“If you think technology can solve your problems, you don’t understand the problems and you don’t understand the technology.”

– Bruce Schneier, American cryptographer and information security author 

The Sustaining Digital Heritage (SDH) programme is ICCROM’s newest initiative and aims to connect knowledge from diverse fields to make technologies accessible for capturing the potential of heritage in the digital realm.  

The 18 July virtual kick-off of this new initiative was a great success, with more than 500 registrations from 107 countries. Watch a special message from one of the programme partners, NISV, sharing their strong endorsement of the programme.

As the SDH programme has been developed through a human-centered design process and is international in its scope, it was important for us to bring together diverse professionals and institutions to launch the programme and gather instant feedback.  

To this end, interactive polls, Q&A sessions and multimedia contributions were featured in the event, helping us evaluate the programme’s relevance as it develops. 

Our audience expressed some of the challenges they face in their work with digital heritage, such as: the overwhelming volume of data being produced and the lack of infrastructure needed to maintain it, as well as ethically managing intellectual property rights while pursuing open access and creative reuse. This feedback emphasized the growing issue of ensuring long-term digital preservation and access, especially as digital data is fragile and vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

SDH launch event poll - challenges

We were honoured to welcome three digital heritage changemakers: Chao Tayiana Maina, Founder of African Digital Heritage; Irfan Zuberi, Project Manager of the National Cultural Audiovisual Archives, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Chair of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA); and Kacey Hadick, Director of Programs and Development at CyArk. They shared their experiences working with digital heritage – including some of their challenges.  

Irfan Zuberi noted that, in the context of a developing country, the backlogs of undigitized content can be paralyzing, stating, “The race is to be able to digitize at all,” before many of the analog audiovisual records and the playback machines become obsolete.  

Citing the challenge of right-sizing heritage-based digital initiatives and ensuring their sustainability, Chao Tayiana Maina emphasized, “We would rather have a small project that is more effective and optimizes the use of technology, than a larger project that uses top-end technology but is expensive and does not achieve the desired impact.” 

Kacey Hadick pointed to the continuum that is open-access and stakeholder management, agreeing that the SDH model emphasizes stakeholder engagement. Clear dialogue with stakeholders about the purpose and benefits of open access is a necessity. 

SDH model The Sustaining Digital Heritage (SDH) model

All speakers stressed the importance of advocating for open access, as the goal is not to be “transferring from a physical black box to a digital black box, but to unlock it,” as Irfan Zuberi said. 

Collaboration and knowledge sharing was a reoccurring theme throughout the event, and SDH is enlisting the support of partners for this initiative.  

During the event, we were joined by the Canadian Heritage Information Network Director Bruno Lemay, who extended his support for the programme and future opportunities for training and knowledge exchange.  

Other institutions are encouraged to join the SDH programme as learning partners, which entails implementing – with mentoring support – an element of the SDH sustainability model into your operations and producing a case study to share your experience. Learning partners will join SDH on a journey of self-enhancement, where they can increase the sustainability of their digital programmes and contribute positively to the well-being and sustainable development of associated communities.  

SDH is also seeking programme partners who have experience, knowledge, resources and strategies to share, and who would like to multiply the impacts and benefits of their programmes, helping to shape sustainable digital societies. SDH SDGs

  • SDG 4 – Promote quality education by engaging youth, women and vulnerable cultural bearers through skill development for creating digital heritage content;  

  • SDG 8 – Encourage decent work and economic growth among cultural and creative industries by developing sustainable business models that use digital technologies; 

  • SDG 9 – Develop industries, spark innovation and boost infrastructure through heritage-based initiatives; and 

  • SDG 13 – Contribute to climate action through responsible consumption and by developing low energy digital storage solutions. 

Stay tuned for further programme announcements and the release of our simple self-assessment tool, “The Sustainability Test,” coming this autumn. This tool can be used anytime you need to assess your digital sustainability. The results can be used by your team to help you plan your next steps, to communicate needs to your leadership or other influencing decision-makers, to set annual priorities, to choose a project to work on, to plan a project or to create a funding request. 

Missed the live event? Watch it here

For queries or expressions of interest to join as a partner, please write to: digitalheritage@iccrom.org