Co-curate North East: creating sustainable routes for North East communities to digitally transform and co-produce open cultural resources

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Arts and Cultures


Co-curate North East is a trans-disciplinary project that will open up 'official' museum and 'un-official' co-created community-based collections and archives through innovative collaborative approaches using social media and open archives/data. The project delivers a transformative educational environment creating a rich mix of openly licenced and other data from arts and humanities, science, and medical health contexts, placing 'authoritative museums' data from professional curators alongside data from more informal contexts compiled and published in collaboration with communities.

The project draws on a wide range of expertise from Newcastle University and various external partners. University contributions come from the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, with its heritage and museums academic-practitioners, the Digital Institute, whose computer scientists contribute to an important project on Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy, Medical Education, which has been at the forefront of e-learning, and Education and Communication, which has been piloting a 'Skype Seniors' project connecting motivated, skilled adults with school students. External partners include Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (the leading museums, gallery and archive service in the North East), Woodhorn (which manages four Northumberland museums and the Northumberland Archives), Taylor & Francis Group (a major publishing group), Wellcome Images (a national database of medical sciences images) and Schools Northeast (representing schools in the north east region). The partnership has a range of expertise on community engagement: both Newcastle University, through its recent Beacon North East and its Education School, and the two museum consortia have successfully developed models.

Newcastle University has identified three major Societal Challenge Themes: Ageing, Sustainability and Social Renewal. Co-curate North East plays into all three. It seeks to engage and empower communities, especially those involving ethnic minorities and other 'hard to reach' groups - something central to the concept of Social Renewal - for which key partners Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) and Woodhorn have nationally recognised track records. The Ageing theme involves a set of intergenerational priorities highly relevant to Co-curate North East, while it is important that the legacy of key assets generated by the project, particularly the range of digital datasets and learning packages, is sustainable. This will be ensured through their stewardship by TWAM and Woodhorn, who will make them available for future generations of researchers through their regular collections management policies.

The project will work with around 20 different community and school groups, many of them based in the Newcastle region but some from rural settings. They will have access to a broad range of digital collections and archives, from the exotic ethnographic objects in the Great North Museum to the scientific and industrial heritage in Discovery Museum and Woodhorn and the wealth of images from publishers Taylor & Francis. Participants will be free to curate their own collections: some may wish to focus on local history, perhaps engaging with the centenary of World War 1 or maybe comparing how objects nowadays gain cultural value from a particular social context with a similar process in the 18th century.

This approach meets an identified need for Enquiry Based and Project Based Learning within a consortium of local North East schools already working with the University. The project will help develop curriculum innovation and an exciting offer to community groups (from Young Archaeologists to U3A). Evaluation will be through a case-study methodology based on Theory of Change, which involves working closely with participant organisations to help them articulate their ideas and expose contradictions between theories and practice.

Planned Impact

The Co-curate North East project will not only benefit the academic research community, as through its promotion of the processes of 'co-creating', 'co-curating' and 'co-utilisation' of the 'official' and 'un-official' collections and archives, it will empower many other stakeholders. These beneficiaries will include: public sector agencies or bodies (e.g. English Heritage, National Trust, Northumberland National Park); professional or practitioner groups; archivists and curators; publishers; the third sector, including charities, museums and galleries; organisations, and individuals in the creative and performing arts; learning communities (both formal and non-formal, including teachers and students, and older people's groups such as U3A); heritage, cultural and arts businesses in the private and commercial sectors; local community groups and individuals involved in co-creating and co-curating online collections and archives; and, consequently, the wider public in general.

While the project has a geographical focus on the North East, the potential impact on other academic researchers for whom this project will provide a baseline understanding of the issues of co-creation and co-curation of material and content in social online spaces gives the opportunity for a broader impact on policy-makers, governments at local, regional, national, and trans-national levels and international organisations like UNESCO ( whose heritage and cultural Conventions and their implementations are of a research interest to ICCHS), as it will provide a possible model for policy implementation and further policy development.

Our belief is that these technologies work best when tested in real-world environments. Experience has shown that introduction of easy-to-use technology interventions greatly enhance practice (for example, Apps generally do not arrive with manuals).

Through the processes of 'co-creation' and 'co-curation' of online collections and archives, the project should also benefit media and publishing companies involved in communication delivery, through the generation of new content that needs to be communicated. This delivery will be further enhanced by the possibilities of using a 'constructivist' open online learning platform similar to that of a MOOC, whereby any interested party from anywhere in the world could also join into the co-creating and co-curation processes. This opens up cross continent and cross-cultural collaborative opportunities and perspectives.

Ultimately, the main beneficiaries locally, regionally and nationally will be all of the learners at various levels, in different social, cultural and geographical contexts, who can become involved in the virtual online processes of 'co-creation' and 'co-curating', thereby benefiting from the opportunities for 'co-constructed' learning in formal and non-formal environments.
Internationally, the project will benefit all those stakeholders in China, Kenya (and Anglophone countries in Africa) and Guyana associated with the EC-funded 'en-compass' project, which is discussed in more detail - along with ecomuseology - in the 'Rationale and research context section' in the Case for Support. These stakeholders will benefit, as the proposed project will be able to enhance the legacy of that project. As an added-value indirect outcome of en-compass 6 ecomuseums will likely be developed in Hainan Province in China. These will look at co-research programmes to identify, document and develop databases on heritage resources important to local people.


10 25 50
Description The project findings include:

1. That co-production and co-curation is a complex process of negotiation and knowledge exchange where we have to take seriously questions of the ownership of knowledge, intellectual property and protocols for sharing.

2. That digital platforms and social machines need co-design or interactive design with universities, heritage collections, institutions and universities all being involved.

3. That multi-disciplinary work needs to be trans- and not non-disciplinary and that complex projects with multiple research partners need to examine methodologies of research quite carefully.

4. That tensions can ensue around questions of what counts as official and unofficial knowledge and the development and partnership with community groups and individuals is essential to the success of a project.

5. That the ways in which visual data is displayed on platforms is a complex process of interaction, negotiation and design.
Exploitation Route We have already developed an innovative digital platform which aggregates materials already existing in online regional and national museum collections, has the capacity to upload newly generated community collections, and exhibit and curate those collections in multiple narrative ways. Further our work offers new lessons for curation and the co-production of materials and significant research into those practices through observation, ethnography and interviews.
These findings are useful for the following areas:

1.Education: education practitioners can use the digital platform as a tool for SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) experiences navigating through materials and creating their own from classroom environments.

2.Heritage organisations: can upload their own collections and support the co-production of materials and projects in community groups and online as well as being able to access 'big data' through the site and understand how individuals and groups purposely and serendipitously navigate materials.

3.Civic organisations: can learn much about our novel ways of thinking about and researching into community curation and what lessons this holds for community safety, inclusion and knowledge exchange particularly when thinking about issues such as migration, industrial change and unofficial knowledges.

4.Community groups: can learn much from our work around how to work with museum collections and resources and seek help and construct networks around their own production of knowledge - sharing expertise and developing new ways of thinking about knowledge and what counts as heritage.

5.Individual practitioners: individuals can upload their own materials or navigate through existing online collections creating and curating new exhibitions around issues such as family history, industry in the North East and many others. You can login as an individual user.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL Https://
Description Our findings have helped shape digital collections from partner organisations and influenced aspects of Creative Fuse North East. The material on our website is still being accessed and added to by various community organisations and during the last year, as a result of the pandemic, usage has increased by 65%.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Title Co-curation and co-production methodologies 
Description In Co-Curate North East we have a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from heritage studies, education, creative practice, medical education, and social computing. We have developed a joint set of methodologies and collaborations including ethnography, observation, interview, and interactive design work - all in co-production with the citizen-researchers of the community heritage groups with whom we are working. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We have trained and developed the researchers within the groups to use the digital platform as both a research and collection tool. Methodologies are being disseminated through conference papers and articles. 
Title Co-Curate digital platform 
Description The Co-Curate platform aggregates existing collections from institutions with newly generated materials from community groups allow the generation of new co-curated and co-produced exhibition spaces, narratives and networks. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The development of this database/set of collections is integrated into the developing co-produced community work of the project due for completion in March 2015. 
Title Co-Curate licensing 
Description We have worked with Naomi Korn to develop innovative ways of approaching intellectual property in unofficial and informal community collections and developed relationships with institutions and 'official' collections. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2014
Licensed No
Impact Important questions of Intellectual property; 1. Who owns collections and can speak for them? 2. What is the provenance and detail of collections and individual artefacts? 3. What are the ways in which we can make different kinds of licensing clear? 4. How can we work with the idea of open and closed collections, social logins, or materials on a journey towards open access
Title Co-Curate North East website and collection platform 
Description Co-Curate is a website but also an archive tool for a set of official, unofficial, and developing mixed collections as part of a co-produced programme of research and development with 20 community heritage groups in the North East 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The development of an innovative digital transformation programme through the co-production of the platform and its collections 
Description Classroom resources toolkit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A series of web resources aimed primarily at schools researching projects on North East history and culture. While some of these will be used by our project partners, they have a much wider use and are freely available.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Co-Curate workshop and development programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Developed meetings and workshops with 20 Co-Curate groups in communities, schools and institutions

The full development of the Co-Curate project including establishing website portal for co-curation of collections and archives
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Cotterill S.J "Co-Curate: working with schools and communities to add value to Open collections" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk as part of the 'Explore' programme to the Joseph Cowen Lifelong Learning CIC, Newcastle upon Tyne
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Destination Tyneside/Collections Hub display, Discovery Museum, WEYDA November 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Developing project as part of co-curation activities

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014