Everything has a beginning

AuthorAnnamari Arrakoski-Engardt

The song about War of Åland is familiar to most Finns, but many may wonder, how the war broke out and what its impact was on Finland. Today, we can picnic on the Suomenlinna fortress island on the very same shores that Helsinki residents once watched with horror from across the bay, as the fortress was bombarded by the French-British navy for two long days in the mid 19th century. What on earth did the residents of Suomenlinna do then? Countless times we may also have wanted to check the exact coordinates of a shipwreck or the birthplace of a prominent person, but can’t find the information anywhere. Or if you have forgotten the story of how Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s only ship painting came to be, you’ll just have to go visit the John Nurminen Foundation again to check the story.

Clouds and servers store pieces of our past carefully archived for building the future.

While we were busy hunting for information and being enchanted by interesting stories, museums and other holders of cultural heritage were spending considerable amounts of time and money on the digitalisation of our country’s magnificent cultural heritage. Clouds and servers store pieces of our past carefully archived for building the future. Researchers are right at home with this digital treasure trove. But S-C-H-J-E-R-F-B-E-C-K – we ordinary citizens still need to remember the spelling of Helene’s last name to find information on the artist from Google.

John Nurminen Foundation took on this challenge in 2013, when we began to develop a digital information and exhibition concept. We invited representatives from the Finnish Heritage Agency and Finnish Museums Association as well as game designers, sponsors and digital business professionals to the island of Boistö to put their heads together to identify the actual problem that we could start working on under the Foundation’s lead for the benefit of consumers and museums. The John Nurminen Foundation had successfully employed this same approach in the Tanker Safety Project, which brought all the maritime stakeholders to the same table. We now wanted to apply the lessons learned from this project. As a member of the Foundation’s Board and Chair of the advisory group for marine culture, I was impressed by how this first problem was identified and a solution was found. This is how we launched the Loki project and recruited Anna Herlin as project manager.

The schedule of the original concept was very tight. We found that more important than the schedule was ensuring that the needs of both customers of the future service – consumers and museum professionals – were heard and addressed in the project goals. Through customer surveys, we gained customer understanding and challenged our concept from different perspectives. The first cultural technology pilot was completed in the summer of 2014 under the name Cultural Excursion Suomenlinna. It allowed users to navigate the Suomenlinna World Heritage Site while collecting nuggets of history and culture as well as special offers from local businesses. Were it not for the close cooperation between the Governing Body of Suomenlinna and the Ehrensvärd Society, the content of the digital service would not have been as interesting.

Cooperation with various parties, especially the holders of cultural heritage, was the driving force behind the Loki project. Our goal is best achieved together: the wider, richer and easier everyday consumption of marine cultural heritage. For this reason, we already found it necessary in the first year of the Loki project to aim at a form of service that could lay the foundation for the establishment of a social joint enterprise with the museum sector. The magic of scaling, used by the John Nurminen Foundation in the Baltic Sea conservation projects, was also our clear goal in the Loki project. If we managed to create something usable in the area of marine culture, it must be possible to scale it for the use of the entire cultural heritage field. However, another operator would then be required, as the Foundation would drift too far from its own objectives. A joint social enterprise with the Finnish Museums Association took shape in our minds as the obvious final home of our project.

Four different pilots later we have found a degree of interactivity that we can build on for the future. We have benefited from an amazing amount of pro bono work from top professionals in different fields. The financial support of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Weisell Foundation and the Finnish Heritage Agency was absolutely vital for the project. As chair of the project steering group, I would like to thank all the members of the steering group over the years, as well as the members of the management team that was officially terminated at the beginning of 2020: Vesa Hongisto, Hanno Nevanlinna, Hanne Kettunen, Markku Löytönen, Per-Edvin Persson, Juho Lipsanen, Juha Nurminen, Samppa Vilkuna and, of course, Kimmo Leva, with whom my journey in the Board of Directors of the new company will continue. I have delighted in our visionary discussions and decisions that forced us to take concrete actions. I would also like to thank my wonderful Loki team: together we made the impossible possible!

Cultural heritage is a valuable asset that tells us where we come from and who we are.

We have questioned, asked, learned and implemented many things in an agile and cost-effective manner. The journey may have seemed slow to the builders of large digital services, but, in retrospect, the pace was just right. It takes time to learn and try out new things. At the same time, both our customer bases have advanced enormously in the use of technology, and the museum sector is enjoying an increase in the number of visitors, thanks to magnificent exhibitions and the Museum Card. We have wanted to listen to and understand both groups. The operating environment is changing, but the content remains the same – we just have to know how to combine, add to and offer it to consumers in a suitable form.

Cultural heritage is a valuable asset that tells us where we come from and who we are. Both the Loki project and the soon-to-be-launched service provides the opportunity for users to contribute to the accumulation of future cultural heritage by sharing their own knowledge and experiences of our country’s cultural environments and sites. The new service is now even more relevant than we could have anticipated at the start of the project or the first steps of Yhteinen Perintö Oy. It is particularly important to be able to enjoy our wonderful culture in the safety of our own homes when museums and cultural sites are inaccessible. Our efforts aimed to bring joy and understanding to the users of the services, and these are things we have also gained for ourselves in the process. Now is the time to let go and invite everyone to enjoy and help develop the digital museum, as no digital service is ever ready, not even the unique

FT Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt