Taking forward a participative 21st Century Inventory

Lead Research Organisation: RCAHMS
Department Name: Education and Outreach


'Taking forward a participative 21st Century Inventory' has been inspired by and builds on the research being undertaken by Beyond Text Collaborative Doctoral Award student Michela Clari, entitled 'In the hands of the user: changing patterns of participation and learning through the digital collections of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland'.

Clari's research is focussed on the early pioneering developments of RCAHMS in online user interaction and the use of social media. Her analysis and interpretation of RCAHMS work in this area has stimulated and informed RCAHMS to further develop the concept of a participative 21st Century Inventory of the built heritage of Scotland.

The project will create, evaluate and disseminate findings on a discrete set of online demonstrator applications that will provide facilities using live data to test the capacity of the public, professionals and academics to collaborate in 'making' and 'unmaking' the inventory of the built heritage of Scotland.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic beneficiaries of this project, RCAHMS, as a publicly accessible National Collection, engages with a very large online user base who follow our developments and interact with them with great ethusiasm. Across our web services we receive in the region of 564,000 site visits per month.RCAHMS first opened up its Canmore database to user contributions just over a year ago and in that time we have received over 3,000 image contributions and over 500 text contributions. This project will very significantly increase both the methods and user friendliness of our social media applications, allowing us to confidently promote them to a wider audience. In the first year of experimenting in this area we have been relatively passive in our promotion of the new facilities, allowing the online community to form gradually at its own pace. We anticipate that this project will give us the reason and opportunity to significantly promote new features and that this will result in a significant growth in our online community.

At the recent RSE Digital Futures seminar it was clear that while interesting work is being undertaken in this area by a small number of cultural institutions around the world (notably the V&A), that RCAHMS is the first to do so in Scotland and remains at the forefront of digital development and the encouragement of online interaction. RCAHMS is thus well placed to push forward the boundaries of what is possible, and to ensure that its developments have the maximum impact on both those from the wide public that use them, and on other institutions struggling to secure a toehold in this area of their work.


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Description The developments which RCAHMS explored in the context of the follow-on Beyond Text project have represented, for RCAHMS, an opportunity to take a positive step towards a more active engagement with digital innovation, a change from the more typical instrumental approaches of the past.

The integration of a new tagging function, tested in the project, will allow future Canmore users to engage with images in the archive at a more granular level, in ways which allow for new interpretation and re-organisation of the material from different perspectives. If this development is pursued, users will have new opportunities to act as 'commentators' as well as contributors, ideally also interacting with curatorial staff in new ways. The opportunity for online users to develop new interactive resources using RCAHMS data, the second development explored in the project, further enhances opportunities for active collaboration between RCAHMS and online users. Here, conditions may be created where the institution could, at last, step away from a traditional role of organiser/producer to one of participant/learner, as potentially new ideas and creative departures are identified by users making use of RCAHMS data in innovative ways; ways which the institutions might not have anticipated itself.

Overall, the project represented a welcome natural progression for RCAHMS, as it shows a new willingness to experiment with practices which recognise the value of digital innovation not merely in relation to short-term outcomes but also, importantly, in terms of the value of the engagement process for users and the institution alike.
Exploitation Route The research findings demonstrate that there is clearly an interest in widening access to RCAHMS data, as well as enhancing the ability to interact with images in the Canmore database more actively through crowdsourcing, eg image tagging. As well as professional and academic audiences, the wider public can make use of the findings of this research once they have been integrated into forthcoming developments to the RCAHMS database Canmore, which will greatly enhance the capacity for interaction.

The results of this research support the general move towards a more flexible approach to data, particularly that of public bodies. Enabling other organisations, communities and the wider public to experiment with this and other data and to create innovative new applications is an objective which this research has positively emphasised. Further public consultation as part of ongoing developments at RCAHMS would enable these outcomes to be explored further.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture/ Heritage/ Museums and Collections

URL http://www.rcahms.gov.uk
Description Beyond Text Project - Public Services Impact
Impact The ability to share data so that it can be integrated into new applications, while embracing a more flexible approach to content delivery, would reach new audiences across specialist and general users. The benefits of a public body making its content more useable have been demonstrated with improved delivery of public services, increased potential for public engagement, and greater accessibility to the material across communities.
Description Ladders to the Cloud
Amount £39,795 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/J006734/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Description Beyond Text Project - Collaboration 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaborative work has been undertaken with the University of Edinburgh through Dr Sian Bayne, Associate Dean of Digital Scholarship, School of Education, and Michela Clari, Beyond Text Collaborative Doctoral Award student.
Collaborator Contribution Academic critique of our user research.
Impact Informed future practice, specifically in development of crowdsourcing projects.
Start Year 2011
Description Beyond Text Project - Online Dissemination 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The online dissemination of the public consultation process and research results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
Description Beyond Text Project - RCAHMS Annual Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Article referencing the Beyond Text project in RCAHMS Annual Review 2010-2011.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Beyond Text Project - eNewsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact eNewsletter communication with RCAHMS subscribers for public consultation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011