PLUGGY, the Pluggable Social Platform for Heritage Awareness and Participation, has been inspired and built around the FARO Convention and expresses its notions and principles in most of its developments. It embraces the Convention, having as main objective to highlight citizens’ dual aspect role of being cultural heritage providers and consumers at the same time, promoting cultural heritage exploitation as a central factor in the mutually supporting objectives of sustainable development and cultural diversity.
PLUGGY will be web-based, accessible, and structured according to heritage consumers’ values, aspirations and needs. It will be a flexible instrument that will enable citizens to share tangible and intangible heritage elements, build heritage communities, create distribution channels and interact with each other.
PLUGGY addresses the need of society to be actively involved in cultural heritage activities, not only as an observer but also as a creator and a major influencing factor. PLUGGY will raise individuals and heritage communities to the role of creators, curators, advocates and users of heritage assets.
PLUGGY’s novel technologies are expected to enable the citizens of Europe, even in its less developed regions, to be actively involved in cultural heritage activities: this will allow a better understanding of their local surroundings and relations with far-away cultures. Through their cooperation and interaction, the users of PLUGGY’s social platform, curatorial tool and applications will be able to develop a common cultural and intellectual perception of European heritage and to participate in the shaping of an overall European cultural landscape.
PLUGGY reflects the convention’s novel adaptability to an assortment of communities and cultural environments that, up to now, may not have been able to cooperate or communicate effectively in terms of managing and appropriating cultural heritage. The Faro Convention concerns itself with tangible and intangible resources. The former are easier to recognize and define but the latter are easier to instrumentalise. Since few things automatically have heritage value, it is far more useful to recognize that values are attributed to things by circumstance, fashion or need. “The conflicts that heritage provokes are therefore almost always about contested ways of valuing. Rarely is an historic building destroyed because its existence is denied; it is its value, meaning and significance to one or more groups or individuals that is argued over” [Wolferstan 2013, p.45]. PLUGGY is designed in such a way as to encompass both types of heritage resources (tangible and intangible) and since the Faro Convention does not provide precise typologies, the widest possible flexibility is shown in what is included in PLUGGY’s social platform and curatorial tool.
Article 2 of the Faro Convention defines cultural heritage as a group of resources which people identify as an expression of their constantly evolving values, beliefs, knowledge and traditions. It is not rigid but develops according to the needs of the community. PLUGGY incorporates the same spirit of innovation and ability to adjust to ever-changing demands and requirements. This affirmation of adaptability ensures that PLUGGY’s social platform and curatorial tool is in a position to respond to the inconceivable challenges the future may present.
The same article defines heritage community as a group of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish to sustain and transmit. There is no reference to ethnicity, religion, and social class, economic or educational level. In fact, as we saw earlier, there is not even any demand that members of the community should act on their particular values. For the purposes of PLUGGY though, it seems evident that user action is required. The platform and the curatorial tool will be open to all who wish to become members of the heritage community without any exclusions (with the caveat, elaborated further on, that participants must abide by the rule of recognising the right of other participants to promote their values and aspects of cultural heritage).
The Faro Convention aims at an inclusive and egalitarian approach to cultural heritage that empowers people to become active custodians and owners of their past in collaboration with other individuals or groups (article 4). The caveat regarding each heritage steward being responsible for taking into account other viewpoints, with which he or she may not agree, and respecting their right to be heard, is pertinent here. PLUGGY’s Social Platform will provide a forum that will nourish mutual respect and open discussion without prejudice or hindrance. The possibility of abuse and the presence of xenophobic, racist, demeaning or threatening language, ideas, and attitudes cannot be discounted. Heritage is often a source of extreme pride for individuals or groups that do not look kindly upon opinions that seem to contradict their most deeply held beliefs. PLUGGY will be able to deal with such issues expeditiously and fairly. Certain restrictions are unavoidable in terms of material that may be presented in the platform. The civility and decorum expected for participation in a public setting will be encouraged and enforced either through the use of moderators or self-reporting mechanisms.
Article 5 of the Faro Convention calls on all parties to recognize the public interest associated with elements of the cultural heritage in accordance with their importance to society. They are also encouraged to enhance the value of the cultural heritage through the identification, study, interpretation, protection and presentation. They must also recognize the value of cultural heritage situated on territories under their jurisdiction regardless of its origin. These are all admirable goals but it is often the case that limited funds or resources or time prevent even the most willing state party from carrying out all its obligations. It is frequently called upon to make quick decisions on inadequate information. The hierarchical approach to heritage according to the importance to society is fraught with problems regarding the exclusion of minority values or the elevation of economic considerations above more abstract values. PLUGGY will provide a beneficial service by hosting and promoting alternative graduated value systems. The participation of a diversified group of heritage communities and the diffusion of their values, beliefs and traditions among the broader heritage public can assist in the re-evaluation of particular heritage assets and encourage their conservation and presentation.
One of the Convention’s key concepts is elaborated on in Article 7. The respect for diversity of interpretations and the equitable dealing with situations where contradictory values are placed on the same heritage asset by different communities form the backbone of Faro. The PLUGGY Social Platform is an open forum where discussion is actively encouraged. Different heritage communities will have access to discussion panels where they can exchange ideas and present their particular values in a manner that will sustain a reasonable and unbiased debate. Different traditions and beliefs should be introduced and displayed to generate a meaningful discussion and allow all parties to reflect on the ethics and good practices for the preservation and enjoyment of any given heritage asset.
Article 7 also calls for the development of knowledge of cultural heritage as a resource to facilitate peaceful co-existence by promoting trust and mutual understanding. Such approaches should be integrated into lifelong education and training. PLUGGY’s Social Platform and Curatorial Tool could serve the role of a knowledge depository, not only for well-known and admired cultural monuments but for lesser known heritage assets that have value for relatively smaller communities. Since Faro does not prioritize between tangible and intangible monuments or between famous and unfamiliar resources, PLUGGY can host, gradually, an exciting wealth of material and knowledge supplied by the communities themselves, the best source of information on aspects of identity, remembrance, tradition, and memory.
Article 8 of the Faro Convention develops the notion of an integrated approach to policies concerning cultural, biological, geological and landscape diversity. The places where people live carry particular significances for them, often distinctly different from more traditional, established heritage sites that can appear cut-off from the flow of daily life. The environment is worthy of protection and any contemporary additions to it must take into consideration the need for quality and respect for cultural values. Obviously a social platform or a curatorial tool cannot directly affect the environment. They can provide a meeting place where concerned individuals and groups can discuss issues arising from the development of sites or alteration to the environment (natural, rural or urban). The provision of tools to investigate, explore, compare and study the environment, both in its present condition and in its historic evolution through the ages would be a valuable addition. It is often difficult to differentiate or disassociate a heritage asset from the natural setting or landscape where it grew, prospered, or vanished. PLUGGY’s Curatorial Tool would benefit greatly from the ability of its users to employ geographical devices to correlate and position their heritage assets in their original (or even contemporary) setting.
The sustainable use of the cultural heritage requires an understanding of the cultural values involved, the sustainable management and maintenance of assets, knowledge of specific conservation requirements and the promotion of traditional materials, techniques and skills. A system of professional qualifications and accreditation for individuals, businesses and institutions is also of paramount importance. The Social Platform is an obvious meeting place for people and groups who possess or seek such traditional knowledge. The availability of directories or databases could be a useful addition or method of organization. The availability of visual or audio material that present traditional skills and methods can encourage their propagation and the recruitment of new practitioners. The use of such material by the curators could enhance their digital museums with a more comprehensive presentation that includes not only the heritage asset but the materials and techniques employed in its creation. At the very least, the open exchange of ideas and information in the platform can disseminate information on traditional practitioners who possess the required accreditation and qualifications among the various communities and encourage comparison and hierarchization.
The connection between cultural heritage and economic activity is investigated in Article 10 of the Faro Convention. The essence of the article concerns the utilization of the economic potential of the cultural heritage, a development that necessitates information on the specific character and interests of the cultural heritage. Its inherent value should not be compromised. PLUGGY can provide interested parties and governmental agencies with the means to determine the relevant character and interests not only of the heritage asset but the heritage communities that endow it with value. It can serve as a safety valve to reduce tension that usually arises from the intentional or unintentional lack of knowledge regarding the opinions and values of groups that do not have access to mainstream or majority venues of communication and dissemination of information. PLUGGY’s Social Platform, in particular, will provide anyone interested in gaining an insight on the values and opinions of heritage communities with the ability to do so in a comprehensive manner.
Apart from access to community values and opinions, PLUGGY’s Social Platform can allow public authorities to co-operate with other heritage actors. The proposed actions by public authorities could be discussed and elaborated on by members of heritage communities and voluntary initiatives undertaken by the latter can complement official policies and activities. The Platform will allow all heritage actors (i.e. public authorities, experts, owners, investors, businesses, NGO’s and members of the civil society) to come together and exchange knowledge, good practices and expectations.
Article 12 is very specific in the need for the democratic and uninhibited participation of everyone in the process of identification, study, interpretation, protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural heritage. Each community must be able to present its values. The same applies to voluntary organizations that are often actively engaged in heritage issues and have extensive local knowledge. They are less intimidating and encourage the active participation of individuals and groups that normally feel marginalized by official policies and state actions. It is particularly important to strengthen the presence of young people and the disadvantaged, groups that are often at the periphery of economic and social activity and are constantly threatened with abandonment and isolation. PLUGGY will be easily accessible, easy and friendly to use, with an appearance and operational capabilities that would make it attractive both to a younger audience and marginalized groups that may not feel comfortable expressing their values and participating in joint actions. PLUGGY can assist or even substitute the state’s role in ensuring that individuals and groups are not (or feel they are not) excluded from even the possibility of benefiting from their cultural heritage.
Article 13 is concerned with the role of education. Cultural heritage should be included at all levels of education, either as a subject of study, or as a fertile source for studies in other subjects. PLUGGY’s Curatorial Tool will have an educational role and allow educators and students to take advantage of digital technologies to design or complement educational material. This is applicable not only in heritage studies but in an exciting and broad assortment of study fields. It could provide visual and audio material, reveal hidden meanings and connection between heritage assets, assist in eliminating xenophobia and encourage a more inclusive and accommodating approach towards what is foreign, unfamiliar or strange. As a forum where professionals and amateurs can come together, it can serve as source of information and material to strengthen the links between cultural heritage education and vocational training, encourage interdisciplinary research and the continuous professional training and the exchange of knowledge and skills within and outside the educational system.
The final article that is relevant to the purposes of PLUGGY (Article 14) discusses the connection between cultural heritage and the information society. The parties to the Faro Convention are encouraged to use digital technology to enhance access to cultural heritage. PLUGGY’s very nature seems to serve this specific purpose. Moreover, both the Social Platform and the Curatorial Tool are expected to be available in the greatest diversity of languages that is feasible, to combat the linguistic hegemony that accompanies globalization and that often leads to the marginalization of entire groups of heritage communities. It will promote and encourage the adherence to the highest standards of content quality and employ methods to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property. Co-operation with databases that attempt to curb the trade in illicit cultural goods seems essential. The question of intellectual property rights is difficult to answer and all efforts should be made to ensure proper protection where necessary, without hindering the versatility of the Curatorial Tool and the Social Platform for educational purposes.