Continuous Growth

Mukurtu & WSU

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Extending Drupal to create an open-source CMS built with indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage.

Mukurtu  (MOOK-oo-too) is a Drupal distribution aiming to empower communities to manage, share and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways. Kanopi worked with WSU & CoDA following a user-driven development approach. We started with user research, including surveys, focus groups and online tools. We then developed user personas which lead into development and a technical strategy. This was an agile project with a focus on the user journey.

The idea behind Mukurtu came from Kim Christiansen, a Washington State University Anthropology Professor who traveled to spend time with the Waramungu tribe in Australia. Through conversations with the tribe, she learned that indigenous communities needed a way to present and share their cultures with the world without being exploited. After returning to WSU, she shared the concept for Mukurtu, named after the Waramungu word for "safe keeping place," and a project team was formed to build version 1.0. As the project evolved, CoDA took the lead and reached out to Kanopi Studios to provide user experience and development for an updated second version of the platform. Eventually, WSU was once again able to fund ongoing development for the project, thanks in part to a prestigious Carnegie Mellon grant. Throughout shifts in ownership and funding, Kanopi Studios has remained Mukurtu's principal development partner. Shiraz Dindar, a Senior Drupal Engineer at Kanopi, has worked on the project for more than five years, contributing more than 300,000 lines of code.

Before Mukurtu, indigenous communities lacked a way to maintain ownership of the narrative when sharing elements of their culture. Mukurtu puts control back in the hands of indigenous people through its unique and complex permission systems that can be set to determine how information is shared, who it is shared with, and how it can be used. The free, open-source platform is available to help any community document their digital heritage.

Kanopi's contributions to Mukurtu began with user research, including surveys, focus groups, and online tools. The research informed user personas, technical strategy, and development of Mukurtu 2.0 on Drupal 7. Kanopi Studios continued to develop incremental updates, leading up to the recent release of version 2.1, which includes additional functionality and a mobile-responsive design theme. Upcoming enhancements include a mobile app that will allow users to add content from the field, even while offline. 

In addition to working on the core Mukurtu platform, Kanopi Studios also works directly with communities who need to customize Mukurtu to meet unique needs. For example, Kanopi Studios worked on a project that assisted the Kivalina Tribe, an indigenous group in Alaska who are losing their land and way of life to rising sea levels. By using Mukurtu to create the Kivalina Archive, a highly-customized, map-based website, they have been able to preserve their heritage while making a case for relocation. Additional examples include EW Atlas, a site promoting bird conservation in partnership with indigenous communities, and the Sipnuuk Digital Library, a website to preserve the Karuk culture and way of life. 

The results of the project are far-reaching, empowering hundreds of diverse communities by providing them the ability to safely share their stories with the world for greater recognition, understanding, preservation, and survival. 

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