Digital Productions for Cultural Heritage Tourism: History
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Recent literature on cultural heritage emphasises the necessity to involve local communities in managing, planning, and preserving the local cultural heritage, as only by recognising the cultural heritage values, local communities can express and raise awareness of its meaning and importance to them. Evidently, the feeling of ownership and of proudness that they develop in this way is further reflected in a sense of responsibility for the heritage itself, regardless of its nature as tangible or intangible.

  • cultural heritage digital productions

1. Introduction

A way to achieve this as Houpert [1] draws from the ROCK experience, is through the adoption of participatory approaches and the promotion of social inclusion of the civil society in its broadest meaning in the development of heritage interventions, also when these are digital. The researcher stresses the importance of the ‘bottom-up’ approach for the sake of adding ownership over the governance of an area, and as a result of promoting the engagement of local communities in the preservation of their local heritage.
Cultural heritage (CH) is not static but fluent in the transcends of time and space and can be viewed through different lenses beyond ‘conservation’, for example as an ‘enabler of economic, social or sustainable growth’ (as in, for example, [2], among others) in which everyone is a stakeholder. When it comes to digital cultural heritage productions, involving such a broader range of stakeholders in their co-creation is paramount if one wants to achieve this same sense of ownership, belonging and responsibility with respect to heritage that the literature on CH speaks about [3]. Such a more inclusive and co-creative approach to digital development will not only create awareness of local heritage services and processes but will also facilitate an innovative culture around such heritage, help support economic growth around it to reduce unemployment and enable the social inclusion of minorities [1][4][5]. Providing the local people a voice through digital mediation, for example by letting their stories related to a specific heritage site be told or by reinterpreting it through the lens of their cultural perspective, help address vulnerabilities that might be rooted in political decisions, social systems, or unequal distribution of power. Additionally, a digital multimedia content development that is intrinsically co-creative and participative stimulates new forms of collaboration between public and private entities. Finally, it establishes and disseminates new skills, and reduces entry barriers to technology developments and adoptions [5][6].
Cultural heritage sites provide a great playground to develop digital multimedia using immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR) [7], virtual reality (VR) [8][9], or serious games [10][11][12]. Heritage sites have been represented in games and other multimedia for a long time, to engage visitors into interactive on-site experiences, like historical reconstructions that can be educational or can help raise awareness around that site or to promote the importance of cultural heritage among visitors [11][13] by fostering cultural understanding. To develop such technologies, a variety of content and technology experts are involved to deliver a true and authentic digital cultural heritage experience to the end users. However, in the literature, researchers only find examples where these experts often do not extend beyond the formal executive circle of heritage officials, historians, tourism representatives and technology developers while end users or the local community are only involved in the evaluation or testing phase [14][15][16] instead of being considered as an important player throughout the whole digital cultural heritage production cycle. The fact that the end user for whom the digital content is intended, be it the tourist or the local, is often not incorporated in the development process, makes it difficult to motivate acceptance and final usage of the product, make believe of the content once developed and, even more importantly, to create ownership on it (as in [3]).

2. Stakeholders’ Involvement in CH

There is no common definition of a stakeholder theory yet [17]. Originally coined by Freeman in 1984, a company’s stakeholder can be classified as internal (as in the case of the employees, the managers or the company owners) and external (like the suppliers, society at large, the government or the clients) [17]. McCabe et al. [18] define a stakeholder as any group or individual who has ‘a legitimate interest in the organisation or its activities’.
Stakeholders need to be managed to maximise a shared vision, representation, the achievement of objectives, communication, and a good working relationship [18]. In Western countries, since the 1970s, state interventions were transferred to stakeholder responsibility, where collaborative partnerships of planning and development were established [18]. In particular, stakeholder collaboration became important for tourism development [19]. McCabe et al. [18] distinguish between collaboration for planning and development processes and collaboration for marketing purposes, so anyone who can call themselves a ‘stakeholder’ can contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s objectives. However, there exist several barriers to stakeholder collaboration, including the will to maintain control on the collaboration by one of the involved stakeholders, or the lack of coordination and of a collaborative mindset or of trust and goodwill among them, which may even result into competition among the stakeholders, or the lack of private sector involvement [18].
Generally, the streams of research on ‘cultural heritage’, ‘stakeholders’ involvement’ and ‘digital production’ are dealt with separately, or only one interrelation between two fields are researched. Serravalle et al.’s analysis [20] of the interrelations between tourism management, stakeholders and digital innovation and their contribution to co-creation is one exception to this, and has the closest relation to this research. As digital development projects are expensive to fund and require a diverse range of expertise (see further), innovation processes are open for external stakeholders to engage in a co-creative value creation [20]. This is why the adoption of participatory approaches to it becomes essential.

3. The Need for Participation in CH

Participatory approaches became mainstream in heritage practice with the 2003 UNESCO Intangible Heritage Convention, and in particular its Article 15, which states that ‘within the framework of its safeguarding activities of the intangible cultural heritage, each State Party shall endeavour to ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit such heritage, and to involve them actively in management.’ ( (accessed on 2 October 2020), reported in [21], p. 10). While the focus of Article 15 is specifically on intangible heritage, it is evident in daily practice that the same approach to involve local communities is used when it comes to cultural heritage tour court, so also tangible heritage.
This became a well-known and accepted practice since Nina Simon’s seminal book and experience on the participatory museum [22]. In partnership with local schools, businesses and community organisations, Nina Simon came up with the idea of the ‘pop-up museum’ at the Museum of Art and History (MAH) in Santa Cruz (CA, USA), where museum content is co-created [22]. The pop-up museum is a temporary exhibit created by the people who show up to participate. It consists of choosing a theme and venue and then calling on people to participate by bringing an object related to the chosen topic to share. Participants write a label for their object and leave it on display. The venue can be very diverse: from the museum space itself to unorthodox, non-museum spaces, such as bars, churches, and public spaces. The museum is based solely on the content (both as objects and stories) provided by the people making up the show. And its main goal is to facilitate a dialogue among individuals, those who expose and those who come to look at the exhibit, and in this way to stimulate sociality and learning and to foster inclusivity outside of the often-rigid walls and spaces of the museum.
A more recent example of community involvement in tangible heritage is the city museum in Lier, a small town in Flanders (Belgium). The museum opened at the end of 2018 without having an own collection and with the ambition of becoming a museum ‘for the Lierenaars by the Lierenaars’ (SmartCulTour D3.1 deliverable, 2021): their main focus was on the city itself by telling the stories of its residents. In order to realise this, in 2015, the museum asked the Lier citizens what they recognised as typical features of their own town. The local community steering committee worked for one year on this and ultimately, they put together the museum’s new collection, by collecting and exposing the artifacts that were indicated by the local residents. This collection therefore reflects their own values and mirrors the identity of the city in a more authentic way.
This last example shows the effect of adopting a participatory approach to cultural heritage in making a museum socially relevant. Its relevance depends on the fact that any social group is welcome and should feel welcome and can as such engage in a dialogue with other people and social groups inside the museum space, but also with the museum staff themselves, and with the collection. If a museum is perceived as relevant by the locals because it reflects their voices and identity, they feel that they can find in it more of the way they live in the city and of the city itself—so, they feel represented, because they recognise their own values in it. In this way, the museum becomes more inclusive, too.
Both examples reported in this section highlight the importance of engaging the local community in determining what heritage is for them and also which form this engagement may take.
What communities are and in which way they can be engaged in heritage is what still needs to be further elaborated upon.

4. Communities and Their Participation in CH

Communities are broadly understood as a network of ‘connected, informed, empowered, and active consumers’ ([23], p. 8). However, in the specific context of CH, communities are defined by Article 2 (b) of the 2005 Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, the so-called Faro Convention, as either heritage communities or communities of practice [21]. Heritage communities are broad and heterogeneous communities of ‘people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations’ ([21], p. 13). The Lier community of the example discussed earlier is one such community. A narrower version of it is a community of practice, which includes only those who ‘are directly and actively involved in the practice of cultural expressions’ ([21], p. 13). This focus on the practice makes it mostly related to intangible heritage and its expressions in oral traditions, music, and dance, for example [21].
According to both definitions, a community is an entity with a collective character whose sense of identity and belonging emerges when sharing a heritage site or practice that they wish to preserve and transmit to future generations [21].
To safeguard it, they need to act collectively, through various forms of participation. These can be, for instance, consultations through public meetings or within living labs, debates, workshops, calls for actions or interventions, all relying on the community’s and practitioners’ involvement [21]. This implies recognising, accepting, and fostering the intrinsic diversity of those involved to promote a dialogue around the heritage [21].
To cater for this dialogue and diversity, Pera et al. [24] developed a multi-stakeholder co-creative model that relies on the notion of a stakeholder eco-system. At the heart of it, providing reasons why stakeholders collaborate, the authors distinguish between motives and resources. Motives include things such as reputation enhancement of the eco-system that will also reflect on the individual stakeholder, the desire to experiment in developing new products that are only possible through the synergy among stakeholders, and the desire to develop new collaborations and extend their own network to other players and audiences [24]. This requires the existence of trust within the ecosystem, and an open and inclusive mindset.
Alignment among stakeholders is not necessarily the most desired outcome of co-creation, as diversity lies at the heart of it: ‘a polyphonic multi-stakeholder co-creation is built upon diverse identities’ [24], each maintaining their own uniqueness as opposed to introduce consistency, unity with own agendas, tensions, and opposing values.

5. Challenges to Multi-Stakeholders Heritage Productions

Technology can facilitate stakeholders’ involvement in co-creation processes. tom Dieck & Jung [17], for example, discuss how the adoption of augmented reality in a small British museum has enhanced it for both the internal and the external stakeholders (see above). Its value to the process has taken different forms that ranges from an economic value (to attract new audiences) to an experiential one (to offer meaningful and memorable experiences) and an epistemic value (to entice the audience by triggering their curiosity). The historical and cultural, the educational, and the social values that complete the spectrum of benefits of the use of technology for stakeholders’ involvement [17] deserve a special attention in the context of the present discussion as they impinge upon the role of co-creation that is advocated in this research: that of recognising and making others recognise the intrinsic historical and cultural importance of certain heritage artefacts, of teaching something new to their audiences of various stakeholders, of facilitating sociability and of supporting intercultural dialogue through sharing experiences and content.
This is therefore an argument in favour of multi-stakeholders’ digital heritage productions. There are however still a few challenges to face.
One of the main challenges to implementing the multi-stakeholders’ co-creative dialogue discussed so far is the strong influence that the traditional ‘authorised heritage discourse’ maintains. This discourse supports the idea that only experts and the academy have the authority to define what heritage is, the right to produce knowledge around it and the power to implement measures to protect it [21].
However, from literature, researchers know that opening up this process to more stakeholders (and not just to the communities, as mentioned so far) and involving them in this process offers many advantages. For example:
  • When employees are one of the stakeholders, it fosters ownership, promotes creativity and contributes to the competitiveness of the organisation [25].
  • When tourists are involved, their point-of-view becomes essential to ensure a strong focus on the resulting (tourist) experiences [18][26].
  • When technology is involved, it ensures its adaptability among all stakeholders since they can jointly decide if a technology is worthwhile implementing.
Ideally, it would be therefore important to develop a workflow whereby collaboration among different stakeholders is fostered in the various stages of the production process, achieving a balance between the participation of the communities and other ‘end users’ (like the tourists and visitors) and, simultaneously, the experienced work provided by the technical and scientific stakeholders. And at each stage of the production process, different co-creating methodologies should be used. For example, in an initial diagnostic or interpretation phase, public consultation is needed, and this could even be performed through online systems. In the ideation phase, the use of more interventional techniques may be justified, with communities and ‘end users’ actively participating in the decision-making process. Before the implementation phase, it may be important to organise capacity-building actions. Throughout the whole process, it would be highly relevant to combine the actions planned with observing practices in situ.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/mti6070052


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