Brazil’s Vision for a ‘Digital Public Space’

With the hosting of the 2016 Olympics and being the owner of the world’s 6th largest economy and a thriving technological sector, Brazil has equally ambitious aims when it comes to its digital infrastructure and access to digital culture. JISC was delighted to find out more about what has been accomplished and what can shared in terms vision, knowledge, experience, and advice from the visiting representatives from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, Jose Murilo and Americo Cordula.

Two things became evident very early on in our discussions. Firstly, Brazilians LOVE social networks! Secondly, that a talented musician, Gilberto Gil,has been pivotal in the way that Brazil has embraced technology. Gil become Minister for Culture from 2003 to 2008 and opened up the way for a quasi-political movement, grounded in the traditions of open access, re-use and CC licensing, to shape the way that technology and innovation evolved.

This led to a number of successful and inclusive initiatives such as the ‘Cultural Hotspots’ programme which provided a broadband connection to a village hall (or similar) and encouraged the public to create their own arts-based or cultural content which was produced and shared openly. It also produced the Cultura Digital project (created and launched by the Ministry of Culture launched in July 2009) aimed at creating a platform for digital content and to act as a social network where the public and politicians alike can debate, inform and potentially construct public policy and regulatory frameworks for digital content and access. Since its launch, the platform has stimulated the participation of more than 7000 members, created almost 2000 blogs, 400 discussion groups and 500 forums.

The plans for the future are no less ambitious. The aim consists of creating a public digital platform that provides open, organised content and data relating to the country’s culture. The philosophy, if not the execution, will be very familiar to those who have worked within the digital content sphere in the past 2/3 years, as this sounds very much like the creation and delivery of the ‘Digital Public Space’ i.e. a source of information open to every citizen, where all are entitled both to access and potentially re-use content and data according to the principles of open innovation.

However, when considering how this will be delivered, the challenges remain the same: How do we ensure that content is easily discoverable and create an effective protocol for metadata? How do we negotiate an intellectual property rights architecture which encourages flexibility, whilst protecting the interests of rights-holders and end-users alike? How do we foster public engagement with digital content and address ways in which they can become ‘creators’ rather than ‘users’? And perhaps, most pertinently, how do we sustain an infrastructure/ platform into the future at a time when public funds become increasingly more fragile?

The Brazilians saw JISC as ‘ahead of the curve’ in addressing these issues, if not being in a position to give perfect solutions. Certainly within the sphere of approaches to metadata, the JISC ’Discovery’ initiative has gone a long way in informing the creation of ‘a metadata ecology’ to support better access to vital collections data in libraries, archives and museums and facilitate new services for UK education and research. Likewise, the JISC-led Strategic Content Alliance, has undertaken ground-breaking research into developing sustainability strategies for digital content when the funding that supports digital projects and core operations is no longer forthcoming. The JISC eContent ‘Community Collections’ programme has also signposted ways in which the public has been mobilised to actively engage with creating digital content by connecting with disparate ‘communities’, through a blended methodology of motivation and gratification for taking part.

Similarities in philosophy and approach are certainly, however, not limited to the UK and Brazil. Comparable international initiatives such as the Digital Public Library of America and Europeana are good examples of where the vision and commitment to public access to cultural content and data have taken on physical form, driven by a need to reduce the ‘silo’ mentality in terms of content creation and enhancement. Likewise, JISC has also been deeply involved in both of these initiatives in terms of sharing and exchanging knowledge and providing the building blocks for strategic alignment across content types, sectors, and borders.

In the future, international collaboration and partnership will be essential to remaining at the forefront of digital content provision and innovation. In the words of Gilberto Gil when speaking of ‘open access’, “This isn’t just my idea, or Brazil’s idea….”