Deep dives

Exploring Deliberative Memory Processes: crafting a Vision of the Past

09/January/2024 by Olivier Schulbaum
Ésèpe, Hammock, 2023
Olivier Schulbaum

Olivier Schulbaum

Co-founder of Platoniq Foundation

Social entrepreneur, founder of the ethical crowdfunding platform Goteo. I work as a consultant in numerous national and foreign organisations applying my knowledge and extensive experience in design and development of agile methodologies and open source tools for digital social innovation. Since 2001 I have been carrying out actions and projects in which the social uses of Information and Communication Technologies and networking are applied to the promotion of communication, self-training and citizen organisation. Member of the Board of Trustees of the Civio Citizen Foundation.

At Platoniq I interpret the needs of our partners taking into account new social challenges, opportunities and technological paradigms. I have been running projects since 2001, applying the social uses of ICT and distributed networks to improve communication, self-training, social entrepreneurship and citizen organisation. My work with Platoniq has been presented at innovation conferences and digital culture festivals and has been implemented in organisations such as the Basque cooperative Mondragon and in several educational spaces in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Co-creating a country’s collective memory through its public libraries

Hypothesis: Looking in the rear-view mirror of our history without blind spots

Can public archives and citizen archives build a dialogue about the conflicts of the past and co-create a better and common future legacy?

How can we identify and foster links between holders of public or private heritage collections and community and civic groups, uniquely leveraging shared heritage as a way to generate inclusive and frank exchanges from the perspectives of institutional (official) history, personal and community aspirations, without obviating the “dead angles of history.”

To support this hypothesis, we investigate the constitution, development and governance model of “ComparteTuRollo”, a project that placed historical heritage at the center of a participatory process to build Colombia’s historical memory.

State of the Art

In the fields of digital culture and social innovation, co-creation is an increasingly recurrent mechanism to generate dynamics that allow different agents and stakeholders to get involved and develop new projects in a positive and innovative way. In cultural heritage institutions, such as museums, art centers or libraries, there is a growing interest and co-creation experiences are already being carried out.

Co-creation is often related to crowdsourcing. Both benefit from working with groups of people external to the producing organization, but unlike co-creation, crowdsourcing does not seek, a priori, the shared creation of solutions, but aims to use the productive force of a community to grow a project exponentially. Co-creation is also developed with work teams, with plural profiles, seeking to put the user and the person in charge of creating solutions on the same level, and aims to influence the quality of the solution that is found through very specific methodologies and phases of collaborative creation.

To illustrate this, Wikipedia editing would be the main example of crowdsourcing, while free software would be the main example of co-creation.

Story of us: Objective data to support the idea

Co-creation is a discipline that has its roots in participatory design that has taken hold in Northern Europe since the 1970s. Through different principles, methods and solutions, it responds to the need to put the user or client at the center of the value creation process, as a practical and active source of knowledge, motivation and creation. Whether through workshops or face-to-face sessions, or through online collaboration dynamics, co-creation can be understood as a way of activating and channeling creative processes, and especially as a tool that increasingly allows to identify and collaboratively generate services and products, and even learning dynamics or project incubation.

Large companies and brands have been using collaborative creation effectively for several decades, both for the design of new products and services, and to address structural changes in the company. These practices have been exported to areas far removed from competitiveness and innovation from the market logic, with the replication of co-creation experiences in contexts such as social entrepreneurship (for the identification of services and products of interest where the market does not reach or is not interested) and the design of applications and web development (co-defining needs, requirements and development of interfaces thanks to shared visions of what the users themselves demand or express their needs) and, lately, also in education, the arts, the publishing world, the audiovisual sector, or in libraries, archives and museums.

Cultural institutions have long placed the user at the center of the service. Innovation is not that library, archive and museum professionals think about the user, but that they think with the user: co-creation emphasizes the mixing of internal and external people to deepen user-centered solutions. Thinking from below: bottom-up.

Direct involvement of users, complementary (or even divergent) points of view ideally foster empathy towards the service and its employees and promote positive creative activity. Emotion and creativity are the fundamental elements of any creative process.

Working with more than 110,000 users in 600 libraries throughout Colombia, the “Comparte Tu Rollo” project demonstrated the strength and resilience that can be gained from sharing stories. We reported more than 20,000 participants in the memory recovery activities promoted by this service. Each local library organized a series of community collection and remembrance events in which citizens were invited to bring personal memories and photographs under the slogan: “an initiative for us to reveal Colombia’s memory with everyone’s photographs and stories.”

To highlight the role of the 25 library tutors in the 25 regions of Colombia, trained through the methodology proposed by the project, who knew how to adapt the program to 3 different speeds depending on the type of program that the institution could host, the activities normally carried out in them and the digitization capacity of the users themselves.

In other words, the result of the co-creative process in which the users participated was open to the participation of professionals and non-professionals of the museums/archives/libraries who collaboratively determined its final form, honoring the idea of #LivingCulturalHeritage.

According to UNESCO, #LivingCulturalHeritage is understood as that intangible heritage that brings together practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques that are transmitted from generation to generation. This heritage gives communities a sense of identity and is constantly recreated by them according to their environment. It is called intangible because its existence and recognition depend essentially on the will of human beings - which, in principle, is immaterial - and it is transmitted by imitation and lived experience. Cultural heritage is also called “living heritage” or “living culture”.

( de Samaniego Public Library in Nariño. National Public Library Award “Daniel Samper Ortega” 2016.

Story of me: Why do we believe that connecting Colombia’s stories through co-creation and analog-digital dialogue is relevant?

We wanted to encourage the development of community processes around the recovery of photographic memory in public libraries, to put them at the epicenter of learning and digital access. Very quickly, we wanted to create a proposal, choose and adapt the tools, do the training and implementation and then extend it throughout the country. Thus, the project “Comparte tu rollo” was launched at the V National Congress of Public Libraries “Public Libraries as scenarios of peace”, which was held in the city of Bogota.

The title “Comparte Tu Rollo” was chosen for this platform in order to summarize the concepts that were considered most important: sharing stories and recovering archives, mainly photographs that are still in analog format and that can be digitized and published on the online platform. For its part, “Tu Rollo” relates not only to the traditional photo reel but also to the personal stories and memories that have not yet been revealed, and that many Colombians have saved.

The experience

“Comparte tu rollo” is the result of a challenge that was given by the Ministry of Culture, the National Library of Colombia and the social enterprise Shift. Its objective was to influence the process of reconstruction of the collective memory of a country as a methodology to create common fabrics from everyday life, within the armed conflict, to achieve peace (recently signed). The project was supported by the National Network of Public Libraries, a network that encourages reading and writing, promoting the production and circulation of ideas, memories and cultural expressions, in order to offer opportunities for participation and cultural, social and economic development around the country.

The dynamics had to be simple, close and captivating for a general public. The tasks of librarians, in Colombia and around the world, often go far beyond taking care of the archive, as they work on an aspect of the existing (or latent) intangible heritage in their communities, for a “healing” memory. They are active in their villages, often have a mature network of relationships with a wide range of users (of various ages and social strata) and are the key to a grassroots (social) work. For a librarian to be part of this project was a way of cohesive joint cultural actions starting from the grassroots, taking into account the co-responsible participation of the library network and its users.

In Colombia there was a clear national articulation and effective public policies were sought, but the task of building this memory was not an easy task nor understood by the general public. Applying the co-creation processes that we had been exploring and experimenting with, following the example given in “Co-creation in public libraries”, allowed us to reduce the implementation and validation times of the tools that would reinforce this national articulation; to specify the ideas and tools to be developed from scratch; to detect the needs of the participants (librarians and users); to generate a whole didactic content for the “cascade” training; and to integrate all the strata of professionals and users in the construction of these public policies.

To carry out memory recovery processes with the community begins with a single task: listening to the people. You don't have to be a historian. You only have to have one quality and that is to know how to listen and propose a topic. People are coming. You don't have to put it in strange terms
Hernando Alberto Gómez, Bibliotecario de la Biblioteca Pública Operación P.A.P.A (Quimbaya, Quindío)

We got down to work. The gestation of the co-creation phase involved the Historypin platform, the National Library of Colombia, and several members of the National Network of Public Libraries of Colombia, who designed, together with Platoniq, the methodology to leave the library walls, connect and revive the stories of the places.

The two-year project was called “Photography and Memory in Public Libraries” and their objective was to promote the use of the Internet and the reduction of the digital divide in Colombia, with activities, exercises and associated templates so that librarians and the groups formed around them could act as facilitators of these activities, creating a dialogue between generations and regions.

Story of now: How do we answer this question from Platoniq?

The first thing that we did, with the librarians themselves, was the research on which elements are key when talking about memory (first) and photography (second). Libraries would provide their archives and invite citizens to bring their own photographs, teaching them how to contextualize them, scan them and help them upload them to an online database. The HistoryPin methodology had to be adapted to capture content and participants, and the platform was adjusted to be able to work with photographic content as a socialization tool for the construction of a collective “history”.

The co-creation team renamed the project “Photography and Memory in Public Libraries” with a closer name, “Share your roll”. Crowdsourcing (with co-creation processes at its genesis) was chosen as a tool for the collaborative construction of that memory. The aim was to seek the real incentive of the users participating in the project, the network of libraries in Colombia and all its librarians and co-citizens, creating a strategy of training, exercises, content and dynamics focused on them, activities to strengthen ties between the community, build trust and group feeling and establish a climate conducive to dialogue around the memory.

The first year was focused on energizing the network of public libraries with a “Train the Trainers” program, starting with the training as trainers of 25 professionals from the library team in each of the regions, from Bogotá to the most remote areas, who, in turn, would train the staff of the 500 libraries throughout the country, through activities that favor the collection of old photographs, data and stories. The Network was intended to operate from a structure of departmental and municipal nodes to coordinate libraries at the local level. The departmental libraries have various documentary collections related to the history and cultural heritage of their respective regions and the departmental coordinations promote the provision of library services as part of the development plan, motivate common practices among libraries and train library staff in program facilitation.

Different analog materials, cards and face-to-face activities were created ad hoc, designed to serve as a transition to the subsequent digitization of archives, their selection and description for their final publication on the Historypin platform. The set of activities proposed served to strengthen the bonds between the community, generate trust and group feeling, and establish a climate conducive to dialogue around memory.

A common route…

The activities and didactic materials were part of a route for the digitization of family, local (photos, videos, stories…) and national memory (cultural heritage in short) that helped to place public libraries at the epicenter of digital learning for Colombians, as well as to project a positive and exciting external image of Colombia through the past (preserving it in digital format) and the present (providing a space for comparison, opinion, participation, commenting from new points of view) of their communities.

The common route was not just about uploading images to the HistoryPin platform, and filling in the standard form that asked for a title for the image, a date, a place and a short description. If it was about recovering collective memory, a layer should also be added to represent and visualize the emotions that these materials and activities leave in the participants and communities. It is not easy to know how to describe what the images evoke for those who keep them alive in their memories, nor for those who look at them or compare them to other images of the same time or place. Knowing how to share it, moreover, leaves a different and valuable imprint, and it is more possible when it is done within a process of co-creation.

Thus, the creation of the common route was articulated from a practical aspect, with a series of exercises and dynamics with the participants, and here we will highlight two: “Diana”, which serves as a basis for the first contact by relating photographs, emotions and users, and the other, “Refoto”, which links the temporal context of an old photograph of a place and the present moment in which the user visits it.

The “Diana” sets the guidelines on how to organize this first step, creating a relationship of trust between the library staff and the community around it, explaining the details of the project and detailing the tasks to be addressed in the session. The photographs of the participants are the common thread that links personal stories with the emotions they provoke among the attendees in the session, as well as helping the librarians to deal in depth with the topics that appear and to expand on relevant information pertaining to their community.

Emotions are intended to be another categorization system, which should serve to humanize the archival culture, where to encourage and detect key elements among participants based on empathy.

In order to facilitate the selection of emotions, the emotions were organized in a roulette wheel under the adjectives: Nostalgic, Inspired, Committed, Patriotic, Surprised, Excited, Amazed, Proud.

The “Refoto”, on the other hand, should be contextualized as an exercise that aims to “get out of the library” to be closer to the photo collection events, the exhibitions to get reactions and comments from the community, even the excursions or tours that go around the places represented in the collected photographs. All of these are examples of activities included in this route and interesting and refreshing face-to-face strategies to draw upon.

At this stage the participant group already has experience with information gathering and the value of images. It is time to leave the library and share the process with more people, so it is recommended that participants, when choosing photos of specific places in the municipality, look in advance for a group or association in the municipality that they can convene in advance, and thus ensure that they have an audience, which can provide valuable testimonies and relevant information during the outing.

Refotography is the act of taking a photograph of a site that also appears in another photograph; repeating it with a space of time between the two images; and thus having a “yesterday and today” image of a particular area. The point from which the original photographer photographed the scene may have disappeared over time, so the re-photographer must choose an original scene in which the viewpoint is still accessible, or rent equipment that allows him or her to duplicate the camera position in the original photograph.

Learning and making memory is an opportunity to rescue, preserve and disseminate the local memory of Cereté. For us, photography is an invaluable source of information that constitutes a text in itself, it is like a book that speaks to us and that reflects certain stories and realities that we must learn to read and value.
Vera Centeno Roca, Director of the Rafael Milanés García Public Library of Cereté (Córdoba)

… with 3 alternative ways

Each library and each locality has particular characteristics: a mass of users, more or less young communities, with more or less resources and knowledge, more or less adapted to the Internet and the information society. For this reason, within the proposed common route, three different scenarios or starting points were established to be followed according to the type of library and community, depending on whether it was more or less active in the digital world.

The first alternative path (first possible scenario) is more suitable for libraries with a less digitally literate population or users and that do not have consolidated community services or have not initiated processes around memory recovery, nor have they begun to create photographic collections. It covers all the phases proposed for the common route, from the beginning to the end, and is therefore the longest route, the one that will require more time to be completed and more accompaniment to develop. Four possible themes are proposed around which to focus the collection of stories, interviews and/or photographs in face-to-face activities:

  • Local knowledge / trades focused on portraits of people, for example, exercising traditional trades, protagonists of scenes or family members to be interviewed.
  • Representative places, famous for the community (e.g. the village square or market square)
  • Important events that have marked the history of the community, with a specific date, for example the day of the city, a very popular festival…
  • Select from the family album, a charismatic or transcendent photo for the family and/or the community.

The second alternative way (second possible scenario), with a slightly more advanced starting point than the previous one, is recommended for libraries that may have an active community, a group of friends of the library or community groups linked to a particular service and activities already underway and especially related to the recovery of memory or dialogue around memory. And mixed didactic and participatory activities are proposed, depending on the level of digitization of each community, more analog or face-to-face activities are carried out (of the first alternative path) or more activities aimed at digitization and use of the Historypin platform (of the third alternative path).

The third alternative way (third possible scenario), has the most advanced starting point of all within this route, the common route, and has been designed for libraries with long-standing processes around the recovery of memory, which already have initiated photographic collections and/or consolidated group of friends, a community more adapted to the use of the Internet and digital tools. In these communities, collective digitization sessions are held, called Revelatón, with which the best stories are published on the History Pin platform.

The route is designed to progressively go from analog, face-to-face (in libraries, in the localities) to digital and online (collective digitization sessions) and establishes a series of stops or didactic and participatory activities. Depending on the starting point, there are more analog or face-to-face activities or more activities aimed at digitization and use of the Historypin platform.

It does not matter which alternative route each community follows, the important thing is that they all reach the end of the common route, which consists of using the co-creation of the methodology, tools and training materials and seeks to produce “empathy” as an engine of innovation, change and in this case the recovery of the collective memory of a country. The photograph is a secondary element, the common thread, it is accessible to the general public, easy to share and to situate in the time from which it comes (the moment when the photo was taken), it can be put in context to share it and gives rise to talk openly about a time and past circumstances. It also allows the community to learn about digital techniques, the process of digitizing the image, the archival treatment, the actions to share it via the web to a local, regional and even national or global audience.

Although the most digitized libraries can go directly to the third alternative proposed, it is recommended that they take as a starting point analog or face-to-face strategies, because as evidenced by the co-creation methodologies, they are the ones that bring value, generate quality participation and another type of visibility among their community and users. They are appropriate to facilitate the participation of new members and create community beyond the groups already formed.

Drawing by numbers: Project impact

A clear set of values

The project leverages the significant existing digital infrastructure to meet its social objectives, demonstrating through indicators of engagement that these participatory processes are cross-cutting.

“Share Your Role” complies with the most important values of inclusive digital participation, as assessed by us at Platoniq, creating a “(more) Safe Environment”, involving the local Community both in governance and in the development of its activities, complying with Transparency standards and creating Awareness by:

a. Contributing to the strengthening of collective self-esteem.

As a Community Memory project, “Comparte Tu Rollo” developed its methodology and tools to strengthen the collective self-esteem of a community. In an environment of material poverty, there is nevertheless a rich cultural base that sustains communities over generations. Recognizing and valuing a people’s culture is an intrinsic part of the formation of their community identities. Particularly in the Colombian context, there is a constitutional directive towards this cultural recognition, and libraries are uniquely positioned to host community exchange and be the guardians of history and culture in the form of archives and memories.

b. Helping to generate values

Libraries are also part of community resources that support people to identify and recognize their common values and share them intergenerationally through culture, especially those practices that incorporate the broad diversity of society, in this case Colombia. A key practice is the fostering of values that promote peaceful and cooperative exchange, solidarity and responsibility, consensus and tolerance, also as part of a broader range of Latin American values.

c. Contribute to social inclusion:

The collective generation of knowledge, dialogue and consensus through methodologies chosen for their ability to foster social inclusion and enhance democratization and thus equality, are also part of the spectrum of capabilities made possible in public libraries.

The project offers digital training through storytelling for librarians, web-based digital tools and community memory methodologies that can be applied by public librarians. This combination is designed to incentivize learning and application of digital strategies in libraries, while bringing communities together in libraries around shared cultural heritage and community memory.

This service has also been shown to promote the participation of different age groups and motivate intergenerational dialogue, essential for the construction of a collective identity.

Communities across Colombia use the digital platform to bring people together around local history. Activities take place in everything from schools to rock festivals and from libraries to local pubs.

The network of libraries where this project is developed is not without complexity, working the replicability of the proposal in 500 libraries in the country where its social-cultural-geographical context is marked is not an easy task. The simplicity of the methodology was intended to overcome these initial barriers.

The impact data after the first years of implementation corroborate the merit of the effort to co-create the tools of the methodology with the different participating teams (Platoniq Foundation, Shift (Historypin) and the National Library of Colombia), and to implement it thanks to the training of the 25 tutors in charge of traveling around the country to transmit knowledge and experiences to the local library teams that will end up building the collective memory through their photographs.

The focus has always been on public libraries being recognized by their communities as spaces for meeting and dialogue around cultural heritage and memory. At the same time, to contribute to the cohesion of the different local communities in an open and pluralistic manner, fostering national pride in local history and presenting to the world a rich tapestry of Colombia’s vibrant cultural history.

Call to action: Will you join us in co-creating collective memory?

The Platoniq Foundation, taking lessons learned from the “Comparte Tu Rollo” project as well as projects such as Open Heritage or CultureLabs, is designing together with several international partners a project whose provisional name is COMMONS LEGACY DIALOGS.

It aims to put cultural heritage at the service of community building by activating local networks of community organizers, heritage collection holders, technologists and academics to collaboratively map the memories and changes left by the armed conflicts of the 20th century and anticipate the future conflicts of the 21st century. The project will create an international interdisciplinary network with expertise and capacity to collaboratively explore the legacy of conflict through the lens of local, regional, national and European memory cultures.

Establish community engagement hubs of connections where versions of the same history, personalized in citizen, activist or partisan archives with a more institutionalized version of history and public archives, and relationships in different cities or countries (Barcelona, Belfast, Bogota to name a few cities), each focusing on a different set of local conflicts that have left legacies of division.

In each Hub, it will look for ways to identify community activism goals that can be supported through heritage (such as urban regeneration, post-conflict recovery, or environmental preservation) and will work to integrate community archiving and storytelling processes into the regular meetings and practices of local organizers. The project will seek appropriate ways to hold heritage-based events, considering public community collection and scanning days, storytelling and reminiscence circles, or editing and enrichment sessions.

The outcome of the project will be the empowerment of local communities across Europe, showing the way towards a replicable international model that effectively moves communities beyond the inherited legacies of enduring strife and conflict and towards the peacemaking and self-creation of cultural identity necessary to expand the grand experiment of Europeanization. Project results will be captured in reusable digital forms and synthesized into actionable policy recommendations.

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