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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday October 11, 2021

Updated on Tuesday August 23, 2022

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Eleanor Kenny

Eleanor Kenny

Former Head of Communications and External relations , Europeana Foundation

Talking data spaces at the Europeana Foundation: shaping Europe’s future spaces on and offline

The Europeana Foundation’s Business Plan 2021, ‘Towards a digital public space for cultural heritage’, highlights five themes that run through all aspects of our work. We explore these themes with a series of interviews with Europeana Foundation staff. First, Eleanor Kenny, Head of Communications and External Relations, talks about Europeana and the digital public space.

Pool of the lido in Balokány parkland in Pécs, full of swimmers.
Zsabovorszky mérnök
Csorba Győző Könyvtár - Pécs

Why is a digital public space an important topic for the cultural heritage sector? 

The digital space is integral to how we all live today.  It’s often where we find ourselves working, playing and coming together. It is as much a part of our daily life as our physical surroundings, and increasingly it’s also how we use and experience those physical spaces. 

How the cultural heritage sector works, shares and connects with its communities within that digital space is important, because access to cultural heritage is vital to society - to our knowledge and understanding of who we are, where we've come from and what we can become. 

The digital space, and digital technologies, can help to democratise that access in ways that promote inclusivity, creativity, critical engagement, education and knowledge-sharing. All of which are essential to empowering people and creating fairer societies. 

So we need to make sure that our digital space can foster these types of goals and activities.

However, the digital space isn’t always a positive environment. I think we can all, whether as citizens, professionals or public organisations, recognise that we have become increasingly reliant on the services of a small number of for-profit media platforms and there is an ongoing discussion on issues such as trust, privacy, bias and fake news.  There is a growing call for an open, trusted environment and for alternative platforms - for a value-led approach to shaping that digital space. 

As a sector, we need to be part of these conversations and hopefully part of the solutions too.

What activities is Europeana undertaking in this area? 

The European Commission has set out a vision for digital in Europe in which citizens, public institutions and the commercial sector alike can all make full use of and benefit from digital opportunities and technologies. The hope is that this will be Europe’s ‘Digital Decade’.

The path to that vision includes the digital transformation of businesses and public services but it also introduces the idea of digital citizenship - making sure that the same rights that apply offline also apply in the digital space.

To help make that happen, the Commission is proposing and consulting on a number of 'Digital Principles', based on existing offline rights. Proposed principles include universal access to internet services, a secure and trusted online environment, universal digital education and skills, and access to digital devices, systems and services that respect the climate and environment.

The Europeana Foundation, Network Association and Aggregators’ Forum prepared and submitted a joint statement in response to the Commission's Digital Principles consultation this summer. And we encouraged the Network and the wider sector to respond too. 

Our joint response broadly supported the Commission’s proposals but with two important  additions - we proposed that there should be:

  • Universal access to cultural heritage online

  • An expansion to the principle of a secure online environment to an open, decentralised and trusted European digital public space.  

Dessau. Bauhaus (1926, Walter Gropius). Werkstättenbau von Süden
Dessau. Bauhaus (1926, Walter Gropius). Werkstättenbau von Süden
Walther, Bernd (Herstellung) (Fotograf)
Deutsche Fotothek
Dessau. Bauhaus (1926, Walter Gropius). Werkstättenbau von Süden

We’ve also seen the introduction of the New European Bauhaus by the European Commission - a major value-led policy initiative to support its ambitions for a greener society that aims to create spaces that are beautiful, sustainable and inclusive.  When you listen to how the European Commission describes its vision for this approach, it is clear that cultural heritage and digital cultural heritage have an important role to play in realising it. They talk of common spaces of work and leisure, of bridging art and culture on one side and science and technology on the other, of involving the whole of society.  

Over the summer, Europeana promoted the Commission’s call for ideas on what the New European Bauhaus could look like in practice, and provided opportunities for conversation about the role cultural heritage can play through our Europeana Cafe series and interviews with cultural professionals and heritage advocates

 What we do next will be important. It will be up to us as a sector to make sure that we go beyond discussion and actually make that contribution that digital cultural heritage offers. 

Who do you look to for best practice and inspiration in this area? 

Our sector is a constant source of inspiration to me. 

As part of our work on the New European Bauhaus, we’ve developed a dedicated space on Europeana Pro to share information and highlight developments around the initiative. The page shares examples of how our cultural institutions are already using digital cultural heritage to help shape a more open, inclusive and sustainable society. 

That ranges from projects creating enriching and inclusive social experiences to contributing to accessible, welcoming spaces, and to thoughts on how as a sector we can help create a greener, more sustainable world.

It includes examples of innovative collaboration with other sectors such as education and smart cities, and perspectives from people across our Network. I’d really suggest visiting the page - it is inspirational! 

Update August 2022: Building a common European data space for cultural heritage is the central theme for the Europeana 2022 conference, Making Digital Culture Count.