Report on the Prague Platform on 'Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age'
One of the 60 priority actions included in the European Framework for Action aims at reinforcing EU leadership and capitalising on it in the global arena on innovative aspects of heritage policies. In 2019, in order to jointly develop concrete solutions, the European Commission launched a series of conferences over a two-year period on the future of heritage, intended as global problem-solving platforms. These platforms, each with a different theme, involve national governments and their agencies, key global institutions, experts and young global leaders.
The platforms will help disseminate the results of ongoing experimentation and research among cultural heritage institutions and stakeholders, and in the field of social policies. This report relates to the second platform that was held on the 7th–8th October in Prague, – “Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age”. Two locations were utilised for the platform, the Dominican Baroque Refectory and the National Library of Czechia.
This is the purpose of the Platforms project: creating a moment of exchange among a wide variety of participants coming from diverse backgrounds, bearing unique visions, skills, and experience, to engage in an exercise of collective intelligence to develop solution-oriented proposals on specific, key fields where cultural heritage may continue to make a difference in the future. In its entirety, the project will consist of several appointments, each one on a different key topic and taking place in a different European capital, ideally drawing out a full cycle of proactive reflection that covers a wide spectrum of innovative, policy-relevant issues calling for attention, fresh ideas, and joint commitment from institutions, stakeholders and communities worldwide. The scope of the project therefore cuts across different policy areas and communities: culture, research, education, innovation, with a special focus on younger generations in view of the future on which and for which it is built.
The first Platform, devoted to the relationship between heritage and social innovation, took place in Dublin in April 2019. It experienced a broad level of participation and generated many valuable insights. This first event confirmed the hypothesis that the idea of a solution-oriented initiative may be useful and timely. Now is the moment to proceed further.
The second area on which the project focuses is the digital sphere, which is currently a frontier for research, experimentation and development of new models and practices in the heritage field. But this relationship goes far beyond the digitisation of heritage, or the potential of new digital platforms for expanding our capacity to experience heritage. It offers the possibility to reconstruct and re-live what had been lost, or more generally to boost the sensory and emotional impact of heritage-related experiences, and our capacity to connect experience and data, so as to allow a more profound, moving, and motivating approach.
The connection between heritage and the digital sphere may be regarded as a frontier of innovation, which can attract new generations of creators and technologists into a field where Europe has, and can further reinforce, a distinctive positioning and a recognized leadership at the global level. This can pave the way for new jobs, companies, and forms of cultural, social and economic value for local communities, while at the same time reinforcing and rejuvenating the relationship between heritage and European territories.
The digital sphere may be a powerful accelerator of change, which fully harnesses the potential of heritage as a source of cultural, social and economic value. However, for this to happen the right conditions have to be created. The digital revolution is very recent, and we still have to learn how to establish the right dialogue between the quickly changing hi-tech landscape where new technologies and tools keep on flowing in, and the heritage world that is accustomed to think in terms of historical time and long durations.
The digital sphere may be a catalyst that offers the possibility to re-define and even to re-purpose our relationship to heritage, to turn it into an organic, living reality that seamlessly connects to our processes of thought and imagination. This powerful synthesis requires a clear frame of mind and carefully chosen fields of experimentation and practice. Europe must be prepared to tackle this demanding challenge, and this Platform aims at providing very concrete insights and ideas on how to achieve this.
For this Platform, three areas were identified that span some of the key issues that mark the complex relationship between heritage and the digital sphere:
- the dynamic relationship between digital and the intangible heritage;
- the dialogue between heritage and digital technological innovations as a source of local inclusive growth and smart specialisation;
- Digitally-enabled audience development as a form of active cultural participation.
Working on these three lines, the platform on Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age brought a fresh impetus to both digital innovation and the heritage communities of experts, professionals, and practitioners, opening up collaboration between the two spheres on an unprecedented scale.