The goal of this assessment was to document impact relating to IIIF documentation, in order to guide the strategy of EuropeanaTech as an Europeana Network Association (ENA) community. This Impact Assessment adds value to the new EuropeanaTech IIIF Working Group and the work of EuropeanaTech by offering an insight into its contribution to a valuable resource for the cultural heritage sector.
In the initial stages of this research, we investigated if Outcome Harvesting would be an appropriate tool to use. This is a methodology that is increasingly used in complex, multi-stakeholder activity where pre-defined objectives are not in place. Guided by external impact consultants Sinzer powered by Grant Thorton and a specialist in this methodology, we developed a research question and a data collection plan - the first known application of the methodology in the cultural sector.
However, the methodology surfaced only two outcomes which we were unable to substantiate. This does not mean that the methodology is not useful, but does suggest that it has its limitations in a complex context with a very slow pace of change and many other influencing factors. Further research, and a longer-term perspective, is needed to adequately address the research question. Although the Outcome Harvesting methodology was ultimately not suitable for investigating change in this context, the need for the identification of tangible outcomes and the verification of these outcomes with stakeholders is its strength.
To help answer our research question, we asked other interview questions to the consulted stakeholders, and coded the results in terms of what they told us in response to the overarching research question, which was: ‘what was EuropeanaTech’s and the wider Europeana Initiative’s role in encouraging the implementation of the IIIF framework between 2015 and 2020?’
The following themes emerged through the interview programme:
Without the work of the EuropeanaTech Community, there would be no IIIF data on the Europeana website. Yet we lack the data that would help us investigate if and how EuropeanaTech contributed to an increase in IIIF-compliant data on Europeana. The lack of data is the result of the time it takes to make new or to adapt existing technical infrastructures. This timeframe also makes attributing one factor or trigger of change very difficult.
EuropeanaTech and Europeana increased the visibility of IIIF amongst the cultural heritage community, and increased the momentum around the topic. Europeana led by example in adopting IIIF, and is seen as a trusted peer. Its actions should be seen in the context of a general zeitgeist around technological development, where change becomes easier when there are multiple sources and actors encouraging you to adopt a standard or tool.
EuropeanaTech facilitates exchange between Europeana and cultural heritage institutions and between cultural heritage and tech professionals. The Europeana IIIF group meetings have the highest attendance of all of the online IIIF meetings. Europeana’s connections to European cultural heritage institutions was identified by one IIIF representative as the biggest value of the collaboration. However, the connection to and interaction with national aggregators was not as strong as it could or should be.
The EuropeanaTech brand is respected. EuropeanaTech’s value lies in addressing tech developments not only relevant to Europeana but providing a valuable space for conversations around the sector’s tech development more generally.
EuropeanaTech and IIIF events emerged in the interviews as being vital for the widespread ‘exposure’ of the European heritage sector to IIIF. They were described as ‘energising’ to the community. EuropeanaTech widened participation beyond national institutions in the UK and Europe to a wider group of cultural heritage institutions.
EuropeanaTech and Europeana’s early adoption and promotion of IIIF provided a space for experimentation and technical advancement. Europeana is described as being more than a partner that displayed content using IIIF: it supported experimentation and development.
We have learned about the complexity of understanding change in this area, and about strengths and weaknesses of the Outcome Harvesting methodology. It is difficult to measure change when technological change and decision-making can be slow-moving. Furthermore, it was a challenge to isolate the degree to which EuropeanaTech and Europeana may have contributed to an outcome in isolation from, or even combined with, the activity of others. In addition, it was difficult for the interviewees to isolate specific cases relating to the adoption of IIIF as a result of Europeana’s ‘distance’ from the CHIs that provide data to it through an aggregator.
For Europeana and the EuropeanaTech community:
EuropeanaTech should continue to showcase the work of IIIF in Europe and act as a conduit of information from the wider IIIF community to European cultural heritage institutions.
As part of ongoing work into mapping case studies to describe the process and value of providing content into Europeana, more focus should be paid to describing, and thus understanding, the varied factors that can progress and hinder decision-making and action in a cultural heritage institution. Case studies would be valuable in this regard.
Communication and reporting should be explicit in its narration of identified short-term outcomes and value generated, moving from a vague narration of activity towards an assessment of how it delivered against its objectives. This demands a more critical narrative approach. In the longer term, it also increases the evidence base should future evidence or document reviews be conducted.
For further research:
Further research is needed to answer the research question. This requires the investment of more resources and a longer-term perspective.
Using the themes emerging from the interviews, conduct a survey to see if these views are representative of the wider EuropeanaTech community.
We see that there is a potential demonstrable impact for cultural heritage institutions at a direct and indirect level as a result of EuropeanaTech and Europeana Foundation’s activity. However, the Outcome Harvest raises the question of ‘so what?’, requiring us to investigate what the additional impact of implementing IIIF on an institution’s collections might be. This is an area for further research.
Validation and next steps
The report was reviewed by almost all interviewees. The report, noting the complexity of the context under investigation, benefited from the interpretation and perspective of the interviewees. This research is designed to inform the longer-term strategic development of EuropeanaTech.
You can download and read the full report through the link below.