1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The CoGhent project intends to repurpose digitized and digital born cultural data to facilitate the dissemination, reuse, and recombination of institutional cultural heritage data as well as the contribution of the different local communities with stories and artefacts to enrich, complete this city wide repository of cultural heritage data. In creating a multi-voiced platform the project sets out to promote social cohesion within the population of the city through a more open, accessible, rich, diverse and representative digital cultural heritage.
The project is in line with EU ERDF policy objectives focusing on open digital innovation, open access to culture, e-inclusion, community-based cultural services and education as well as similar technological, social, and participatory objectives at national, regional and local levels.
CoGhent designs a data infrastructure focusing on publication and synchronisation of data at its source. This allows for both easier third party and internal reuse of the published data. Internally, the project will co-design The Box, a mobile structure enabling innovative ways to access, and experience cultural data, experiment it in 3 neighbourhoods in Ghent and integrate it as a new dimension of Design Museum Gent.
In the last year since October 2021, the sanitary measures allowed the project partners to catch-up with their project plan schedule, build The Box prototype early spring 2022 and test is in Wondelgem and Watersportbaan, 2 of the 3 neighbourhoods where The Box will travel before being integrated in the new wing of Design museum Gent in 2025. This Journal #2 presents a detailed analysis of the progresses of the CoGhent project through the lens of the 7 challenges defined by UIA highlighting in particular: discussions among project partners about who will take the lead and sustain the different CoGhent building blocks after the project finished; the design of The Box prototype that reveal a lack of participative co-conception with users partly due to COVID lockdowns; the scenarios of interaction of different visitors profiles with The Box prototype into the Design Museum Gent; the early feedbacks and tensions emerging from The Box experimentation process in-progress; the possible emergence of quick and iterative storytelling process along the smooth institutional communication of CoGhent; the outscaling rather than upscaling challenge to bridge between technological, cultural and social arenas.
The CoGhent Box multi-screens setting displaying short thematic presentations of digital pictures of heritage with voiceover comment (photo credit François Jégou)
2. STATE OF THE ART
2.1. Introduction to the challenge addressed
More than one core challenge, CoGhent is addressing a series of issues and opportunities concerning cultural heritage, its wholeness, representativeness, accessibility, dissemination through repurposing, etc. in the current trend toward open digital culture.
In particular, the project intends to address 2 streams of issues parallel and interwoven.
On the one hand, citizens have rather few means to contribute to cities’ cultural heritage presented in cultural institutions. In particular, popular history, grassroots’ knowledge, successive flows of migration tend to be missing in territories’ cultural heritage. However, culture has an enormous potential to improve social cohesion. All local communities should find themselves, their actions and life represented and worth to be preserved as common cultural heritage.
On the other hand, digitization of cultural data in progress among museums, libraries, and cities’ cultural institutions struggles to be appropriated and reused by citizens. In particular, lack of common approaches between cultural institutions, of open and accessible platforms slow the potential to reach out to new and larger parts of the population.
Social cohesion and social inclusion through digital culture?
The CoGhent project intends to merge these two streams of issues into an opportunity that draws on the huge potential of digitization to stimulate wide open access to cultural heritage. On the one hand, digitization of cultural data is likely to be an opportunity to unlock cultural capital from the institutional silos where it is currently kept, to make it widely remotely available while stimulating multiple possibilities for its re-use and creative recombination.
On the other hand, the same digitization processes show a great potential to open up, connect and organize the richness and diversity of vernacular culture, testimonies and artefacts coming from the city populations and therefore improve social cohesion and social inclusion.
Bridging between these streams of challenges and opportunities, CoGhent aims at increasing social inclusion and cohesion in the city, supporting the cultural heritage of the city to integrate and evolve towards the opening of cultural digital data.
One of the 3 CoGhent Box touchscreens allowing to browse the already 6000 digitized elements of the collections (photo credit François Jégou)
2.2. How does the project fit into the policy context at the EU, national and regional level?
The 2 interwoven streams of digitalisation of cultural data and its repurposing aim of enhancing social inclusion and social cohesion through culture of CoGhent project contributes to 4 of the ERDF thematic objectives:
TO1 Strengthen research, technological development & innovation: CoGhent sets up a city-wide digital architecture to deploy, study, crowdsource, collect, connect and interact with cultural heritage. This open-ended infrastructure will enable sharing, facilitate development, and unlock more innovation.
TO2 Enhance access to, use, and quality of information & communication technologies: CoGhent supports cultural institutions to improve the quality and openness of their collection data. Quality guidelines for digitized heritage will be deployed. This will lead to strengthened applications for e-culture and e-inclusion.
TO9 Promote social inclusion, combat poverty & any discrimination: CoGhent aims to substantially lower barriers to access the urban cultural offer and services, by developing and testing innovative community-based services and community centric methods.
TO10 Invest in education, training & lifelong learning: CoGhent will develop new forms of participatory cultural activities, focused on the accessibility of urban cultural heritage unlocking its values to and within communities (and the tools to collect & connect such heritage). This improves and activates education and lifelong learning.
At national level, the CoGhent project is in line with the National Digital Agenda priorities for Belgium on Digital Government regarding open Data.
At regional level, the project is aligned with Flanders Strategic vision paper on cultural heritage: “[...] update of the immaterial cultural heritage policy with an integrated approach to material and immaterial heritage. More effectiveness and less fragmentation within the (Flemish) cultural heritage sector by working towards more cooperation and coordination. Overall commitment to broad participation and diversity.”
It enriches the smart specialization strategy of Flanders in the field of technological strengths within the spearhead cluster “Creative industries & services” and the 3-helix method with the citizen future-proofing transition in cities.
Finally at local level, the city of Ghent's governance agreement (Oct 2018) sets out priorities for the coming years to particular challenges addressed in CoGhent’s project:
- On Participation: “We improve participation of vulnerable groups, helping them to participate and contribute to leisure and cultural activities. That’s why we focus on an accessible, available, usable and understandable offer”.
- On cultural Heritage: “Material and immaterial heritage from the past gives meaning to the present. That’s why we don't just store and protect it, but also open it and make it publicly available. [...] We want to give more attention and visibility to the heritage of the diverse communities in our cities and will challenge the heritage museums to do so a swell”.
Signs indicating The CoGhent Box location in Watersportbaan (photo credit François Jégou)
3. OPENING CULTURAL DATA FOR CULTURAL INCLUSION
3.1. Introduction to the solution implemented
CoGhent project intends to build the necessary IT infrastructure to enable easier and wider access to institutional culture heritage, facilitate its reuse and recombination on the one hand and on the other hand, enable self-contribution from the population to enrich and complete cultural heritage preserved and disseminated by cultural institutions.
In concrete terms, CoGhent has built an open data platform and a first instantiation of it in a mobile infrastructure called The CoGent Box that will work as the “touch point” and first physical demonstrator of this new digital cultural data city service for all actors of the city and the large public.
The CoGent Box was intended to be the result of a co-design process between the project’s stakeholders and the population of the city. It should allow citizens to both access digitally and enjoy the content currently kept in closed repositories in cultural institutions, capture citizens’ stories and memories to complete and diversify Ghent’s cultural heritage collections.
Plans are to experiment with the mobile CoGent Box and fine-tuned it in 3 pilot neighbourhoods throughout the project and at the end of the 3-year project period, it will be included permanently in the Design Museum Gent.
The CoGhent project intends then to explore and experiment the evolution of cultural institutions of the city and beyond as open and inclusive “cultural third places”, likely to improve the access and participation to cultural and recreational services, foster intercultural dialogue, enable populations from all cultures and backgrounds to find space and to contribute to.