Digital citizen engagement with heritage | Future Making in the Anthropocene Podcast

Heriland-researcher Nan Bai and Inez Weyermans of the City of Amsterdam’s heritage department

In this second episode, Heriland-researcher Nan Bai explains how social media can help to understand citizens’ engagement with heritage sites. In response to Bai, Inez Weyermans of the City of Amsterdam’s heritage department, provides her views on dilemmas concerning the appreciation of Amsterdam’s famous Canal ring area.

Citizen engagement with heritage sites is hard to measure. Lengthy surveys or visitors’ feedback take a lot of time to process and interpret. Social media, on the other hand, readily offers thousands of bits and pieces of information on how both visitors and residents feel about their environment. Could these posts be ‘mined’ and interpreted with the help of machine learning, in order to understand people’s interactions, perceptions, and emotions with regard to cultural heritage?

Yes, probably they can, claims Nan Bai, who spent the last couple of years training several computer models to accumulate and process thousands of social media posts in UNESCO World Heritage sites in Amsterdam, Venice and Suzhou. By studying the appreciation of cultural heritage through social media, a new field of possibilities (and drawbacks) opens up: “Traditionally we think that heritage status is determined by experts. But citizens and stakeholders can also be involved. Their knowledge could create important background information for decision-making. Social media already provide such knowledge documentation, as called for by the UNESCO 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape.”

Inez Weyermans’ work concerns the 17th Century Canal ring area in Amsterdam’s city centre. The historic city centre attracts millions of tourists a year. She uses social media to monitor how residents feel about the sites’ maintenance. Recently, the renovation of bridges and quays in the Amsterdam city centre has been subject of online debate: “A lot of opinions deal with decisions on how to repair the quays. Are they put back in a historical state or should modern techniques be used, that change the visual impact of the quays?”

Nan Bai conducts his PhD-research under supervision of professor Ana Pereira Roders and assistant-professor Pirouz Nourian of Delft University of Technology.

Did you miss the first episode of the Future Making in the Anthropocene Podcast? Listen to it here.

Show notes

Links related to Nan Bai’s research:

Links related to Amsterdam:


The podcast series ‘Future Making in the Anthropocene’ is generously supported by the Creative Industries Fund Netherlands and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, that coordinates the EU projects Heriland and Terranova. Both projects are funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement Nos. 813883 and Nos. 813904 respectively.