This article explores the potential that community-led digital engagement with heritage holds for stimulating active citizenship through taking responsibility for shared cultural heritage and for fostering long-lasting relationships between local community heritage groups and national museums. Through the lens of a pilot project entitled Science Museum: Community-in-Residence, we discovered that — despite working with community groups that were already loyal to and enjoyed existing working ties with the Science Museum in the United Kingdom — this undertaking proved challenging owing to a range of structural and logistical issues even before the application of digital devices and tools had been considered. These challenges notwithstanding, the pilot found that the creation of time and space for face-to-face dialogue, conversations and interactions between the Science Museum and the participating community heritage groups helped thrash out the parameters within which digital co-curation can effectively occur. This, in turn, informed the development of a digital prototype with huge potential to enable remote, virtual connectivity to and interactivity with conversations about shared heritage. The ultimate goal is two-fold: (a) to help facilitate collaborative sense-making of our shared past, and (b) to aid the building of sustainable institutional and community/public working ties around emerging affinities, agendas and research questions in relation to public history and heritage.
The opportunity to co-author this paper with Daniel Mutibwa (University of Nottingham) and Alison Hess (The Science Museum) was a direct result of the 'archiving the archive' projects developed in partnership with The National Media Museum and The Science Museum (see section 5.3 of the thesis). The potential exists for the technologies developed as part of this practice-led PhD to provide 'virtual access' to privileged spaces of knowledge and to become a platform through which knowledge is co-created. This paper reflects upon the meaning that 'digital engagement' such as this might have for community heritage groups and the relationships those groups have with museums.