European Heritage Hub explores digital transformation in ‘Sharing Local Stories’ webinar

As part of the ‘Sharing Local Stories’ webinar series, the European Heritage Hub hosted the first webinar on the digital aspect of the triple transformation of our society. The online event highlighted three cultural heritage initiatives that were identified through the Hub’s recent Open Call for Local Good Practices

The initiatives in focus were ‘Nantes Patrimonia’ (France), an online platform where citizens access information on the everyday heritage of their city and neighbourhood; the Urban PERISCOPE practice (Cyprus), which seeks to broaden discourse in online interfaces around building conservation and management; and the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies (Armenia) which is expanding its multi-year initiative to capture detailed 3D scans of hundreds of Armenian heritage sites.  Each initiative was showcased for its unique challenges and innovative solutions within the digital dimension of cultural heritage preservation and promotion. 

The Europeana Foundation was the main content partner for the webinar, drawing on over 15 years of expertise in supporting the cultural heritage sector’s digital transformation, and more recent experience of stewarding the common European data space for cultural heritage. Harry Verwayen, General Director of the Europeana Foundation, set the tone for the event with a keynote address.

Read on to discover what was discussed and the key takeaways. 

Digital transformation should be equitable, sustainable and balanced

In his opening address at the webinar, Harry Verwayen shared Europeana’s story, experiences and learnings around digital transformation. Harry recalled that digitisation in our sector reflects the public mission of cultural heritage institutions of making knowledge accessible in the 21st century. He reflected that, “One thing we have learned about digital transformation is that we should not look at it as an end state. It’s not something you can work towards and conclude that you’re done… we think of this rather as a journey that depends on the prevailing paradigm or world view we are in.” He also shared Europeana’s belief that digital transformation is not just about technology: it’s about mindsets and personal capabilities. 

Harry offered a brief historic overview of how, in our sector, digital transformation has undergone different phases, from focusing on accessibility, reuse, and finally participation and experience. He emphasised how actions which focus on digital, green and social dimensions can contribute to a heritage led- triple transformation – as was underlined by the inspiring examples of digital practices transforming the heritage sector following the keynote speech. 

Practical examples – balancing threats and solutions 

In total, the webinar highlighted the positive impact that digital tools and services can bring to cultural heritage in urban and local contexts: from enhancing the relationship between people, their city and cultural heritage; to improving data-driven policy-making; to supporting conservation of heritage at risk due to climate and human-made threats.

However, the webinar also highlighted that a socially and environmentally responsible digital transformation in our sector is not an easy task, and often entails tensions or trade-offs. For example, digitisation comes with environmental costs, as it relies on infrastructure with energy-intensive processes. The three presented projects offered solutions to mitigate this negative effect, from adopting sustainable digital practices in daily operations, to gathering data on climate change and its impact on the urban environment.  

Another perceived tension was found in allowing broad participation and user-generated content while also ensuring the authenticity and accuracy of information, both key values in cultural heritage. Again, the presented practices shared insights on how trustworthiness can be safeguarded by implementing verification methods. 

When it comes to an inclusive digital transformation, the presented practices stressed the need to consider and address the unequal adoption of technology across population segments, as well as persisting digital illiteracy and digital divides.  Sustainability and scalability of technology should be ensured through training and the development of digital skills. An important step towards user acceptance and uptake is co-developing digital tools together with their target users, for instance through workshops and feedback sessions. 

Lastly, the webinar shed light on the need for tech to work for us, and not the other way around. It should, first and foremost, support the public mission of heritage institutions, such as democratising access to culture and supporting the creation and sharing of new knowledge.  

About the webinar series

Following a recent Call for Local Good Practices, the European Heritage Hub identified cultural heritage initiatives that contribute to the green, digital and social transformation of our society. 

These initiatives are being shared through an ongoing webinar series which focuses on how these practices have been implemented on local or regional levels. The webinars present inspirational stories and practical examples while engaging in a wider conversation on the role of cultural heritage in an urban context. The series is being implemented by the Hub project partners Eurocities and Europa Nostra, with the involvement of various Hub partners as content contributors, selected based on their expertise.

The next webinar in the series is scheduled for early Autumn. To stay informed with the latest updates, make sure to subscribe to the Hub’s newsletter.

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