With the growing expansion of digital ecosystems around the world, an information-sharing platform has emerged as one of the key elements for the success in the fourth industrial revolution. This shows the recent transition into a new paradigm the focus of which is mainly brought to the openness and sharing1. These changes have made their ways not only into the economy but also into art and culture. Discussions have also been made, even in the field of ICH, about the importance of co-governance and management for efficient ICH safeguarding and their use. This can be also construed from Cheng Yang’s article, indicating that “the open and cooperative governance is the key to effective ICH safeguarding in the big data era.”2 Today, many ICH elements are at severe risk due to political, social and environmental changes such as globalization, industrialization, urbanization, and climate changes. A lot of analogue ICH-related records have faced a serious risk of damage and deterioration while failing to adapt to the digital environment. This is why we need a digital mechanism for ICH safeguarding.
ICHCAP, a UNESCO Category 2 Center established under the Agreement between UNESCO and the government of the Republic of Korea in 2011, has carried out many projects and activities targeted toward safeguarding ICH in the forty-eight Member States of the Asia-Pacific region, including sharing ICH information, strengthening networks, and enhancing awareness and visibility of ICH.
Over the past few years, ICHCAP has contemplated upon new possibilities to strengthen its core functions in information and networking to bring significant changes to the projects in both quality and quantity. This has developed into the largest project in the history of ICHCAP, and it is now expected to promote by far more sharing and use of ICH information in the Asia-Pacific region. The platform breaks away from the passive and microscopic framework of data repository and takes a macroscopic approach to cultivate community involvement and cultural diversity. It is envisioned to serve as a public space for communities, groups, and individuals to share and manage a variety of ICH information collected from many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In late October 2019, ICHCAP presented a roadmap for the project during its 9th Governing Board Meeting, followed by the renewal of Agreement between UNESCO and the Government of the Republic of Korea on the Establishment of ICHCAP on 3 December 2019. The new Agreement stipulated the establishment of a system to ensure the effective sharing of ICH-related information as one of the key functions, emphasizing its international role as ICH information agency.
ICHCAP named the platform “ichLinks” aiming to create ICH-dedicated information-sharing platform in the Asia-Pacific region. We have coined the term out of ICH and Links, each of which represents intangible cultural heritage and mutual connections through the platform. It is characterized largely by four main features, including integrated online service, active participation by Member States, expandable data and contents, and active on- and offline use. More specifically, ichLinks is designed to enable linking and sharing ICH information on cultural elements, relevant academic resources, stakeholders, news and events. It aims to facilitate the systematic data connection and creative content curation through a structured metadata management.
Needless to say, a platform can gather more data when there are more users. The platform can attract not only its main target groups but also the so-called indifferent users, only when it has effective pull factors, namely quality information and contents. Its sustainability would depend on the roles of and contributions by the participants. Furthermore, the platform can also be explored even through offline settings. The great value created from such a process would help build a stronger base and a place for solidarity to learn how to better safeguard ICH among the Asia-Pacific Member States.
A briefing session of a Feasibility Study on Building Action Plans for ICH Information-Sharing Platform held on April 9, 2020 © ICHCAP
ICHCAP also identified a strong demand for an ICH information-sharing platform in the Asia-Pacific through a survey conducted by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute involving working-level officials from thirty-five UNESCO Member States. In a questionnaire that aims to study views about participating in the ichLinks project, twenty-one out of thirty-five countries responded positively, noting that they are willing to participate. They also expressed high expectations for the platform, commenting on (1) how relevant modular sources would strengthen ICH safeguarding, (2) participating in such a venture would be a meaningful experience, and (3) the platform might be a good means for international exchange of cultural practices. The survey also heard reactions about how the platform is a timely opportunity to empower communities, groups, and individuals by protecting ICH-related practices. Certainly, the platform has a task to provide easier access to ICH and create an environment where networking is effectively enabled, ensuring that the younger generations can benefit from such experience.
Moving forward, ICHCAP has lined up its direction for the ichLinks through a series of procedures, including several expert meetings for the development of platform prototypes and a feasibility study on building the ICH information-sharing platform by the KCTI3. In the wake of the coronavirus scare, these meetings and events were held on conference calls, which underlines the dire need for the platform. This knowledge and experience we gained at these stages can further develop into offline discussions and cooperative schemes after the COVID-19. The core values imbued into the platform by ICHCAP—decentralization, openness and sharing, and sustainability—will be reflected through sharing and cooperation in online and offline venues.
ICHCAP Director-General Gi Hyung Keum mentioned that this is the first step of a long-term project for gathering and using ICH information from the Member States. He continued:
Each individual program that ICHCAP has undertaken over the past decade is meaningful, but there are high expectations regarding this particular project because it would lay a new framework for ICH information-sharing, one in which a genuine solidarity among countries in the Asia-Pacific binds perspectives, cultural data, and ideas together.
Hanhee Hamh, emeritus professor at Jeonbuk National University echoed the words of Director-General Keum in an advisory meeting where she stressed the importance of maintaining “a horizontal and democratic structure” in a platform whose existence is premised on collaboration and collective benefits.
Professor Myung Hwan Roh at the Department of Information and Archival Science at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies also underlined the need “to present a clear vision to attract voluntary participation of Member States.” He also added that the platform must offer a variety of options for content curation and guarantee high searchability, particularly through semantic archives closely knitted with meanings and symbolic structures.
ICHCAP is planning to develop ichLinks under a three-phase plan as follows: establishment, advancement, and expansion. As a primary step, ICHCAP is focusing on building a structured system and setting up a good model case. We will further draw more participants from the rest of the region and expand the preliminary basis for cooperative networks. By 2023, we will have fully developed the platform. Under this project, ICHCAP is expecting various positive results such as the expansion of international knowledge base, which includes rich public and academic contents for various purposes. The platform, as it will serve as the regional ICH information and networking base, is also expected to bring about sources and opportunities for social and economic development among the participating Member States, as well as strategies and practices to implement the 2003 UNESCO Convention and promote cultural diversity.