Owning our position
Next steps for Council Conclusions
Council Conclusions are a success for Europeana. Placing us back in the hearts and minds of culture ministries, assuring financing (under procurement) to halfway through 2020 and if we do the job well until the next multi-annual framework and beyond. They clearly recognise Europeana's role as a platform, mentioning the various services beyond the website. These are part of the current strategic plan and its operational business plans, but we need to take the opportunity and impetus of the Council Conclusions to reflect on where we are going and what we can really achieve, what do users actually want and where we can have the greatest impact and we should do this against user data not just because we or policymakers think it might be right.
They request a couple of things from the Commission and the Member States as well as from Europeana. The Commission is asked to carry out an independent evaluation and Member States to increase the quality and openness of material that is made available. Both of these are of huge value to Europeana as a Digital Service Infrastructure or Platform for the Digital Cultural Heritage of Europe. The evaluation will help surface evidence of our achievements and in my view, it is a chance to get over the message of Europeana being a platform for Europe’s cultural heritage. It should also give a value to the collaborative working of the Europeana Ecosystem and the Europeana Network Association. And yes I am sure it will give insight into areas that need more attention!
The demand for better quality material chimes with user demand and particularly its use by educators and researchers. Improved data quality will also hugely help the search capability. Council Conclusions also express the need for greater user-friendliness on Europeana Collections, which we will also do our best to fulfil. We acknowledge that Europeana Collections and the thematic collections of Europeana Art History and Europeana Music, while a strong step in the right direction, still need a lot of work. But this should be done according to the needs of our audiences and cultural heritage institutions.
Sea Charts helped navigators set their position.
We need to own our position - Audience/Users
Our research is telling us very conclusively that a site showing cultural heritage in the round is not what the majority of the world wants. Users coming in from the search engines, take the item they had found but rarely go on to browse the site. They do however use the material via Instagram, Wikipedia or Pinterest and they like the curated exhibitions and experiences such as Faces of Europe and the #BigArtRide but as one-offs, not as repeat or longer than three-minute experiences. These “casual users” benefit from the work of Europeana to place the material elsewhere and to make it work in the search engines but they do not really use Europeana Collections. Europeana Collections is however seen to be very useful to “professional“ users, be they academics or researchers and increasingly, as the quality of the material gets better, we are reaching educators and creative reusers. These users spend time on the site and appreciate efforts to make the material work for their workflows and into their ecosystems. They account for 30% of traffic and are the returnees. Perhaps we can entice more of the casual users into the wider offerings of Europeana Collections and we should certainly try but we also should do what is the most effective use of time and money.
We need to agree which audiences we serve and how - Platform
Europeana started in 2008, technologies and understanding have moved on, our contributing data partners the cultural heritage institutions need more than being able to get their material out and publishable on the internet. Many cultural heritage organisations have used knowledge gained by being part of the Europeana Platform, from interoperability via the data model to frameworks for licensing and help on multilingualism. They have a made use of the platform to improve their reach and place their material into Wikipedia or within national systems or to gain access to new markets in education and research but we should be providing more, supporting them in their quests for new markets, creating shared technologies and systems to reduce costs.
Europeana will not be able to make the best search engine or most wonderful user experience because of the diversity and range of quality of the material provided but we can continue to work with our cultural heritage institutions to make the data better quality, more machine-readable and more open so that others can find it. Together we can continually create and implement standards and frameworks that underpin a digital service infrastructure - a platform - upon which others can build.
We need to prove the intrinsic value of a shared platform to cultural heritage institutions and to re-users (educators, researchers, creatives) - Sustainability
The switch to procurement means that the Commission is buying a service that fulfils a job. The service is bought with taxpayer money so it needs to be money well spent with a known return on the investment. How will they know that they have value for money? Besides agreeing to an impact framework with measurable outcomes, all stakeholders should be able to articulate the benefits and advantages of continuing financial support for Europeana.
The Commission needs to know that it is solving a market failure. That the presence of Europeana allows Europe to work more effectively as a single market as well as demonstrating our shared values through shared and diverse cultural histories.
Member States need to know that their institutions have and do benefit directly from improved interoperability, from standards, from international visibility because of multilingual translation or semantic enrichment or correct legal use.
Professional Users - Researchers need to cite the resource; Educators need to curated high-quality images; Creatives need more accurate and granular search.
Do we provide a service that people want and do they recognise the value of that service sufficiently to support the Commission paying for it?
We need to prove this.
We must provide the case studies and statistics, we must continue to convince the politicians and paymasters that the loss of the platform is a loss that will be felt. We must have the courage of our convictions and do this is in ways that we know will work, against what we know audiences actually want.
It is not a coincidence that all of these points have also been identified as part of the current strategic plan of Europeana and are part of the business plans for 2016 and beyond. A variety of groups from the Member States to the Europeana Network Association have been set up to evaluate and recommend by the November 2016 how best to develop a Europeana that works for us for the next 8 years. If you want to help please comment on this blog or contact me!