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Citizen historians and social change

By: Nick Stanhope
On: 30th November 2012
Organisation name: We Are What We Do
Project name: Historypin - Free Tools for All

Over the last 18 months, We Are What We Do, through our Historypin project, has been working with Nominet Trust to harness the social power of digital citizen history.

Citizen history is all about local people taking charge of gathering, sharing and interpreting their local history and has a stream of positive benefits for themselves, their communities and for our understanding of our heritage, culture and identity. Historypin, when it launched in summer 2011, set out to harness digital technology to add mainstream appeal and scale to citizen history and, with the support of the Nominet Trust, that is what we have started to achieve over the last 9 months.

Specifically, we worked with the Trust to develop and launch a set of free Historypin tools that are primarily aimed at organisations and institutions that can build them into their work to engage more people, open up their collections and drive more participation. Excitingly, we've achieved this on a huge scale. Since the launch of the tools in spring 2012, more than 600 institutions and 400 schools and community groups have taken up the tools, which continues to grow at over 100 a month. Through these 1000+ organisations, we're reaching millions of people, who are exploring and participating in different ways. Between these partners and these individuals, over 200,000 contributions have been added to Historypin, with 15,000 new materials and memories coming on every month.

Although scale is important, We Are What We Do developed Historypin and the Trust funded it as a way of generating social impact. We set out to bring people together, from different genertations, cultures and backgrounds, to create and explore the history of their communities and, in the process, generate social capital, drive social and digital inclusion and establish new routes for the exchange of culture, heritage and identity. The external evaluation of our work by the Local Government Information Unit, conducting detailed analysis in Reading, found strong evidence of all of these layers of impact - both during direct delivery and as an ongoing, permanent legacy in the town.

We have also learnt a huge amount in the last 18 months. We've made lots of mistakes, suffered a little from the immediate scale of uptake and missed out on some opportunities to expand and enrich our impact. But working closely with Nominet Trust has allowed us to be open about all this and, as we move into a series of new partnerships, we can take these insights with us.

This combination of initial scale, proven impact and experience has set Historypin up for an exciting future. Currently, we have 30 more local projects either underway or planned for 2013 and another 65 being considered by funders all over the world. By the end of 2013, we aim to have 100 community project, 2,000 partners and 500,000 contributions to Historypin. Most importantly, we aim to generate more and more social impact through the power of citizen history.