| Table of contents | Foreword | Introduction | Overview of recommendations | Situation analysis | Key Issues | Conclusion | Imprint |

V. Key Issues and Recommendations

National Policies and Initiatives: Maximising the impact of a nation’s investment

Without effective cultural heritage policy dedicated towards preservation, access and value of cultural heritage, it is unlikely that the full potential of the sector in the Information Society can be realised. As cultural heritage resources are valuable capital in the emerging knowledge economy, the primary objective of political action is to make the richness of cultural heritage resources accessible to citizens in a way that is usable and understandable.

So far, national governments in the European Member States have spent substantial resources on building a critical mass of digital cultural heritage resources, yet mostly in an uncoordinated and ad hoc manner that centred on individual projects instead of programmes. Last but not least, because of growing budget constraints, national governments have now realised the need to develop a systematic and co-ordinated method to implement cultural heritage policies to unlock Europe’s rich cultural heritage.

The primary objectives of such a comprehensive cultural heritage policy are to:

  • build a critical mass of digital cultural heritage resources in response to user expectations (digitisation policy),
  • transfer know-how to less enabled institutions and actively promote ALMs in regions (technology transfer, development policy),
  • make cultural heritage resources more widely available (access policy),
  • stimulate usage through different target groups (usage policy),
  • create and develop new markets for cultural heritage resources (market development policy),
  • secure accessibility of cultural heritage resources in the future (preservation policy).

In addition, it is also national governments that have the responsibility to enable the implementation of these policies by creating a favourable legal framework and making the necessary finances available. In addition, experts participating in the DigiCULT study consider education to be one of the most important drivers that pushes development in the cultural heritage sector.



 Key issue 1: A vision for diverse and multilingual cultural heritage

Memory institutions largely depend on political frameworks and clearly shaped national cultural policies to realise the full value of (digital) cultural heritage resources. Yet, planning and definition of concrete implementation programmes requires political vision. This vision will set the parameters for possible action as it:

  • (re)defines the mission and core functions of memory institutions,
  • provides the criteria for selecting and digitising past, present and future cultural heritage resources,
  • establishes the framework for future decisions of cultural organisations,
  • supplies best practice guidelines with respect to digitisation practices, methodology, and project documentation.

However, the DigiCULT study found that such a vision is clearly lacking in many European Member States. It may be the role of the European Commission to help foster this vision.

Recommendation 1: The European Commission and national governments will need to develop a clear vision concerning the future of the cultural heritage sector and its role in society.

This vision should address:

  • the role and value of cultural heritage in European society;
  • the criteria used for including or excluding resources from future cultural heritage collections such as issues of social inclusiveness, or the inclusion of new forms of cultural expression,
  • multilingual access as a means to communicate to an increasingly pluralistic society and the global community,
  • the changing role, objectives and scope of the activities of cultural heritage institutions, and
  • the position of education as part of cultural policy and as primary pillar within the Information Society.

Such a vision would then form the basis for national governments to support cultural heritage in the future.


 Key issue 2: Maximising a nation’s investment through a methodological approach to digitisation

In the information society, in the long run, only the digital will survive in the memory of a nation as it is more readily available and accessible than analogue cultural heritage resources. Therefore, creating digital material and e-content to be delivered over global networks is a primary responsibility for national governments. Yet, the increasing volume of cultural heritage material on the one side, and limited financial and human resources on the other side, demands taking a highly selective approach to digitising cultural heritage material.

To use the limited resources most effectively, national governments are challenged to develop sound models and guidelines to ensure a comprehensive and systematic approach to releasing the value of (digital) cultural heritage resources. Providing such models, guidelines and examples of best practice as basic decision making tools for cultural heritage institutions is the prime responsibility of national governments. National governments, as the primary financiers of cultural heritage institutions, are in a key position to significantly influence the quality of the projects intended to increase the value of cultural heritage resources.

Creating a critical mass of digital cultural heritage content demands a co-ordinated approach to avoid wasting resources. Such co-ordination mechanisms are currently established as part of the eEurope initiative. In April 2001, Member State representatives agreed to co-ordinate national digitisation policies to avoid a duplication of effort, known as the "Lund principles". Nevertheless, it will take the mutual effort of European, national and regional authorities to guarantee an effective information exchange in both directions: bottom-up, from the regional to the national and European level and top-down, from the European bodies to the national and regional level.

However, all national governments are not equally endowed with financial resources to support methodology development and to provide guidelines. It therefore falls to the responsibility of the European Commission to ensure that there is adequate information available for use on a country by country basis.

Recommendation 2: The European Commission should fund a study of best practice information on digitisation and ensure that this is readily available to ALMs Europe-wide.

Recommendation 3: National governments and regional authorities should use their position as primary financiers to encourage best practice in cultural heritage institutions. They should strive for the highest quality to be delivered by projects.

To do so, national governments should consider the following strategies:

  • support the development and publishing of methodologies as a basis for institutional digitisation policies,
  • publish and demand compliance with technical and quality standards and guidelines,
  • evaluate cultural heritage institutions on the basis of their adherence to these best practice guidelines,
  • issue criteria and measure impact and quality of digitisation projects,
  • issue certifications to cultural heritage projects that follow or employ best practice guidelines and fulfil certain quality criteria,
  • and, finally, mark institutions with a quality seal on national cultural portals.

Recommendation 4: National governments and regional authorities should build on ongoing co-ordination initiatives for digitisation programmes. They should support the establishment of an information exchange infrastructure or interface that connects top-down initiatives vertically with regional initiatives, but also horizontally, with other Member States.



 Key issue 3: A participatory heritage to strengthen regions and small institutions

With up to 95 percent of European cultural heritage institutions being small entities, valorisation and exploitation by means of information technologies also means enabling these institutions to participate by setting up supportive organisations and virtual infrastructures (e.g. networks, platforms, and more advanced environments). Both in Europe and in North America we can see that there is a trend towards a decentralised model with a common methodology for digitisation, but with the initiative in the cultural heritage inventory coming from regions and local authorities. It can be expected that the success of this model will become increasingly evident. More and more European countries will see that the way to unlock the value of cultural heritage is to expand the number of digitised collections to support small cultural heritage institutions by providing centralised centres of expertise.

These new and established organisations and infrastructures would primarily fulfil two functions: On the one hand, they serve as information transfer centres that provide training and further support small institutions with developing the skills of their staff. On the other hand, such infrastructures would allow small institutions to become more visible in the information society and "market" their activities, collections, services and products.

Recommendation 5: The European Commission as well as national and regional authorities should ensure that in all e-culture initiatives small cultural heritage institutions can participate and make full use of the opportunities provided by the new technologies.

Recommendation 6: National governments and regional authorities should develop mechanisms that allow small and under-resourced memory institutions to participate.

This includes:

  • investing in the capacity of institutions by raising the number of staff,
  • ensuring the availability and take up of an appropriate range of possibilities for professional and continuing education as well as training in the cultural heritage sector,
  • providing easy access to best practice examples, methodologies and guidelines,
  • establishing a support infrastructure in the form of cultural Research & Development centres, (virtual) information service centres or specialised centres of excellence to foster know-how transfer.

Recommendation 7: National governments and regional authorities should further support initiatives to make small cultural heritage institutions and regions more visible.

This includes:

  • setting up online networks and platforms where small cultural heritage institutions become more visible and are able to market their activities, collections, services and products in co-operation with cultural tourism agencies and educational institutions,
  • getting small institutions on board of larger projects and initiatives.

Recommendation 8: The European Commission should carry out an in-depth analysis and monitoring of the development of different strategies for digital cultural heritage in the European Member States. For reasons of synergy, the knowledge gained should be brought to the notice of the Ministries of Culture and the cultural heritage institutions of Member States.

The analysis should focus on the effectiveness of centralised vs. decentralised models to assess their applicability to nation states with differing political frameworks.


 Key issue 4: Low-barrier access to cultural heritage

To realise an information society for all, digital cultural heritage resources need to be easily available and accessible for all citizens. Therefore, an effective cultural heritage policy needs to address the various aspects that determine easy access to cultural heritage resources, including

  • cost of access,
  • the technical barriers,
  • intellectual and physical impediments that may prevent citizens to access digital cultural heritage resources.

Although most Member States advocate the view that access to cultural heritage resources should be free of charge, there seems to be an increasing pressure from national governments to charge for cultural heritage resources. Such a trend needs to be evaluated carefully, as it is a fact that, with increasing costs to receive access, the number of users drops, while there is marginal return for the institutions. On the other side, there are also examples in Europe where national governments consider offering access to cultural heritage resources over the Internet as a universal service, along the lines of public service broadcasting.

Whatever model national governments select, they need to find the right balance between fee-based cultural services and free services.

Recommendation 9: National governments and regional authorities should create favourable conditions that allow all citizens to gain access to digital cultural heritage resources. This implies to

  • ensure that the access to resources of general public interest is free of charge,
  • develop criteria to make transparent why specialised services must be charged for,
  • lower the technological barriers by offering cheap and fast Internet access for all,
  • foster equal access by developing and publishing guidelines for creating digital cultural heritage resources for the visually impaired and persons with other disabilities,
  • create central, low-barrier access points to cultural heritage,
  • co-operate and enter into partnership with other Member States to establish a network of national access points to culture.



 Key issue 5: Cultural heritage resources for education

Experts consider education as one of the primary drivers for the future development of the cultural heritage sector. Because knowledge becomes obsolete more quickly in the Information Society, it is a fact that learning does not end at the termination of school life but will be a life-long experience. Life long learning has already become a reality.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits of a well-educated population, education also plays a crucial role in fostering integration and mutual understanding among citizens. A key factor in this understanding is a knowledge of and respect for the historical traditions and cultural expression of a European multicultural society. Digital cultural heritage may play a key role in educational programmes, as cultural heritage institutions increasingly become important providers for new pedagogical tools.

Cultural heritage information is high on the list of interests for individual learners. Accordingly, when making decisions on priority areas for education, re-education and upgrading, national governments should not neglect the importance of cultural heritage information. Policies on digitisation of this information will be crucial in providing the kind of access that will be required in coming years.

This is not to say that national authorities have been negligent. The value and importance of education is well known and many European Member States are already debating the issue. Despite the lack of concrete policies, a body of experience exists from the projects linking educational and cultural domains. As a result, national governments are in a strong position to influence the market for educational material particularly in the area of cultural heritage.

Recommendation 10: National governments and regional authorities should see educational use of digital cultural heritage information as a key target of any national digitisation programme.

Digitisation plans and programmes should be clear about the intentions and objectives with regards to future use. Therefore, in drafting digitisation plans, national governments should ensure that digitised resources can be used for multiple purposes, yet with educational use being always on the list.

In addition, national governments should encourage projects with educational value. Such projects should actively foster the co-operation between content providers and teachers as well as research institutions to create new educational content based on cultural heritage resources.

Recommendation 11: The European Commission should fund a current assessment of the market for educational use of digital cultural heritage information and best practice in the field of educational-cultural projects.

For commercial content providers, educational exploitation is one of the more interesting fields for cultural heritage resources. An assessment of the educational market for cultural heritage products should go beyond the current view of market size and viability. It should also include knowledge gained from the many projects that cross the educational-cultural domain.



 Key issue 6: For a sustainable cultural heritage

Reducing the value of cultural heritage to its economic level, as is currently the trend within many national governments, means only considering one part of what constitutes the value of cultural heritage and what ultimately might influence the individual choices of citizens as primary users of cultural heritage resources. What needs to be understood by national governments is that the value of cultural heritage and the benefit that is gained in building and maintaining digital cultural heritage repositories goes beyond the economic value.

As primary financiers of cultural heritage institutions, national governments need to be aware that what they are funding is the intellectual value that constitutes a cornerstone in a society’s national identity. Thus, the authorisation to invest large sums into the valorisation of cultural heritage must derive from an overall objective in the public interest – namely to unlock the value of cultural heritage for regional development, quality of life, education and life long learning, and to stimulate the cultural industries, i.e. tourism, publishing and broadcasting. This should be considered when the demand for a commercial exploitation of cultural heritage resources is put on memory institutions.

Recommendation 12: National and regional governments that also expect cultural institutions to exploit their collections commercially should provide substantial medium to long-term additional funding.

Recommendation 13: When funding major national cultural heritage initiatives and projects, national governments and regional authorities should not expect a direct economic return of investment. Instead, they should ensure that they can create synergies and leverage results in other publicly funded sectors (e.g online learning) as well as cultural industries (e.g cultural tourism) to maximise the impact of their investment.

Recommendation 14: National and regional authorities should develop value indicators to measure the impact of their investment in cultural heritage.



Back to top