models for cultural institutions and the creation of Cultural Commons. The first part can be found here

Organiser Merete Sanderhoff welcomes everybody to the conference. Picture taken by Nina Hviid and available under a CC-BY license.

Digital Strategies for Cultural Institutions

Digital strategist Jasper Visser’s “The future of museums is about attitude (not technology), also dealt with good practices for museums in the digital era. Their company has worked on many cultural heritage projects, and Visser is drawing from these experiences. The main message of his talk was to “tell stories that resonate with people”. This is surely becoming more difficult, because people nowadays are used to and expect to be part of creating their own stories, something that is becoming a norm in our everyday media use. One challenge for museums (or GLAMmers) is how to transform stories to engaging experiences, and moreover, how to co-create and support new ways to explore and re-use art and culture.

Visser took a strong stance when addressing the museum organizations, stating that museums should re-design the hiring process and what kind of talents and skills should be recruited. In his opinion academia does not educate people with relevant skills, and degrees are not necessary when working in the digital realm and with cultural heritage. I would like to understand his provocative comment as a plea for academia to change rather than turning our back to it. In fact, due to the digitization and increasing open access to wide cultural heritage collections, exploring culture in all contexts is much easier and pleasurable (see e.g. Digital Vaults) now than it was when trying to distinguish Manet from Monet by watching slides from a projector together with an auditorium full of peers. Skills, digital savviness and deep knowledge of art, should not be excluding each other but mutually supportive.

Visser and his colleagues have developed a Digital Engagement Framework (DEF) tool building upon the Business Model Canvas. They use DEF in strategy workshops with cultural institutions, but for those interested the materials are also available as a free pdf including worksheets, tips and tricks for the GLAM sector. However the most thought provoking moment for me in Visser’s talk was the moment when he referred to himself – surely ironically – as a strategist who tells cultural institutions what they should do, but does not get his “hands dirty” and engage with real communities. Would it be time also for strategists – as well as everybody – to leave the podiums and take part in a hackathon or actually do a remix?

The Keynotes in Conversation session hosted by Merete Sanderhoff (SMK) went straight to the point by trying to answer the obvious question: What needs to be done from the cultural institutional point-of-view? Leaving aside points already mentioned (good practices provided by Bernstein and Visser’s critique towards the academia), two issues addressed caught my attention: How to sustain initiatives for a longer period and keep people interested? And how do organizations need to change in order survive ‘in the open’? See the whole discussion here.

The session made me think what could be mechanisms for cultural institutions to do some expectation management and set the right horizon level for expectations for all stakeholders. Yes, we all know something about hype and buzz words (such as openness), and tend to sometimes get blinded by new technologies and released metadata sets that actually nobody re-uses. I really much favour Bernstein’s low-tech, people first approach and the focus on partnerships. If we want to further inclusive design principles for participation and engagement I would suggest a few more guidelines: openness towards accommodating various kinds of contributions (from small to larger scale commitment) based on individual skills; negotiate collectively issues such as ownership, compensation and ethical/privacy issues; and develop an open-ended process where participants’ contributions build upon and feed the cultural commons for everybody (accessible and licensed with open license, of course).

Building a Cultural Commons

A concept of Cultural Commons has been eloquently elaborated in this forum earlier by Nick Poole, and Michael Edson has defined what constitutes a Cultural Commons on many occasions. Jill Cousins, executive director of the Europeana Foundation, had an interesting presentation on how Europeana is Building a European Cultural Commons. Regulating the Commons means creating conditions for collective action and shared rules for participation and use of common resources. For Europeana this means five principles: mutuality, access, attribution, consistency and engagement. In the latter principle Cousins discusses the importance of commitment, the same issue that Bernstein raised, and stressed how in order to sustain a commons requires long-term investments on all fronts – i.e. maintain and offer high quality services not forgetting the human-human interaction.

In practice, Cousins continues, Europeana will advance the building of a cultural commons through three pilots that aims to develop a solid infrastructure, facilitate and support digital scholarship, and establish open culture labs through the Europeana Creative project. In other words, Europeana is aiming to build an open ecosystem in all relevant layers: technology, people and relevant cases to demonstrate the value of a European Cultural Commons that is valuable for all, from individual citizens to creative industries.

The Ignite session covered eight inspiring presentations in one hour. Many of them had the same underlying theme: how to establish a dialogue with citizens in a digital realm, and what novel forms of engagements and experiences museums or other cultural institutions can offer. It was delightful to see also examples of projects such as SchoolTube, presented by Peter Leth, to see how digital cultural assets could be used in practice. The ‘Skattefar’ (a colloquialism for the taxing authorities, literally tax-dad) initiative, presented by Lene Krogh Jeppesen, proved how simple solutions as using Twitter to communicate with citizens can have a big impact.
Some of the presenters directly or indirectly presented museums as “spaces for cultural citizenship” (as titled in Lise Sattrup and Nana Bernhardt’s presentation) or creators of new digital services and platforms. However the co-creation and co-design of these new spaces together with other stakeholders is a key to open and accessible cultural institutions.

This was also well presented in the talks given by Sarah Giersing (Museum of Copenhagen) when presenting the WALL project, where citizens create their city’s history, and by Jacob Wang (National Museum of Denmark) that presented the Hack4DK project.

These initiatives are the forerunners and, to me, prove in practice that cultural heritage belongs to everybody, and we have a right to make our own interpretations, appropriations and interventions. In the final panel discussion Miriam Lerkenfeld from Danish Broadcasting Corporation said it out loud: we the public should demand our right to our cultural resources, as well as our right to be part of building a Cultural Commons.

Sharing is caring for our cultural heritage, and our responsibility for the Cultural Commons should stem from our freedom and right to share, participate, and re-use our common culture. It is time to get real, and to get our hands dirty!