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MEMEX: MEMories and EXperiences for inclusive digital storytelling

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MEMEX (MEMEX: MEMories and EXperiences for inclusive digital storytelling)

Reporting period: 2020-12-01 to 2022-11-30

Social cohesion is an ongoing process of developing a community of shared values and challenges, and equal opportunities, based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity. Accordingly, achieving social cohesion involves reducing disparities, enabling people to have a sense that they are members of the same group or community and face shared challenges. Inclusion of social groups at risk of exclusion has been a running theme in European Cultural Heritage (CH) discussions. Several initiatives in the CH domain have explored the power of storytelling and crowdsourcing in promoting an increased awareness and engagement from the general public. Both techniques are known to significantly increase audience engagement with CH enabling it to be easily shared, recommended and embedded in other media.

The MEMEX project encouraged cohesion through collaborative, heritage-related tools that could enable inclusive access to tangible and intangible CH and, at the same time, facilitate interactions with communities at risk of social exclusion by providing an opportunity both to share their own unique stories with the community and with the larger public, and to experience those of others. Through specific methodologies geared towards reinterpreting CH, MEMEX empowered communities to weld their fragmented experiences and memories into geolocalised storylines and personalised digital content, acknowledge the diversity of voices in society, and to exercise their rights and actively participate in European societies. Targeted to communities who are socially fragile, MEMEX deployed three distinct pilots to analyse different expectations across the European territory:
- Migrant women in Barcelona (Spain);
- First and second generation migrants in Lisbon (Portugal);
- Inhabitants of a priority neighbourhood in Paris northern suburbs (France).

Withstanding global pandemic challenges, the project developed methodologies for digital storytelling and co-designed together with participants the development of the ICT digital tool that were then evaluated and improved during the pilots execution. Indeed, MEMEX has contributed to raising the awareness of those that have participated in the project, both the target vulnerable communities but also the local cultural stakeholders. In this sense, MEMEX has been ground-breaking. It has also amply demonstrated that it has moved the social readiness levels through validation of the MEMEX digital tools.
During the first phase of the project, MEMEX analysed the heterogeneous target groups within its three pilot locations. This encompassed the needs of different communities, which developed a larger understanding of both the social and technical requirements aided by a field study.

A methodology for digital storytelling was developed tuned to the participants and local stakeholders needs. The methodology was a structured process which, with the support of storytelling, facilitated new interpretations of CH through personal creativity and expression, and produced new narratives that fostered individual and community empowerment. Participants in the three pilot cities engaged in mediated digital storytelling workshops and guided visits, reinterpreting local CH sites through their personal memories to create their unique story. In total, 70 stories were produced by the pilots. The pilots were a key component of the MEMEX co-creation process, including participants and local stakeholders in the testing sessions that provided systematic feedback for the design of MEMEX digital tools to the technical partners.

In parallel, the pilot’s feedback was used for the creation of the MEMEX digital tool that was embodied in the form of an App on a smartphone. The first version consisted of essential digital story viewing and authoring tools. The second iteration of the App interconnected an open-source Knowledge Graph (KG) to the story authoring tool, to act as a knowledge resource for storytelling. The final version brought the stories and knowledge in the KG into reality as AR experiences. All these steps required the creation of a novel technology platform for digital storytelling with AR. The platform exploited crowd-sourced maps, high-quality maps of pilot areas using a custom capture system, and conceptualised alignment with the MEMX KG to localise and visual the stories and CH assets. These digital assets were anchored into reality through a novel multi-site mapping approach which allowed easy creation of AR experiences.

To maximise impact MEMEX conducted extensive efforts to maintain the projects presence and showcase its methodologies, activities and results. This was done through workshops and conferences across research fields for a total of 12 peer-reviewed publications, in addition to capacity building events. In total, 71 presentations were performed. In addition to 12 press releases and 3 policy briefs were written. As part of exploitation efforts, MEMEX provided plans for use and re-use of projects results for different stakeholders, beyond the target participants of the project. The consortium also produced open-source code and 15 datasets, with content ranging from stories to 3D maps, providing resources for future use and re-use.
The MEMEX project was a highly ambitious project bringing together technological, cultural, and social skills to help tackle the problem of social inclusion with communities at risk of exclusion. The developed methodologies and digital tool have been built and validated within this context advancing the state-of-the-art in the respective areas.

From the development of three pilot projects best-practices have been defined to support organisations aiming at pursuing social inclusion goals through heritage mediation and storytelling. These distilled the outcomes of the pilots including activities for supporting the development of the assessment of situation of the target area and the rich cultural and social dynamics; MEMEX App co-design and co-creation activities; and Audience Development strategies with local stakeholders; all focused on communities at risk of exclusion.

The innovative technology developed assisted the creation of open-source KGs from heterogeneous data sources, where contained information was mapped into the real world using novel object localisation techniques on crowd-sourced or captured using a bespoke capture rig automatically registered into the Global Positioning System (GPS) reference. These advanced functionalities were unified into the MEMEX App prototype a unique and modular digital storytelling platform.

The technological and social innovations demonstrated the potential of future impact of the approaches developed. On the one hand, a social oriented perspective aimed at ensuring the exploitation of results obtained through valorisation existing EU CH resources and channels in open access, such as platforms (e.g. Europeana) to disseminate and enable the European R&I community to use results and to empower the CH sector towards an effective digital transformation. On the other hand, a commercial/future service-oriented exploitation perspective for the MEMEX App in terms of “use of service” for the stakeholders within the project. This strand is based on a Go-to-Market strategy aimed at finding the most appropriate revenue model depending on the interests and type of use that the stakeholders will make of the App.
The poster provides an overview of the MEMEX Project from its social and technical aspects.