Building Resilience Wellbeing and Cohesion in Displaced Societies Using Digital Heritage

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences


This project's overall objectives are: (i) to engage with the refugee (primarily Syrian) and mixed communities in and around Azraq in Jordan to enable them to discuss and use the digital heritage technologies and capacities developed in our AHRC-funded projects for their own well-being, including building mutual confidence and community cohesion, and (ii) to learn from the experience to develop approaches and good practices for wider uses of digital heritage resources to the benefit of refugee, displaced and conflict-affected communities in other regions.
The project builds on the successes of the AHRC-funded Augmenting Jordanian Heritage (AJH) and Fragmented Heritage (Curious Travellers element) Projects, as well as drawing on aspects of the AHRC-funded Continuing Bonds Project. The follow-on funding reaches new audiences, namely refugee and communities in the Azraq region of Jordan, with an additional focus on the role of heritage in peacebuilding, thus representing a new interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeology, digital heritage, peace studies and international development, working with local partners in Jordan. The project aims to use heritage as a further key tool in an innovative and creative way, to enhance a sense of place, explore the role and value of digital heritage in identity, community development and wellbeing in contexts of displaced and conflict-affected communities.,
The project combines several recently established bodies of knowledge and practice from the areas of peace studies & international development, and archaeology & heritage, from which the CoI OG and PI, CoI AW and CoI KC have strong experience. Local community involvement will be embedded in the project from the outset, with our Jordanian collaborators involved in all stages of the project as they have been from inception. Members of this project team have substantial experience of conflict and conflict sensitive analyses and community building processes (CoI OG) and archaeological and heritage research in Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, including some field experience (PI; CoI KC). Our local partners are Jordan Heritage and Wafr Al Waqt, both local NGOs with track record of activities and engagement with local and refugee communities on issues of diverse tangible and intangible heritages. These local partners have fully contributed to, the development of this proposal; and the project will enhance their capacity for follow-on activities after the project ends.

Five face-to-face project events are planned (4 in Jordan, 1 in the UK), to prepare the project, build capacity of local patterns, and to monitor, review and evaluate the project progress and process. A series of three community workshops will be established and facilitate processes of community engagement in and around Azraq on the relevance and values of diverse cultural heritages, and to guide and use digital heritage assets that are either already generated or will be created for this project. The project team will also meet at least monthly (via Skype), and more regularly when needed. The outputs include creation and use of the digital assets customized to community priorities and needs; establishment and conflict-sensitive facilitation of community dialogue and building processes; capacity-building; and evaluation and development and dissemination of targeted whitepapers for NGO, government and international use, based on the lessons learned and methodology we will develop through the project, and articles aimed at lay audiences (in English and Arabic).

The project aims directly and primarily address UK Aid / ODA priorities. They further address identified strategic development goals and established United Nations regional response plans (United Nations, 2014) and to proposed policies for the use of heritage in sustainable development (UNESCO, 2015) each of which link directly to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015).

Planned Impact

The project will engage with and benefit refugee and displaced communities and individuals and to enable them to discuss and use digital heritage for community confidence-building, cohesion and psycho-social wellbeing; and further to evaluate and learn lessons from project implementation in Jordan to develop good practices and effective approaches for similar uses of digital heritage elsewhere in the world. There will be an impact on community-building and uses of digital heritage for such purposes in and around Azraq and follow-on activities in Jordan by our collaborators. We expect a broader impact to contribute to the countries from which they are currently displaced (particularly Syria), as well as to the areas where they currently located. This specifically means those within the Azraq camp in northern Jordan which hosts over 35,000 individuals displaced from various regions of Syria. Azraq is a nearby township which has also seen an influx of Syrians since the crisis. The evaluation, preparation and dissemination of 'whitepapers' clarifying approaches and good practices for such uses of digital heritage by displaced and conflict affected communities will provide wider benefits by promoting and enabling appropriate, conflict and gender-sensitive, uses of digital heritage assets to other refugee, displaced and conflict affected communities in other regions of the world.

The fragmented heritage project's 'curious travellers' initiative has developed a widely applicable methodology for building interactive 3d models and environments of remote locations and features using web scraped and donated photography. It provides a framework for individuals to create a tailored experience of landscapes, buildings, monuments, or objects that are inaccessible to them due to displacement and possibly destruction. Such an experience feeds into personal resilience and wellbeing building. Improvements in wellbeing of communities within camps is a significant impact driven by this research. This includes individuals but particularly benefits communities by helping them to develop confidence and cohesion as well as improve heritage education, in contexts where communities are inevitably diverse and challenged by social, political,ethnic, gender and other divisions. It offers the possibility not only for community dialogue but also to reconnect with cultural values and lost identities through providing an environment through which people can visualise the spaces which they value or from which they have been derived. It offers the possibility to help younger individuals who have only fragmentary and negative memories of the past living situations to connect with the legacy of their community. Improvement of wellbeing can not be understated as an important mechanism in sustainable development. The offer of reconnecting with heritage can provide a sense of belonging and offer an experience of inclusion and illustrate the potential for future prosperity.

The creation of digital assets of specific heritage locations will highlight these as places of interest in the wider international community. In the least they become targets for international conservation efforts and national heritage assets and they have the potential for being centers for sustainable tourism and the economic benefits that arise surrounding this. Keeping local history and the legacy of culture and important buildings on the minds of the communities that will return. It will create a sense of ownership in helping the recovery of the locations and, owing to the accuracy of some of the digital models produced within the project, can provide a visual framework from which to reconstruct buildings and monuments which have been destroyed. Stated efforts are a source of reducing tensions within townships that have been impacted by incoming displaced people. It will help identify common goals that will lead to common local initiative that will drive sustainability within the area.


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