vol. 18 no. 3, September, 2013

Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark, 19-22 August, 2013

Short papers

Digital cultural heritage 2.0: a meta-design consideration

Chern Li Liew
School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

Introduction. Many archives, libraries and museums have been exploring and experimenting with the use of social media. Web 2.0-enabled digital cultural heritage has been heralded by some as the face of a near future in which digital information services will become increasingly dynamic, communicative and participatory. There remains a risk however, that without a useful framework to guide the design, management and sustaining of an effective participatory platform, the resulting situation could be one in which institutions end up providing the platform, but not the direction and support needed for it to properly flourish. In such cases, the response from users and stakeholders could be negligible engagement or contributions of a superficial nature that fail to add value to the cultural heritage.
Method. This research-in-progress starts with the premise that digital cultural heritages are situated within socio-technical networks. Technologies and stakeholders have degrees of agency in the activities that take place. As such, implementation of social media and the activities that can potentially result in user-generated innovation is an on-going process in the information ecology concerned, where constant negotiation is needed to evolve and for them to remain valuable. In this paper, firstly, the concepts of social web and socio-technical systems are explored in the context of digital cultural heritage 2.0. This is followed by a discussion of a meta-design perspective as a useful framework to inform the design and management of effective and productive culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0.
Conclusion. We found the key principles of meta-design relevant and from the conceptual consideration of a meta-design perspective for digital cultural heritage 2.0, a number of aspects which particularly warrant further investigation were identified and discussed.


The social web or Web 2.0 has been at the centre of a fair amount of hype and interests in social media have grown significantly in recent years. The Web is increasingly being used as a collaborative space and the participatory aspect of Web 2.0 is one of the most important ones. This aspect has had an impact in terms of how people perceive and use the Web, and how institutions are leveraging the communicative and participative aspect.

Not surprisingly, many cultural heritage institutions like archives, libraries and museums have been exploring and experimenting with the use of social media (Oomen and Aroyo 2011; Flinn, 2010; Daines and Nimer, 2009). Many see the potential to take advantage of the participatory aspect to move beyond the traditional modus operandi; i.e. “a transition from Acropolis – that inaccessible treasury on the fortified hill – to Agora, a marketplace of ideas offering space for conversation, a forum for civic engagement and debate, and opportunity for a variety of encounters” (Proctor, 2010). Specifically, many are keen to tap into the potential collective intelligence of the crowd – by engaging with and empowering users and stakeholders to facilitate meaningful value-adding to their resources; for instance, as co-curators of digital cultural heritage and as contributors of valuable contextual information necessary for meaningful interpretation of the digital cultural heritage (Simon, 2010; Ridolfo et al, 2010).

The success of such initiatives however, lies considerably in the existence of an effective and sustainable participatory culture which in turn, depends on successful establishment and management of the culture of participation amongst the stakeholders and communities within the digital cultural heritage 2.0s.

Problem statement and research framework

While the enthusiasm cultural heritage institutions show in the social web is generally welcomed, as it signals the institutions’ willingness to engage with users and stakeholders, there remains a risk that fundamental issues relating to how social media is implemented and managed by cultural heritage institutions might be overlooked. There is generally a lack of clear guidelines and useful framework as to how to design, manage and to sustain an effective participatory platform in digital cultural heritage (Theimer, 2010; Palmer, 2009).

If important strategic and design issues are not carefully addressed, the resulting situation could be one in which institutions end up merely engaging in a token form of participatory culture where they provide the platform, but not necessarily the direction and support needed for a culture of participation to properly flourish. In such cases, the response from users and stakeholders could be either negligible engagement or contributions of a superficial nature that fail to add value to the cultural heritage. Instead of benefiting from the collective intelligence of the crowd then, these institutions risk creating additional ‘noise’ that detracts from their aims and information content. It could also lead to a situation where contributions from stakeholders are not appropriately managed; thus possibly exhausting the goodwill of the stakeholders or leaving them feeling that their participation have not been appreciated or contributed to a meaningful cause.

This research starts with the premise that digital cultural heritage 2.0s are situated within socio-technical networks. Technologies and stakeholders have degrees of agency in the activities that take place. Implementation of social media and the activities that can potentially result in user-generated content and/or user-based service innovation (Sundbo and Toivonen, 2011) is thus, an on-going process in the information ecology concerned (Nardi and O’Day, 2000), where constant negotiation is needed to evolve and for them to remain valuable.

In this research, we examine digital cultural heritage 2.0s as socio-technical environments (Carmine and Fisher, 2008) and explore the establishment of culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0 using a meta-design perspective (Fisher, 2007a). In the following section, we explore the concepts of social web and socio-technical systems in the context of digital cultural heritage 2.0. This is followed by a discussion of a meta-design perspective as a useful framework to inform the design and management of effective and productive culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0.

Digital cultural heritage 2.0 as socio-technical environments

Web 2.0 or the social web is characterised by an ‘architecture of participation’ (O’Reilly, 2005) which aims to harness collective intelligence, empower users and to facilitate participatory interaction. It heralded in a new era of user-centeredness, with the expectation that content was becoming more social. Web users are perceived not only as passive readers of contents but they potentially can be active participants and contributors of that content. For cultural heritage institutions, this can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is potential to tap into the user and stakeholder community to add-value and to enrich their contents. This can take the form of for instance, user knowledge being solicited to help curators to develop a broader sense of social history or getting users to tag documents or images. On the other hand, this brings with it a potential challenge to the long-held notions of ‘institutions as authority’ (Yakel, 2011) as well as to the authenticity and integrity of digital objects (Lynch, 2010).

One of the other main indicators for the social web is the ‘perpetual beta’ notion (O’Reilly, 2005); harnessing the social side of the Web and enable users to not only contribute to contents, but also facilitate other forms of user and stakeholders-generated innovation. For instance, empowering users to create their own applications using Application Programming Interfaces or mash-ups, and let user behaviour act to filter and organise data through voting, recommendation engines, ranking algorithms and social tagging for example. As opposed to predictability, universality and certainty expected of pure technical systems, the evolutionary growth of the social web involves variability, mutability and to some degrees, uncertainty.

How can cultural heritage institutions respond to the opportunities and challenges? The central tenet is one of understanding and managing the integration of the technical dimension as well as the social dimension of digital cultural heritage 2.0. As Tim Berners-Lee and his co-researchers reminded us, at the micro scale, the Web is an infrastructure of artificial languages and protocols; it is a result of engineering. However, the linking philosophy that governs the Web and its use in communication result in emergent properties at the macro scale, and the Web’s use in communication is part of a wider system of human interaction governed by rules, regulations and conventions (Berners-Lee et al., 2006).

The social aspect of Web 2.0 has brought these to the forefront. The social web is much more an environment for participation and collaboration than a packaged-software. Its competencies lie in it being agile; by offering functionality for potential user-driven adaptability. It is a platform meant to facilitate the harnessing of collective intelligence and to enable richer user experience through empowerment. It involves trusting users and stakeholders as potential co-developers, consultants, facilitators and co-curators. An effective, productive and sustainable digital cultural heritage 2.0 hence, relies on a successful integration and balancing of the technical aspect and the social aspect (which includes the social structures, cultural contexts and human behaviour). Various social and cultural theories have informed this research (Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, 1995; Cherns, 1987; Gray, 1995; Latour, 1999; Law, 1987). It is not within the scope of this paper to review these in length but relevant frameworks are important for further development of this study.

Meta-design and digital cultural heritage 2.0

In this paper, we focus on the meta-design perspective. We argue that this perspective offers a useful framework for understanding the digital cultural heritage 2.0 phenomenon. In this section, we examine how we can usefully apply the key principles of a meta-design framework to the development, management and sustaining of a dynamic digital cultural heritage 2.0.

Meta-design is a conceptual framework aimed at informing the design of socio-technical systems (Fisher and Giaccardi, 2006) where the design and development of the system is tightly coupled to use and continues during the use of the system. Meta-design is grounded in the belief that users can be active contributors who can transcend the original functionality and content of the systems (Fisher, 2007a) – prerequisites for social creativity and user-generated innovation.

A fundamental objective of meta-design is to create systems or environments that empower users and all stakeholders to engage in the continuous development of a productive socio-technical solution. A critical aspect is that of ‘designing design’ (Fisher and Giaccardi, 2006) – a higher-order design that supports malleability of structures and processes to facilitate social creativity and innovation rather than focusing on fixed structures and content. As such, we believe that it is a potentially useful framework to inform the development of Web 2.0-based culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0. A successful and sustainable digital cultural heritage 2.0 relies on social innovation and collaboratively constructed value-adding artefacts (Scharff, 2002).

In the following sub-sections, we examine the three key principles characterising meta-design (Fisher, 2010) and their relevance for digital cultural heritage 2.0: support for cultures of participation; empowerment for adaptation and evolution at use time; seeding, evolutionary growth and reseeding. Our discussion is focused on cultures of participation for a digital cultural heritage 2.0 environment. As such, in this paper, we exclude the methodological concepts of semi-structured modelling and walkthrough-oriented facilitation (Avison et al, 1999) that comply with the principles of socio-technical design more generally.

Digital cultural heritage 2.0 and support for cultures of participation

Meta-design supports a culture of participation by which users have the opportunity to contribute to design activity and to shaping a socio-technical solution. Stakeholders of all kinds (including users, system/project managers, curators, quality controllers, content owners and copyright holders) have the opportunity to influence the design of a socio-technical solution as well as its appropriation and adaptation. It is worth noting that a meta-design perspective supports cultures of participation that transcend traditional participatory design approach. The aim is to establish a culture of participation that takes place not only at design time, but also throughout use time of a system. Meta-design also promotes an environment which supports the dynamic nature of roles among participants; with new roles emerging and the possible evolvement of these roles (Fisher, 2008; Preece and Shneiderman, 2009). As opposed to the clearly defined roles in traditional participatory design, cultures of participation in meta-design facilitate the establishment of a variety of participative roles and potential transitions or fusion amongst them during the development of a socio-technical solution. This includes empowering users to contribute to visions and objectives (Fisher, 2007b) for example as the environment evolves.

These aspects of cultures of participation within a meta-design perspective are useful for understanding digital cultural heritage 2.0. The social web cultures are good examples of how the distinctions among traditional roles (such as developers versus users) are blurred, leading to the possible fusion of roles such as that of prosumers as suggested by Tapscott and Williams (2006). Digital cultural heritage 2.0 has the potential to tap into stakeholders’ background, experience and varying perspective that can potentially contribute towards social innovation. For this to take place, an evolving culture of participation is needed. For instance, users may begin as contributors of contents or contextual information but over time, they may contribute to the development of social conventions, policies and other social structures that influence the overall design and functioning of the digital cultural heritage 2.0. Similarly, the role of the project developers and leaders may evolve to become co-users (of user-generated contents and innovation) and may engage in produsage (Bruns 2008).

The Prow, a digital cultural heritage featuring historical resources and cultural stories from the New Zealand provinces of Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough for instance, invites the local communities concerned to create and to enhance the contextual information of its local history resources. Staff maintaining the site generally promptly revise stories in response to user contributions and subsequently embed those contributions in the core collection.

Of course, the organisational and cultural framework afforded by cultures of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0 need to be complemented by tools, methods, processes and strategies that empower participants to contribute to the growth of the socio-technical environment.

Digital cultural heritage 2.0 and empowerment for adaptation

Meta-design of socio-technical systems is not only focused on software adaptability such as typical in end-user development (Lieberman et al, 2006), but is also concerned with the adaptability for the evolution of the system or environment as a whole. Stakeholders (including users) can contribute not only to contents and contexts-building, but also to software design as well as to the evolution of the social conventions, cultures, structures, processes and organisational rules of a socio-technical environment. A meta-design framework hence, supports the evolution of an information ecology of various and varying roles (Nardi and O’Day, 2000) that engage in collaboration and adaptation of a system or environment (Fisher, 2008). This framework is therefore potentially useful for the sort of empowerment and adaptation necessary to make digital cultural heritage 2.0 productive and sustainable.

Collaborative development of content, context and other dimensions in digital cultural heritage 2.0 needs to be effectively shared amongst various roles (of stakeholders). Users can contribute to ideas of how information could be tagged, organised and presented, and the digital cultural heritage 2.0 manager can implement these ideas as well as suggest their own on top of these for further improvement. Collaboration and mutual learning underlies on-going adaptation and evolutionary growth of the digital cultural heritage 2.0 technical infrastructure and social systems.

A meta-designed digital cultural heritage 2.0 environment is essentially a ‘perpetual beta’ that is open to facilitate and incorporate emergent behaviour during use time. Participants of a digital cultural heritage 2.0 are afforded meta-tools and meta-methods to collaboratively and continuously develop the socio-technical environment for it to remain valuable and usable.

Cultural heritage 2.0 and seeding, evolutionary growth, reseeding

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”
(McLuhan, 1994)

In a meta-design framework, seeds represent prototypes or the beta of a solution. These are accompanied by methods, tools and strategies that support the development of these seeds, and their incremental and evolutionary growth (Fisher and Ostwald, 2002). Hence, seeding applies not only to the technical aspect, but also to the social structures of socio-technical environments. This fits an emerging context and evolving environment such as digital cultural heritage 2.0. Of course, seeding, evolutionary growth, reseeding works only in the context of the other two principles – cultures of participation and empowerment for adaptation. The seeds and growth of the seeds for both the technical and social dimensions will evolve at use (and participation) time.

A digital cultural heritage 2.0 illustrates this two-fold character. A participatory digital cultural heritage 2.0 is on one hand, designed to support information and knowledge sharing while on the other hand, information sharing and knowledge integration are the cornerstones in its development and evolutionary growth. Digital cultural heritage 2.0 paradigms illustrate this bottom-up oriented information sharing and users (as well as other stakeholders) are empowered to contribute to the growth of contents as well as the technical aspects and social structures of a digital cultural heritage 2.0. Within a meta-designed digital cultural heritage 2.0, plans and technical features are considered seeds that give impulses for new directions of evolutionary growth. The seeds are adaptable and can be appropriated according to the information ecology concerned (Nardi and O’Day, 2000). The sustainable element of the environment is the mutual reflection and learning, continuing participation and continuous growth afforded by a meta-design framework.

The way forward

This research-in-progress sets out to examine the establishment of culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0 using a meta-design perspective. The main premise for this work is that digital cultural heritage 2.0 environments are desired to be not only interactive and dynamic, but also to be capable of evolving to remain valuable and usable, as well as being sustainable. A couple of digital cultural heritage 2.0s in New Zealand were looked at – The Prow and the NLNZ (National Library of New Zealand) on The Commons (flickr.com/photos/nationallibrarynz_common).

We found the key principles of meta-design relevant and potentially useful for informing the development, management and sustaining of culture of participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0. This work is clearly at a starting point. Much work is still needed to develop a fuller picture. From the conceptual consideration of a meta-design perspective for digital cultural heritage 2.0, a number of aspects which particularly warrant further investigation were derived. These are outlined in the next sub-sections.

Engaging participants: scaffolding, choreography and moderation

In the examples looked at, the NLNZ on The Commons was largely geared towards encouraging users to visit its non-Web 2.0 home site rather than making use of the participatory culture opportunities afforded by Flickr. It was lacking in the kind of instructional scaffolding (Barak et al, 2009) deployed by The Prow, which served to more directly solicit and guide productive contributions from users. The latter site hence displayed more evidence of user contribution to its content development. It also showed more signs of having moderation and verification procedures in place for dealing with user-generated contents.

The best participatory activities observed in the cases do not take place in sites that are open-ended. The sites with considerable participatory activities are often ‘scaffolded’ and the activities are ‘choreographed’ to some extent; to guide participants. Users seemed more likely to contribute if they were being asked for specific kinds of contributions especially in the initiation stage (e.g. ‘We are seeking more information about the event and the location depicted in the image…’; ‘We would like to know what you think about …”; ‘Which of these tags are useful to describe …?’). The resulting contributions are also likely to have a higher potential for value-adding.

Moderation, as supported in a meta-design framework is found to be useful in facilitating sustained conversations and engagement with participants. Activities to facilitate these may be as simple as ensuring users’ contributions are acknowledged promptly and responded to in a timely and positive fashion. In cases where they have suggested corrections or offered new information for instance, these need to be processed as quickly as possible and decisions made about whether or not to incorporate this data into the official record should be communicated to the contributors concerned as well as to other participants.

Encouraging participation: motivation and incentives

Strategies and activities to promote intrinsic social motivations appear to be important, including (i) those that are built around a sense of belonging to a community and (ii) those that are built around sharing and generosity which appeals to people’s altruism to contribute to a meaningful purpose.

Assuring users that their contributions are recognised and are being taken seriously in decision-making, and not simply being treated as idle chatter on the side is important for encouraging further involvement and sustained engagement. Giving participants some authority (and hence, partial ownership to the socio-technical solution) can also be a powerful source of intrinsic motivation, encouraging them to continue to the evolutionary growth of a digital cultural heritage 2.0.

Other means to facilitate this could include incentivising schemes for rewarding participation and useful contributions in the form of issuing certificates of appreciation for value-adding contributions. Incentives do not need to be in monetary terms; recognition, prominent acknowledgement of impact of contributions could serve as powerful motivating factor. In a meta-design framework, all participants also have opportunities to contribute to the motivation and incentive mechanism; e.g. through peer review, ranking of contributions made and through making suggestions for improving this aspect of the digital cultural heritage 2.0.

Sustaining participation: trust building and community management

Sustaining participation will to a great extent depend on mutual respect, trust and a sense of belonging to a community that contributes to a worthwhile cause. Stakeholders need to trust the digital cultural heritage 2.0 platform as a meaningful environment to want to contribute to. Likewise, the institutions will need to have trust in the ‘crowd’.

Some form of quality assurance of user-generated innovation is important to ensure that the site, and its users and stakeholders benefit from meaningful and value-adding contributions, instead of being drowned by ‘noise’. This can be facilitated through a combination of means to manage the community of participants (Koch et al, 2010) and to promote trust; such as: (i) establishing behavioural norms among participants (ii) providing guidelines for the nature of contributions and building an image of the desired quality of contents, and (iii) promptly filtering or correcting erroneous information. Creating a shared understanding among stakeholders, participants and the institutions concerned requires facilitation that ensures for instance, that controversial points of views are considered in a balanced way and integrated if appropriate, which could lead to new ideas and innovation. This of course, needs to be supported by appropriate policies, procedures and mechanisms of which participants can co-develop with the institutions concerned.

In this research, we propose that digital cultural heritage 2.0s are not technical systems but socio-technical environments. They are integration of deterministic structures and processes (i.e. the technical dimension), and the contingency of the social dimension. Meta-design hence provides a useful framework to study these environments. The framework supports a culture in which all stakeholders can participate and contribute to the evolutionary growth of a socio-technical environment; one in which digital cultural heritage project managers and curators will be willing to give up some control (e.g. over content and policies development), and users are not passive consumers but engage in meaningful contributions to the digital cultural heritage. We identified three key aspects for further investigation - It is important to study the kinds of meta-tools, meta-mechanism and meta-methods that can be used to reach and to engage with the target audience and potential participants, as well as to encourage and to sustain participation in digital cultural heritage 2.0. It is also important to understand the socio-cultural factors that have an influence on these in the associated contexts.

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How to cite this paper

Liew, C.L. (2013). Digital cultural heritage 2.0: a meta-design consideration Information Research, 18(3) paper S03. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/18-3/colis/paperC03.html]

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