This is a short version of the six month report of the Collection Social Photo team from The Nordic Museum, Stockholm County Museum, Aalborg City Archives and The Finnish Museum of Photography. Here you will find our first findings, research questions and examples of case studies.

The project’s main goal is to develop new recommendations, for museums and archives in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, for collecting and disseminating social digital photography. During the six month period, January–June 2017, we have started to approach the work of heritage institutions and collecting/disseminating of photographs in the era of the social digital photography.

We have started to monitor current work on the social digital photography in museums and archives internationally, we have started reading relevant literature and we have launched and performed case studies as a way to identify issues and questions relevant to the project (approximately 12 case studies are being planned at the moment). The research so far has made central issues more visible and tangible and enabled us to draft further questions that will inform our upcoming research and case studies.

We have also started to untangle the three core research questions that serve as a point of departure of the project, and that will be adapted throughout the project, following work on case studies and reading. A first adaption is made further down in this blog post:

Q1: How can data collection policies and practices be adapted to create relevant and accessible collections of social photography as cultural heritage in museums and archives?

Q2: How can digital archives, collection databases and interfaces be adapted to more accurately disseminate collections to different stakeholders and end users?

Q3: How can museums and archives change their role when collecting, in order to increase user influence in the production of the common cultural heritage?

Besides the core activities of the project, meetings, study visits, reading, organising seminars etc. a number of activities related to the research questions have been launched during the first six months.

Project meeting in Copenhagen, February 2017. 

Q1: How can data collection policies and practices be adapted to create relevant and accessible collections of social digital photography?

The goal is to adapt photography collection policies and practices in order to create relevant and accessible collections of social digital photography. In order answer this research question we need to understand:

  • The character of, as well as the definition of, the social digital photograph
  • Current work practice around photography collections in museums/archives
  • The value of photographs as heritage to museums/archives and to the end users, and relevance in the collections/holdings and strategy of the institutions
  • The impact of the digital context specifically on the social digital photograph, in relation to the work of collecting and disseminating
  • The impact of legal and ethical aspects on collecting and disseminating


  • Perform case studies collecting photographs and metadata in order to concretise the process
  • Perform research about the character and definition of the social digital photograph, as well as the digital context in which the social digital photograph exists
  • Perform research about current work practices around photography collections, as well the value of the photograph to heritage organisations/collections
  • Address legal and ethical issues together with experts

So far we have launched several case studies and begun interviewing social media users about their habits of posting photographs through social media. We have launched an online questionnaire at website to get a broader response, and we have started to collect metadata through a third party social media analyzing software. We are also investigating ethics, copyright and practical issues concerning harvesting social digital photography.

We will be looking into the results so far of the questionnaire and further adjust the list of case studies in order to make sure we are able to collect images representative of the contemporary use of social digital photography, and corresponding to overall missions and strategies of the participating museums/archive. We will analyse images collected so far through the questionnaire and the #Openstockholm case study, and we will continue collecting in the autumn of 2017 to perform a parallel examination of how our current methods and work practices correspond with the actual collecting.

We will in the Södertälje case study look further into Instagram images, perform both visual examination as well as analysing metadata, in order to better understand the social media image from the collecting perspective. We will perform further interviews (about social media use and personal photography by f.ex. photo elicitation) in order to increase our understanding of people’s perception of the museum/archive as recipient (and accommodator) of personal photography. Experiences from the case studies Södertälje will be used in comparative studies in Helsinki and Aalborg.

In order to better understand the museum’s/archive’s impact on the collecting and the collections we will specifically look into how museums/archives are:

  • Facilitating the collecting of the social digital photograph
  • Registering images / adding metadata
  • Creating a new context
  • Shaping the interfaces through which the end users can access the collections

We will also look at the social media photograph and focus on (among other things):

The fluid image: How is the fluidity affecting the definition of the social digital photograph once it enters the heritage collection?

The digital context: What is the impact of digital context and technology on heritage/archival collections?

The transactional image: How do the transactions of photographs / data impact on what we should collect?

Legal issues

As the legal issues have proven to be complicated (as we have anticipated) we have to broaden our connections with legal experts in order to learn more about possibilities and challenges. The new EU Data Protection Directive will affect our work and during the autumn we will specifically look into the consequences for the project.

In order to know what is possible to collect we will take the following issues into consideration:

  • Legal matters
  • Ethics
  • The Unesco/Persist Guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for longterm preservation
  • Guidelines/recommendations for the archives sector

Seminar with the project reference group at The Nordic Museum, Stockholm, March 2017. 

Q2: How can digital archives, collection databases and interfaces be relevantly adapted –  considering the character of the social digital photograph and the digital context – in order serve different stakeholders and end users?

How can web accessibility of the future collections of social digital photography be adapted to the nature and scope of the material and ensure the usability to stakeholders and end users?

To understand how collections databases and interfaces need to be adapted to more efficiently disseminate collections to different stakeholders and end users, as well as allow for collecting, we have started to look into how current work practices and interfaces fit with the social digital photograph. We assume that we will need different types of interfaces for disseminating social digital photography, depending on function, topic and content. We know we will have to design interfaces for co-creation and collaboration around collecting initiatives, and we need to connect collecting interfaces with dissemination. We need curated entries to the collections, and there is not one unique solution.

Both The Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet) and Stockholm County Museum have websites for collecting images (and text) online: and Both websites will be evaluated early on in this project.

In order to answer the research question we need to:

  • Monitor and research current initiatives internationally
  • Begin ideation and pilot testing to learn more about how to adapt user interfaces
  • Continue dialogue with experts in the field

We will research current relevant initiatives in an international perspective, learn more about the context in which images can be collected, and start connecting with people who might be interested in participating in this ideation process.

Image collected through online questionnaire about habits of posting photographs in social media. Photo: Sarah-Louise Melander Thilgreen, CC-BY.

Q3: How can museums and archives change their role when collecting and disseminating, to increase user influence in the whole life circle of the vernacular photographic cultural heritage?

Museums and archives today have started to understand the need for inclusive methods and collecting initiatives, from creation and collecting to dissemination and re-use. Often the participatory efforts are performed in unique projects and not yet in the overall policies of the museums and archives. Not only do museums/archives need to introduce new work methods, they need to do so at a time where the competition for the audience’s attention online is rapidly growing.

In order to answer the research question we need to:

  • Research different methods for engagement
  • Research other heritage initiatives that involve user participation and collecting
  • Perform pilot testing around ways to increase the museums/archive engagement on the social media platforms that our end users actually use

Create co-creation initiatives: f. ex. by designing a competition connected to the collecting website and app Samtidsbild by Stockholm County Museum. The results from the Södertälje case study in Sweden will used as a model for upcoming comparative case studies in Denmark and Finland. In these case studies we will try different methods for engagement, as well as perform a comparative analysis of the results. We need to understand:

  • How do we do outreach and create engagement?
  • How do we initiate/facilitate dialogue?
  • How do we reach outside our museums/archives filter bubbles?
  • How do we use social media?
  • How do we reach people with private accounts?
  • How do we open up for co-creation in a way that is relevant to the audiences?


The conclusions from the first six months of the project show that the social digital photograph is complex and even fluid. It is very much a result of transactions but also it’s digital context. And the impact of the museum/archive on the social digital image risk altering it’s original meaning and purpose, and transform it into something else.

There are other complex issues to adress such as user engagement, co-creation and dialogue with the audience. Legal issues need to be looked into as they will further delimit possibilities of collecting and disseminating vernacular photography.

At the same time as there are several challenges, that the project team will face when producing recommendations around social digital photography, there are also tremendous opportunities for including a broader democratic voice in the photographic cultural heritage.