The Europeana Initiative - together with its partners - leads the deployment of the common European data space for cultural heritage, a flagship initiative of the European Union to accelerate the digital transformation of Europe’s heritage sector and foster the reuse of cultural heritage content.
As the data space brings exciting new possibilities, the landscape around us is also changing. We’ve been joined by other initiatives dedicated to societal change via digital cultural heritage, such as the European Collaborative Cloud for Cultural Heritage. As we steward the data space, decentralisation, openness and interoperability are ever more important to our work. And so is collaboration with partners who, like ourselves, are committed to empower the digital heritage ecosystem.
The data space for cultural heritage, together with 13 sectoral and interoperable data spaces, is central in Europe’s ambition for a thriving data-driven society. The data space is funded under the Digital Europe Programme of the European Union. With the Europeana Initiative at its heart, the data space will be a sovereign data ecosystem - an open and resilient commons for the users of European cultural data, where data owners - as opposed to platforms - have control of their data and of how, when and with whom it is shared. The Collaborative Cloud - funded by the Horizon Europe programme will develop a digital infrastructure aimed more specifically at heritage professionals, scientists and researchers to access advanced digitisation tools and services for conservation and preservation.
The Europeana Initiative welcomes the increased investment by the European Union in the digital transformation of our sector, and continues to advocate for sustained and coordinated funding for a healthy and cohesive heritage ecosystem. As we steward the data space, and staying true to our collaborative nature, we look forward to working towards these goals in tandem with existing and new initiatives such as the future Cloud.
Distinct missions, complementary goals
The data space will be the main entry point for cultural heritage data for reuse by teachers, creatives, the larger public and other data spaces and initiatives. The Cloud will be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for professionals to access data, tools and services to advance heritage science. As such, the data space and the future Cloud have complementary but distinct scopes. They are also in different stages of maturity: while the data space is entering its second year of implementation, the Cloud will be defined from 2024 onwards following two currently open calls for funding.
The Europeana Initiative is committed to building connections between the two from the very beginning of their development. By working together, we can pool resources, maximise support to our sector and reach wider and more diverse audiences. In particular, we see three main areas in which the data space and the future Cloud can support each other: community, data and governance.
Over the past 15 years, the Europeana Initiative has consolidated a strong, diverse and active digital heritage community. The Europeana Network Association brings together experts from across Europe working in the field of digital cultural heritage - from students and art lovers to experts, professionals and researchers. Organised in specialist communities and thematic groups, they cultivate and share expertise and support capacity-building in the sector. The Europeana Aggregators’ Forum is a pan-European and cross-domain ecosystem of aggregators who play a key intermediary role between cultural heritage institutions and Europeana. Each aggregator is an independent entity, but in some cases, in addition to aggregating data for Europeana and the data space, they fulfil a national mandate. This community shares authentic, trustworthy and robust data with Europeana and supports knowledge exchange and capacity building among their networks of heritage institutions.
We believe the future Cloud can build on this existing and extensive Europeana ecosystem. Developing a clear narrative that stresses the differences and complementarities of the data space and the Cloud will be key to avoid confusion among users. Likewise, community-led activities and capacity-building efforts should be, as much as possible, run in a coordinated way.
The data space builds on Europeana’s accomplishments in open data and data aggregation. It will increase the quantity and quality of data and work towards new and more decentralised data sharing mechanisms. The Cloud is expected to connect data from various sources, in various formats and made available according to various reuse conditions.
The data available in the data space should flow freely and securely to the Cloud to enable researchers and scientists to work with, process, and enrich it via the Cloud tools and services. Conversely, the data space should also provide access to and enrich the research outputs and data generated within the Cloud. Interoperable frameworks, data models and reconciliation mechanisms will be crucial for such data flow.
Europeana’s network of aggregators can play a key role in this process, contributing to build the capacities of cultural heritage institutions for data sharing across the data space and the Cloud. Over the years, Europeana Aggregators have developed and refined efficient workflows and tools, experience in data modelling, enrichment and processing, as well as standards and ontology development.
The overall data space pipeline, which is meant to evolve towards a more decentralised and semantic model, will be extended to meet the requirements of the future Cloud. Similarly, the Cloud could include tools from the Europeana aggregation landscape in its own workflow; and its tools and services could greatly benefit the data space and facilitate data circulation between both environments.
Ultimately, tools and services developed by the data space and the Cloud should follow the same development principles - such as open source - and be based on Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) principles.
The governance of the data space involves the three pillars of the Europeana Initiative (Europeana Foundation, Europeana Network Association and Europeana Aggregators’ Forum), along with Consortium partners, the European Commission and EU Member States. In the future, its governance and operation will be opened up to new actors to foster co-creation and ownership.
As the Cloud sets up its governance structure in the coming years, the data space can be a model to look at for an inclusive and participatory governance approach bringing together a wide range of actors.
In the long-term, both the data space and the Cloud will need to ensure their sustainability and continued investment by the European Union and its Member States. This will largely depend on their capacity to demonstrate distinct yet complementary ways of creating value and impact, and to sustain meaningful connections between the two, and with the rest of the heritage ecosystem. This will include cooperation and articulation with actors such as the EIT Culture & Creativity, the European Heritage Hub and the European Open Science Cloud, to name but a few, and we are excited for these opportunities.