Report - CC Open Culture Working Group Digital Community Heritage
Additional contributors (in alphabetical order): Alhassan Mohammed Awal, Marie-Claire Dangerfield, Maria Drabczyk, Revekka Kefalea, Jacob Moe, Ngozi Osuchukwu, María R. Osuna Alarcón.
Throughout 2022, the Creative Commons Open Culture Platform organised six working groups, as proposed and voted by its members, to bring in multiple perspectives on various topics of open-access in culture. This multilingual report outlines the research carried out by the Digital Community Heritage Working Group, which aims to map and analyse the openness spectrum and typology of digital community heritage initiatives, collect international cases, and identify good practices and common challenges in the field.
a. Digital community heritage within CC and beyond
The working group’s research on digital community heritage draws upon ongoing debates in the context of open access and inclusive digital transformation. We point out three key statements that highlight the field:
i. Community-related heritage brings a higher awareness for responsibly acknowledging source communities when it comes to access and reuse.
ii. Publishing community heritage manifestations in open access can rebalance the representation gaps in the public sphere of under-reported and marginalised communities.
iii. Community heritage initiatives may build capacity and know-how at the community level, ensuring the use of tools, policies and technologies to the best advantage of the communities.
b. Defining community
In order to better understand the scope of digital community heritage, the term “community” has been approached from an interdisciplinary perspective. What is our current understanding of community? A community is a fluid, broad and multi-faceted concept, which has been at the centre of debates in the social sciences and humanities (SSH). It is worth noting that the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), which foregrounds communities in the heritage context, does not specifically describe the term “community” but rather permits the freedom to select several criteria and a variety of ways to define and analyse communities. In view of this, we pinpoint three aspects that permit a wider conceptualisation of community: i. the sense of identity, ii. the sense of belonging and iii. the interconnections among community members.
Communities can be self-determined, in which case their members recognise their representational belonging at grassroots level. However, communities can also be not self-identified, as in the case where they are recognised as such through a research or interpretive outcome (historicized communities). In the context of digital settings, communities can be enabled in more “passive” modes, through user contribution and peer-to-peer interactions on digital platforms, or through interactions of human and non-human agents, e.g., in services where new types of communities are created through Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).
Proximity experienced in communities can be physical (as in communities that are formed based on location) or symbolic (as in communities based on a shared interest that transgresses notions of locality, such as born-digital communities). Of course, communities can display overlapping factors, entailing a complex web of relations that are often not easily identifiable, while assumptions about the nature of individuality and intersubjectivity can largely determine one’s ideas about community.
To start our research, we defined our focus: online initiatives where community members or users contribute to a community heritage-related common cause, which promotes the interests of the community(ies) and/or the greater public.
a. Identifying Digital Community Heritage Initiatives
As a first step for identifying and categorising the digital community heritage initiatives, we created a threefold categorisation:
Community-driven initiatives are led by communities and their members; they may exist entirely outside an institution or they can actively involve GLAMs. Communities might initiate a project which may (or may not) become a joint partnership (a co-creation) between community members and an institution.
Community-fueled initiatives, when communities may be sought out by a GLAM institution (who initiates the project) to actively participate; this participation could play out at different levels, such as contributing heritage-related materials to the institution(s), collaborating, and jointly or wholly curate their display, representation and interpretation.
Community-oriented initiatives can be initiated and mediated by institutions that orient their cultural heritage materials around particular community interests and perhaps plan community events around these projects or involve community-based heritage knowledge.
We used this category to organise all incoming projects, and as a “gate category” to affirm or reject an initiative based on its relevance to the topic.
b. Public Survey Release
Next, we released a multilingual public survey to collect cases of international digital community heritage initiatives, in addition to a desktop research taken on by the working group members. In some cases, we corresponded with the selected initiatives to fill in gaps.
c. Organising Digital Community Heritage Initiatives through a 10-item Typology
In order to further classify digital community heritage, we created a typology of 10 categories to sort the various types of initiatives: 1. Citizen science/crowdsourcing, 2. Community science/community-based participatory research (CBPR), 3. Commons-based peer production, 4. Folksonomy, 5. Joint curation, 6. Social art practice/socially engaged art, 7. Participatory data governance, 8. Digital action/activism, 9. Community archiving, and 10. Other (community) heritage models. Short definitions for each typology category have been compiled by the working group members and can be accessed here. The categories were non-exhaustive, and the initiatives could fall into more than one category.
d. Types of Communities
We tackled the concept of community in order to provide insight into the type of community each initiative serves, suggesting two overarching categories: the power of place (communities foremostly bound based on locality) and the power of commonality (communities foremostly bound around a commonality). We further refined this down to 6 subcategories, providing a more refined insight:
Power of place: i. Community of place (city-wide), ii. Community of place (region-wide), iii. Community of place (country-wide)
Power of commonality: i. Community of cultural commonality (may involve ethnic groups, cultural minorities and more), ii. Community of interest (people who gather around an interest), iii. Community of practice (people who exercise a shared practice).
We added the additional category “multiple communities” for initiatives that serve more than one type of community.
e. Assessing the Openness Spectrum
Next, we set out to analyse the openness spectrum of the digital community heritage initiatives, which is the focal point of the working group’s research. This included three overarching categories: i. Allowing user contribution, ii. The use of open licences/ the openness to creative reuse and iii. The inclusion of open-source software or tools. Based on these categories, we deployed a simple grading system to scale the degree of openness.
For user contribution, we specifically examined three distinct types of contribution: i. Allowing for public contributions (tagging, transcribing, etc.), ii. Allowing for public upload (ability to upload original community heritage artefacts and resources), iii. Allowing for public collaborative involvement. The category of public collaborative involvement provides the most agency and engaging way for participants to be involved, according to several methodologies that gauge the degree of citizen engagement.
For the use of open licences, we questioned if the initiative uses open licenses, if it is closed or open to creative reuse (ability to download and creatively reuse the artifacts and information) and, if it is open, whether it allows for liberal or limited reuse (applying certain restrictions such as only for educational uses or reuse with no derivatives). For defining open licences, we followed the recommended conformant licences by the Open Knowledge Foundation.
Lastly, we looked into the open-software deployment of the initiatives, which complements the analysis of the openness spectrum. We followed a practical approach for identifying whether the initiatives use, develop or both (use and develop) open-source software or other tools (such as labels). We attempted to document the open-source software of the digital community heritage initiatives, including mainly stand-alone, user-friendly software that offers integrated solutions (e.g., applications, content management systems) and not software that serves more as building blocks and compounds for developers (e.g., Django, Markdown).
f. Additional Attributions
We gathered additional information on the projects’ initiation dates, “ongoing” status, location, language(s), size based on people involved, whether the initiative is organised as a platform (able to host multiple independent projects and/or has deployed its own digital infrastructure) or a project (more limited in scope and using existing infrastructures) and in terms of their affiliation with GLAM institutions (were they GLAM-initiated, non-GLAM related, or lying “in between”?).
g. Data Workflow for Data Analysis and Visualisation
Finally, we followed a stepwise data workflow for supporting data analysis and visualisation to gain insights and discover possible correlations between categories in our 27 selected digital community heritage initiatives. We prepared all above categories in a structured data format, compiled the data and modelled them machine-readable. We further mapped the data by adding a simple grading system to assess their openness spectrum. Last, we prepared research questions and performed data analysis, exploring the data and rendering the visualisations with the use of the Tableau software. The open-access spreadsheet containing all data can be found here.
The public survey and internal desktop research yielded 52 initiatives. After a collaborative review, we filtered these down to an indicative list of 27 initiatives, based on our gate category (community-driven, community-fueled, community-oriented).
Fig. 1: The selected 27 international digital community heritage initiatives
a. Data visualisations
Community Engagement through place and commonality
Since the early 2000s, GLAM professionals saw many possibilities in engaging communities with digital heritage and bringing in the “wisdom of the crowd”. However, building “new, highly coordinated communities” has turned out challenging and hasn’t often materialised as expected. Looking into the current landscape, we have found a vibrant scene of inspiring digital cultural heritage initiatives worldwide [Figure 6] that demonstrate deep public engagement, through initiatives palpably connecting to a community’s local history and collective memory (the power of place), and those initiatives that ignite peoples’ connection with ethnic heritage, religious commonalities or personal interests (the power of commonality) [Figure 5].
Of the 27 digital community heritage initiatives we identified, 15 were oriented around place [Figures 5]. Most of these place-based initiatives serve a single country (e.g., Ukraine, Chile, Hungary, Israel, Nigeria, Estonia, Denmark) or a larger region (e.g., a French-speaking region of Switzerland or a U.S. state). Others drill down to the local history of a particular city or neighbourhood (Rotterdam, Harlem). Some platforms, like Topotheque or Fortepan.us, offer communities the infrastructure to self-organise at regional, city or even village level (a community may initiate a “Topotheque” archive or a Fortepan.us-based archive that can also be embedded into the website of a local heritage institution (e.g., public library, community centre), thereby claiming their own community heritage. In addition, initiatives like Historypin and Reporting Wildlife Crime allow community members to participate at the extreme local level–sharing micro-histories about a specific place (a street corner, a forest) on the map.
We also identified 9 initiatives bound by commonality, where communities orient digital heritage initiatives around a shared common interest (e.g., industrial archaeology, HIV, textile patterns, LGBTQ2IA+ experiences), a common culture (e.g., the Indigenous inhabitants of a region in Chile, Jewish devotional practice, Dutch history), or a shared practice (traditional medicine, boatbuilding). Communities of cultural commonality are often transgressing boundaries, supporting cross-border actions on diverse sociocultural topics. Not surprisingly, we found a natural overlap between communities of commonality and place. Overall, engagement in digital cultural heritage initiatives depends upon personal experience with a topic and a passion to promote this topic for the public good.
Enhancing Community Agency: working with, in-between and outside of GLAMs
Of these community-oriented, community-driven and community-fueled projects, either connected to place and commonality, we identified many practices that encourage and enhance community agency: members of the public and community groups are making digital contributions related to the cultural heritage material they are invested in, especially in under-reported and marginalised communities. Community members are building projects or joining platforms, uploading their own community-related cultural artefacts, adding tags and other metadata according to their local history, practice or community-shared knowledge, and working together in bottom-up, co-creative group activities (Wikimedia Nigeria). Those projects connected to citizen science/crowdsourcing and community archiving are especially flourishing (many of which are open to user contribution–either at a metadata/tagging, uploading or collaboration level, see Figure 9). It is worth noting that the initiatives categorised as “projects” -those with more limited scope/timeframe or tending to rely on existing minimal-computing technologies (e.g., blog sites)- come mainly from two places: outside of GLAMs, whose members launch initiatives with a very specific aim (e.g., Rotterdam Dig It Up, Undesign the Redline @ Barnard), and GLAMs who have launched community-oriented projects often related to a particular collection in their holdings (e.g., MOMU Pattern-a-thon, Picturing Michigan's Past).
Non-GLAM initiatives, which are the majority of our selected cases (12), represent diverse and under-reported communities in creative and ethical ways. It is worth noting that Non-GLAMs are the foundation for all 5 community-driven initiatives in our study, operating as incubators of community agency at large, playing a critical role in enhancing capacity and know-how within communities. Non-GLAms are playing a role in harnessing software and digital capabilities, such as digitising community artefacts in 3D and utilising traditional knowledge labels (Patrimonio Mapuche de Pukon), while others engage communities in social art practice, through documenting insular plant diversity via geolocation-based photo quadrants (Archipelago Network) and developing community archives for textile heritage in the Balkans (Art Pluriverse).
Nine of our selected digital community heritage initiatives fall under the “in-between” category, which have emerged in the liminal space between GLAM institutions and community circles [See Figure 2a], also identified as cooperative portals. Cooperative portals seem to lead in open innovation and are often tied to the open movement, playing a critical role in pushing the digital heritage sphere to rethink user experience and usability, through new software applications that enhance the enjoyment and interaction with digital community heritage.
Inspiring Openness in Digital Community Heritage
By assessing the “open” status among community heritage initiatives using a range of data –allowing user contribution, use of open licences, openness to creative reuse (liberal, limited, or closed), and use or development of open-source software–we found that the majority of initiatives most open to creative reuse are also community-fueled [Figure 11]. The most open initiatives also tend to be oriented around citizen science/crowdsourcing, folksonomy, joint curation and community archiving [Figure 12] These initiatives, many of them cooperative portals, invite both crowd-sourced uploads and tagging opportunities (fueling the archive’s holdings), while also encouraging users to “play” with the content, either by downloading it or repurposing it through in-house applications developed for engagement. They also tend to be the most involved in developing original software applications.
Based on the timeline visualisation (Fig. 10), all initiatives that score high in achieving openness have started earlier in time (2009, 2010, 2011, 2015), whereas initiatives that have started more recently (2019-2022) are not extensively deployed in terms of openness. This interesting finding may imply a concerning tendency that fully-fledged openness among digital community heritage initiatives is declining. It may also imply that developing a robust open digital infrastructure requires time and effort, in which case recent initiatives may still be working towards achieving openness. Among the recently started initiatives, Dokuforte is the most developed one in terms of openness, a status that may be reinforced by the fact that it is based on the Fortepan digital infrastructure, which was initiated in 2009 (Fortepan.hu) and 2015 (Fortepan.us).
The rise of open-source software in recent years is encouraging and may be based on its benefits in combining low-cost maintenance, collaborative coding and problem-solving.
Good Practices in open-access policy and open-source software
Open Siddur provides a thorough documentation of its libre, open-access and open-source dimension through its static footer and copyright policy page. The trustworthiness of information on openness is further supported by providing links to reliable resources (cf. Open Knowledge Foundation, Creative Commons).
Wikimedia Nigeria User Group, published on Meta-Wiki and powered by the Media-Wiki software, supports a highly collaborative digital environment for jointly editing and compiling content, which gives rise to joint ownership. Copyright issues can be alleviated through the use of open content licences, copyleft licences and the Creative Commons licences that are “Approved for Free Cultural Works”.
We also identified a set of useful, innovative and enjoyable tools, applications and services among the digital community heritage initiatives:
Fortepan.us offers a functionality that brings the usability of embed code into cultural collections, advancing virtual reunification by including a ready to grab and paste embed code that enables the archive to be included on other websites (as easy as embedding a video or a map through a code snippet).
Open Siddur is developing a collaborative publishing toolkit enabling users to craft their own custom religious books, fostering creativity in religious culture”. In addition, they offer a single access point to download all pages, posts, authors and media on their website as an XML export file that is automatically updated.
Our working group aimed to map and analyse digital community heritage initiatives in terms of community engagement, community-mindedness and openness. In doing so, we kept track of how current digital cultural heritage initiatives (community-driven, community-fueled, or community-oriented), are building capacity and know-how, rebalancing representation gaps, and properly acknowledging source communities.
Even though the report includes a small number of cases that is only indicative of the bigger picture, our outcomes over this year-long endeavour are encouraging. Digital community heritage initiatives display many innovative, sustainable and responsible models of openness, with the collaboration between communities and the public with non-GLAM initiatives, “in-between” collaborative platforms and GLAMs, which are the driving forces in this vibrant contemporary scene. By encouraging multiple participants, these cultural heritage initiatives intrinsically yield diverse perspectives while practising cultural data mindfulness, increasing engagement among communities, and encouraging their autonomy and agency. With control, autonomy and agency in mind, but also a nod to the importance of collaboration, stewardship, and accessible digital tools, we share two final points for discussion.
Not Being Open is OK
Some noteworthy projects among our selected digital community heritage initiatives adopt a closed approach to creative reuse, user contribution and open-source software. The community-driven project Patrimonio Mapucho de Pukon disseminates traditional cultural heritage within a more restricted and controlled environment, applying for example an all-rights reserved copyright statement, adding watermarks, and making their digital content undownloadable. Possible reasons that digital community heritage initiatives opt-out from adopting a more open approach can be linked to the current state of openness that may underserve certain communities or there can be a lack of awareness. Additional solutions may be helpful in enhancing the safety and reliability of communities within digital settings. Towards this direction, the project applied the Local Contexts Traditional Knowledge Labels for defining access and reuse within a community-controlled framework.
Let’s Encourage more paths for open access and collaboration
Our working group consensus is to encourage more paths for open-access and collaboration in digital community heritage. These can come in the form of including clear open policy statements, communicating rights statements and providing easy paths to access open-source software within the initiatives. Our group often had difficulty determining the open nature of a project, whether or not the project relied upon CC or other licences and whether they developed or used any open-source software. Many principles, guidelines and tools are emerging that can inspire communities in better sharing their cultural heritage. Connecting with the communities in the open movement and translating CC content into more inclusive languages can further build resilience and agency for community heritage.
In addition, creating resource toolkits for community heritage that build upon good practices in open-access can further encourage initiatives towards more open directions. These resources could come in the form of providing practical advice on the ways community heritage can be digitised, used and interpreted in more open, ethical and responsible ways. It could also map like-minded initiatives helping them find one another, and share best practices and lists of tools (see, for example, the list of open software and tools we have compiled through this research). From A GLAM perspective, institutions can further aid in leveraging these resource-sharing efforts and support more community-related projects rethinking curation beyond patronage with a “participatory stewardship” mindset.