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Digital Heritage and Public Engagement: reflections on the challenges of co-production

Catriona Cooper, Dawn Hadley, Joseph Empsall and Josie Wallace with contributions by Nick Bax and Dan Fleetwood

Cite this as: Cooper, C., Hadley, D., Empsall, J. and Wallace, J. 2021 Digital Heritage and Public Engagement: reflections on the challenges of co-production, Internet Archaeology 56.


Homepage for the app laid out like a plan of Park Hill
The app home page

In recent years, UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and funding bodies have been increasingly championing the merits of co-production between academic researchers and non-HEIs, including community groups. However, these undertakings are often more complex than we are led to believe and the issues encountered are frequently downplayed in published outputs. In this article we review a selection of recent projects in which digital technologies have been used in heritage-led public engagement, including two of our own related projects at Park Hill flats in Sheffield.

Digital technologies are the latest means by which HEIs are seeking to engage with the public, but it is becoming clear that there are significant impediments to undertaking this successfully. These include the short-term nature of the funding, the difficulties of maintaining digital outputs over time, and managing community expectation of what can be achieved in the time, and with the funding, available, alongside variable levels of familiarity with, and interest in, digital platforms by the public. Funding schemes often prioritise new consultation activities, and co-production with communities, over making use of archival community engagement materials. We suggest that academic engagement with the public needs to be sensitive to these issues, and to recognise that valuable digital heritage projects can emerge from diverse approaches to co-production.

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  • Keywords: public engagement, digital heritage, co-production, Sheffield, Park Hill flats, oral history
  • Accepted: 19 May 2020. Published: 22 Nov 2021
  • Funding: This open access publication was funded by the York Impact Accelerator Fund.
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Catriona CooperORCID logo
Royal Holloway, University of London

Dawn HadleyORCID logo
University of York

Joseph EmpsallORCID logo

Josie Wallace
University of York

Nick Bax

Dan Fleetwood

Full text

Figure 1: A member of the Park Hill Flats Residents' Association exploring diverse digital technologies during our consultation process in April 2019. Image credit: Catriona Cooper

Figure 2: Park Hill flats, Sheffield, in 2019 while undergoing regeneration. Image credit: Catriona Cooper

Figure 3: A photograph of Park Hill flats at an unknown date in the 1970s, showing in the foreground some of the communal resources available to residents. Image credit: JR James Slide Collection, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Figure 4: The Pavement shopping district, Park Hill, 1985. Image credit: Picture Sheffield 2020; copyright Sheffield City Council, Used with permission

Figure 5: The home page of the app. Image credit: Josie Wallace

Figure 6: One of the pages within the section on 'The Pavement', as it appears to the user. Featured image sourced from Sheffield City Archives. Image credit: Josie Wallace

Figure 7: How a video page looks before the video is played in the app. Featured video sourced from Urban Splash. Image credit: Josie Wallace.

Figure 8: 3D model visualisation of Park Hill's street decks in the 1960s. Image credit: Joseph Empsall

Figure 9: 3D model of The Link pub, Park Hill. Image credit: Joseph Empsall

Figure 10: 3D visualisations of graffiti, 'Slum in half a century or less – Pevsner 1967'. Image credit: Joseph Empsall

Figure 11: 3D model visualisation of Park Hill's street decks within phase 1 of the redevelopment, with photograph for reference. Image credit: Joseph Empsall

Figure 12: 3D model visualisation of neon signage, 'All those people, all those lives, where are they now?'. Image credit: Joseph Empsall

Video: Stories in the Sky: digital placemaking by Josie Wallace [film]. This video has audio.

Video: The virtual reality model of Park Hill Flats by Joseph Empsall [film]
360° video - view the video from every angle by swiping or moving your device as it plays. This video has audio.

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