Decolonizing architecture of participation for the Uganda National Museum: Social-media expressions of Ugandan heritage sites

Michelle Sengara, York University, Canada, Mary Leigh Morbey, York University, Canada, Maureen Senoga, York University, Canada, Mary Pat O'Meara, York University, Canada


This research addresses the conceptualization and development of a Web 2.0/3.0 (Hussain, 2013) decolonizing social-media architecture of participation for the Uganda National Museum in Kampala. Having worked in partnership with the museum for several years, our current research, which is the focus of this paper, explores a collection of data from decolonizing vantage points: videoing and interviewing at ten Ugandan heritage tribal and memorial sites. It is imperative to document potential lost heritage of the sites and, through oral interviews, capture the oral culture and untold stories of people who have lived their lives in the shadows of these sites. Hence, the core question of this paper is: how do we capture and re-represent through digital formats Ugandan voices and potential lost Ugandan heritage, both physical and oral? In 2014, we faced the question of how a Global South national museum might envision contemporary and culturally relevant Web 2.0/3.0 social-media participatory architectures with a meaningful interface, for the re-representation of tribal heritage sites and the oral culture that embodies them. In light of decolonizing notions and the colonizing history of Uganda, Web re-representation and education require careful attention to ideological visioning and Web 2.0/3.0 conceptualization. Information communications technology, and particularly Web 2.0/3.0 innovations, holds the potential to change and enhance how a museum presents itself and the culture it embodies and represents (Bowers, 2000, 2006; Lessig, 2002; Marcus, 2002, 2006; Morbey, 2006, 2009; Morbey et al., 2012; Parekh, 2000).

Keywords: Social Media, Participatory Architecture, Heritage, Representation, Remix, (De)colonizing

1. Introduction

Working as part of an ongoing Ugandan–Canadian partnership, team-building initiatives over the last several years have served to cultivate a positive working relationship between Ugandan government cultural offices, local museum curators, and a Canadian research team. The research team was charged with collecting data in the form of video imagery and video interviews at ten of the one-hundred Ugandan heritage tribal and memorial sites. The paper explores this collection of data from decolonizing vantage points and the conceptualization and development of a social-media architecture of participation for the Ugandan National Museum of Ugandan heritage sites. Ugandan partners voiced the immediate need for such documentation in order to mitigate the possibility of damage or loss to either the physical spaces or its traditional inhabitants. The importance of oral stories plays a central role in this research. Through the use of technology-enhanced documentation, the oral culture and untold stories of the people who have lived their lives in the shadows of these sites is beginning to be captured and shared. The core question of this paper is representation: How can a cross-cultural research partnership accurately and authentically capture and re-present through social media Ugandan voices and potential lost Ugandan heritage, both physical and oral?


Figure 1: map of Africa with Uganda clearly marked, and a map of Uganda noting the eight heritage site locations at which digital-learning objects were collected

A decolonizing conception of a Web architecture of participation for the Uganda National Museum, with local, national, and global e (electronic)-, m (mobile)-, and social-media representations and e- and m-learning possibilities, is crucial to a global presence for the East African museum (Morbey, 2006; Morbey et al., 2012). The museum struggles to maintain its physical presence as the preservation and display of its holdings requires more support, while those inside the museum—curators and administrators—also understand the need to cultivate an authentic virtual presence that would help those inside and outside of Uganda access community voices that speak to Ugandan National heritage. Our choice of language and ideas is difficult because we—both Ugandans and Canadians—approach research from an anti-oppressive and anti-colonizing stance, while at the same time realizing the difficulties and complexities of our effort, as Swadener and Mutua (2008) describe. The research combines curators located within the Uganda National Museum and those working at the Ugandan heritage sites themselves, along with academic researchers at York University, Toronto, who work within the York Institute for Research on Digital Learning. In this project, the work that has been carried out towards developing cross-cultural partnerships and collaboration among indigenous researchers and allied others (Rogers & Swadener, 1999) has been a bedrock for the data collection. Through dialogue, common goals of anti-colonial sensibilities emphasizing Uganda voices have been established (Swadener & Mutua, 2008). While the project is about the development of decolonizing practices and not about post-colonial studies or policy, these themes actively impact project inputs and outputs, with a guiding principle of empowered local leadership.

2. Framing ideas

In 2015, we face the question of how the national museum of a developing region might envision contemporary and culturally relevant social-media participatory architecture with a meaningful interface, for the representation of tribal heritage sites and the sharing of oral culture and the local voices that embody them. In light of the aforementioned decolonizing notions and the violent colonizing history of Uganda, Web social-media representation and education requires careful attention to ideological visioning and Web conceptualization. Our project links the decolonizing notions of Mahmood Mamdani (1996, 2005), who is Ugandan, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) with the Web 2.0/3.0 interactive notions of Tim O’Reilly (2006) and Henry Jenkins’ participatory culture (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robinson, 2009). Connecting these theoretical approaches helps to frame our development of the Uganda National Museum’s Web Social Media participatory architecture. Information communications technology (ICT), and particularly interactive Web 2.0/3.0 and social-media innovations, holds the potential to change and enhance how a museum presents itself and the culture it embodies and represents (Bowers, 2000, 2006; Lessig, 2002; Marcus, 2002, 2006; Morbey, 2006, 2009; Morbey et al., 2012; Parekh, 2000).

These ideological considerations guiding participatory Web social-media conceptualization and design, video, and oral representation with YouTube videos of Ugandan told stories in their primary languages of English and Luganda, and structural and technological sustainable development, offer an approach that may provide non-Western museums with possibilities to develop what they envision as important for the dissemination of their own oral cultural and local heritage (both physical and community based). As urged by Mamdani (1996, 2005), Marcus (2006), Smith (1999), and Swadener and Mutua (2008), Web development and conceptualization in emergent museums within development areas must identify and address the underlying assumptions embedded in the methodologies, models, interactions, and appearances. At the same time, the project’s purpose is not to draw strong binary polarities between the Global North and South, but to reappraise and reevaluate this divide by focusing on theories and processes that can best facilitate access within the Uganda National Museum, and beyond, to its traditions, tribal sites, and oral stories.

The term Web 2.0/3.0, engaging social media, describes a current trend in Web technology and design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, production, and collaboration among users through an architecture of participation within a community Web space. Web 2.0/3.0 development is realized in Web-based communities such as the social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (Burgess & Green, 2009), Instagram, Vine, Flickr, Pinterest, and Tumblr, as well as blogs. Web 3.0 (Hussain, 2013) currently in its infancy, moves the possibilities to a stronger participatory Web engagement: we are watching its development in light of expanding our project possibilities. This project employs those networking options that best suit the local community, decided upon through the local identification of applications more frequently used and most easily accessed by communities. Web 2.0/3.0 and engaging social media require a rethinking of e-learning methodologies, as noted on the Museum 2.0 website ( in its regular articulations and illustrations of current Web and social-media museum explorations and possibilities.

Jenkins et al. (2009) theorize how Web 2.0/3.0, with a strong inclusion of social media, assists the conceptualization of participatory culture, a shift from the individual to a community where the development and activities come from the community and are shared in the community and beyond, both visually and orally. Jenkins et al. (2013) goes on to expand this notion to spreadable media, thus including the concurrent development of ideas and action by a community through the use of synchronous and asynchronous technologies. The research approach for the Web communal participatory conceptualization and development in the Uganda National Museum Web Social Media understands the power behind these concepts and looks to better understand how they can impact the design and dissemination of community voice.

3. Modes of inquiry

mlm_MS2Figure 2: imagery from the Ugandan heritage sites and participant storytellers

Given that the oral transmissions of knowledge remain even today a major portion of Ugandan communication, it is surprising that so little has been documented in terms of cultural uses of the heritage structures and artifacts therein. What people know about this heritage has been told through stories by those who have guided visitors through these sites: the information remaining and retained in their memories alone. In the wake of the 2010 Kasubi Tomb fires in Kampala, there has been an urgent call to action in order to have a backup of what still remains intact.

The Uganda National Museum invited researchers from a Canadian comprehensive university to assist in the development of a Web Social Media architecture of participation in connection with the basic museum website. The collaboration offers a unique opportunity for Web 2.0/3.0 and social-media development within an emerging Web 3.0 semantic Web (W3C, 2012) and a common framework enabling data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries: developments that incorporate museum e- (Owston, 2009), m-, and social-media learning. In order to build spaces that resist recolonization, though, our project has had to grapple with the global movement of Web 2.0/3.0 building on Web 1.0 (point and click) in our Web conceptualization. The research is in part about resisting colonization through an affinity with indigenous epistemologies, indigenous languages, processes of indigenous customs, and indigenous voices and stories (Swadener & Mutua, 2008). With this goal in mind, the project methodology includes qualitative ethnographic in-depth interviewing (Spradley, 1979, 1980) by a university professor accompanied by a professional videographer and a museum curator, in August 2013, of Ugandans at ten tribal and memorial sites and their surrounding communities. This involves video captures and face-to-face interviews with the museum staff, and, most importantly, with those who work at the tribal sites (figure 2) and with elderly people who have lived their entire lifetimes in the shadow of tribal sites telling their life stories in English or Luganda. Employing phenomenological interpretation (Seidman, 2006; Weiss, 1994), the data collected will be analyzed for patterns and themes of the imagery, videos, and local stories in video interviews to capture both the fullness of the tribal sites and their oral cultures and stories. The hope is to capture the heritage of the physical sites and the stories of those who live within their shadows before they become lost heritage.

Participatory action research (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005) will enlist all research team participants to organize, plan, act, reflect, and re-plan the conceptualization and actualization, using Web 2.0/3.0 and social-media possibilities fitting to the Ugandan museum context and authenticity of its content. This process will include the site conceptualization, development, and e-, m-, and social-media virtual learning theorizing and implementation, and will facilitate ongoing revisioning. As the site emerges and reshapes through participatory action research, the Ugandans will take dominant ownership. Further, the process is a continuing journey with decolonizing discourse and collaborative methodologies, with the process as well as its outputs under continual interrogation (Swadener & Mutua, 2008).

Decolonizing understandings are incorporated into the participatory architecture data collection, analysis, and community Web 2.0/3.0 space employing the technologies and social media already noted with a base in the WordPress or Google environments. This is being done collaboratively through the direction of the Uganda Commission of Monuments and Museums and its commissioner, who directs the work of the Uganda National Museum and its heritage sites.

4. An emerging social-media architecture

Over the past few years, the research team has developed four core project principles:

  1. A Ugandan-based conceptualization of a sustainable (both in form and function) Web 2.0/3.0 social-media architecture of participation for the museum and its artifacts, tribal and memorial heritage sites, and oral traditions and stories
  2. The development of methodological approaches to accompany the Museum’s Web 2.0/3.0 e-, m-, and social media learning led by Ugandan museum educators, engaging locally, nationally, and globally those who wish to learn more about the museum’s history, collections, and heritage sites with accompanying oral cultures and stories, and its current research projects
  3. An initial Museum Web 2.0/3.0 Social Media prototype development for museums in developing countries
  4. A Web 2.0/3.0 architecture documenting the project development and soliciting global interactive engagement and critical discussion through social media and blog forums, in order to better inform future cross-cultural joint projects about social-media architectures

The team is bringing forward the four core principles in the intended project outcomes in its development of the Web Social Media participatory architecture community space and education for the Uganda National Museum and in linkage to the official museum website. The research team works towards new ways to virtually represent the museum artifacts, tribal and memorial heritage sites, and Ugandan oral cultures and stories—using, thus far, mainly YouTube and Facebook along with Twitter and Instagram, with accompanying blogs and approaches for e- and m-learning—hence enriching public discourse and understanding for Ugandans and others around the globe. The research indicates that Ugandans know little about their heritage sites, and the rest of the world almost nothing. From our review of extant literature, we have identified and employed theoretical and practical methodologies in order to address decolonizing and recolonizing relationships between museums, information communications technology, knowledge expansion, and audiences, both local and global.

Following our visits to the Ugandan tribal and memorial sites in August 2013, we began creating and structuring a space for the tribal and memorial sites visited and the oral stories about them, accompanied by appropriate e- and m-learning for the museum context. This can be seen in the first video training created and publicly available on YouTube (figure 3). We are developing a Web 2.0/3.0 Social Media architecture of participation for the Uganda National Museums, as well as more broadly for museums in developing areas, as seen in the project trailer.


Figure 3: Uganda Heritage Sites + Stories YouTube trailer, as of September 30, 2014 (

5. Ongoing challenges

The research project faces ongoing challenges that the team works to address. For a number of logistical and administrative reasons, Uganda, similar to other East African nations, experiences a far slower decision-making pace than do North America and Toronto. Where deadlines are a normal part of North American work, in Uganda things get done when they can be done. Much sensitivity then is needed within the research team, looking to understand the viewpoints and living styles of East African colleagues. Our work goes best when the Canadians travel to Uganda and work face to face, elbow to elbow, with Ugandan colleagues: e-mail, online meetings, and Skype are less meaningful and productive, especially due to a lack of sustainable electrical services. This is a challenge the team is eagerly unpacking: the need to create an effective architecture for participation within our own cross-cultural context and with distinct differences in voice. From the research team, different groupings provide differing contributions: the Ugandans open the Heritage Sites, contact those living there for interviews, provide interpreters, and arrange for transportation and housing since the project visits sites throughout the country. The Canadians bring the needed technology and expertise to employ it and collaborate with the Ugandans on technological-skill transfer regarding repair and usage, supply funding for travel and most of the housing, and structure the architecture and operation of the initial social-media platform design, again engaging the Ugandans in an ownership of learning, for it will become their technology and their social-media architecture. One continually learns from the international collaboration and problem solving, which the team believes benefits all its members.

Web 2.0/3.0 participatory architectures employing social media, blogs, and other interactive possibilities can represent, document, illuminate, invite participation and creation, and develop e-, m-, and social-media virtual-learning contexts for artifacts within museum walls and for local communities, heritage tribal and memorial sites, and oral cultures and stories that exist outside formal museum walls. Employing the notion of participatory culture, the virtual space becomes more of a process than a product. Both museum personnel and those interacting with the virtual community space are free to draw on their lived experience to build the space in a creative and participatory manner. Thus, the museum becomes one that is not solely artifact-based, but a space and platform that is actively experienced and expanded upon rather than passively consumed (Pitts, 2009)—a difference that offers huge cultural and pedagogical gains.

6. Moving forward

The paper explores this collection of data from decolonizing vantage points and the conceptualization and development of a social-media architecture of participation for the Ugandan National Museum of Ugandan heritage sites. Ugandan partners voiced the immediate need for such documentation in order to mitigate the possibility of damage or loss to either the physical spaces or their traditional inhabitants and their stories about the sites. The importance of oral stories plays a central role in this research, but the documentation of these stories in digital and transferable formats is only half of the story. The extensive digital library these initial stages of research have and will continue to provide has been earmarked by the Uganda National Museum as database of learning objects for local staff to leverage online through their website and social-media platforms. Even with more memorial and heritage sites to document, the discussion has already begun around outlining the details of a learning management system engaging social media for effective dissemination and utilization of these learning objects: Facebook works effectively in Uganda.

As a continuously collaborative design process, the need to fit within the practical constraints present in Uganda has and will continue to be central to the process. Mobile technology used will need to be limited to cell phones with minimal data capabilities and considerations given to the sporadic access to e-learning devices that currently exists in the population, addressing barriers to access on both an individual level (cost, family sharing needs, rural locations) and a more national level (inconsistent energy provision to both urban and rural environments). Short Message Service (SMS) technology, the most prevalent and least expensive digital access point for the citizens of Uganda, will be leveraged by local partners in order to reach the maximum number of people, with the simplest messages and stories. These initial access points will then be scaffolded upon to provide a co-created learning experience around the existing knowledge artifacts, as documented by the research team. The important questions of representation this project examines will continue to unfold as the memorial and heritage sites are documented and the participatory architecture designed: the Ugandan-Canadian partnership that has been built over these last several years has served to cultivate a positive working relationship that will be carried forward as a central component in future endeavors.


The authors thank colleagues in Uganda who have enabled this work and its ongoing possibilities: the Uganda Commissioner of Monuments and Museums Rose Nkaale Mwanja; Uganda National Museum Curator Linda Neruba; and Ambassador Elizabeth Paula Napeyok, High Commissioner of the Republic of Uganda, New Delhi, India, and formerly the Uganda Ambassador of France, Portugal, Spain, and UNESCO, who gave strong support and assistance in the early years of the project and continues to do so today. In addition, we thank York University and particularly its Institute for Research on Digital Learning for their continued project support.


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Cite as:
. "Decolonizing architecture of participation for the Uganda National Museum: Social-media expressions of Ugandan heritage sites." MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015. Published January 14, 2015. Consulted .