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Museums in the Digital World

We were excited to host our first knowledge sharing event on 13th November 2012, Living in the Digital World: Horizon Scanning for Museums.  This roundtable event brought together a small number of museum professionals to discuss how museums could thrive in the increasingly digital landscape by exploring innovations, opportunities for collaboration and funding sources.

Our 16 delegates gathered at the Pitt Rivers Museum and questions and ideas began bubbling immediately over coffee.  The event officially began with thoughts and provocations from our four expert panelists who gave their over-view of the key digital issues facing museums. Delegates and panelists then entered into a lively and illuminating conversation.

You can listen to podcasts of our panel introductions below as well as read their speaker bios.  Transcripts of the podcasts are also available as PDF downloads.

Jon Pratty, Relationship Manager, Digital and Creative Economies, Arts Council South East

Speaker Bio: Jon works directly with cultural organisations throughout the South East and is responsible for the initiation and development of Brighton Digital Festival.  Nationally Jon also works on The Space, the ACE/BBC partnership project, and creative media development opportunities involving culture and tourism, open data, idea generation workshops and digital accessibility projects.

Jon compared the consumer digital space – currently the most high-tech intuitive and interactive digital landscape – with the cultural digital space, noting that there is a general lack of digital curation and expertise in the cultural sector. Jon talked about ways of addressing this gap, through initiatives such as digital cultural apprenticeships, and the importance of making data openly available for sharing to create a joined up digital cultural landscape.

Download the transcript here.

Kate Lindsay, Manager of Engagement Services at Academic  IT Services, University of Oxford

Speaker Bio: Kate has led a series of high profile projects in the areas of digitisation, e-content, community collections, crowdsourcing and open education, including a series of high profile projects on the First World War that have involved community collaborations, open publishing and innovative social media initiatives.  She also provides consultancy for the university in the use of digital technologies for public engagement.

Kate told the group about Europeana 1914-1918, a digital project to collect personal objects and memories into a digital archive and exhibition.  All the objects and stories were sourced from the public uploading their own memories, which they agreed to share under creative commons, enabling people to curate objects and use them how they want to.  Kate also spoke about innovative ways crowdsourcing is being used for public engagement activities, such as tweeting history in real time. Working in this way has created resources that have supported research within the university, inverting the traditional relationship between the institution and the public as authority and audience – an exciting opportunity for the user / visitor experience.

Download the transcript here.

Helen Bottomley, Development Officer, London, Heritage Lottery Fund

Speak Bio: Through her work at the HLF Helen has developed a keen interest in digital technology, particularly how it can be used to provide greater access to heritage collections.  She has a background in literature, and more recently in digital communications design.

Helen provided information about the new HLF digital funding stream which is considering applications for 100% digital projects for the first time.  Their conditions include that all material is made available under creative commons, that the items produced be open source wherever possible, and usable for a period of 5 years of the life of the technology.  HLF will be funding apps on the condition that they are cross platform.  It will also fund interactive websites, data collection, sharing collections across museums and touch screens.  Applications should target specific audiences, be inclusive (and not exclude anyone), offer value for money (i.e. be for all types of smart phones – applicants may find smart phone friendly websites to be more appropriate).  But the primary aim of any projects should be to make a “lasting difference for heritage and people”.

Download the transcript here.

Mia Ridge, Business Analyst, Digital Consultant, Web Programmer

Speaker Bio:  Formerly Lead Web Developer at the Science Museum Group UK, Mia has worked internationally as a business analyst, digital consultant and web programmer in the cultural heritage and commercial sectors.  Mia is currently researching a PhD in digital humanities focussing on the geolocation of historical materials and crowdsourcing through participant digitisation.

Mia discussed how organisations should view developing digital strategies as a process that raises awareness of the importance of digital across the organisation and imbeds it within organisational activities.  She stressed the need for having a clear idea of how to recognise when you’ve succeeded, and suggested that museums should think more about how they can engage with audiences in the places they are using online, such as social media sites, rather than expecting audiences to visit their site as a destination. Mia suggested that technology makes it easy to start small; creating time to play, developing new relationships and ways of working which will help identify which opportunities will deliver your organisation’s goals.

Download the transcript here.

Following these introductions the table was opened up to a free discussion.  Key themes to emerge included:

  • The importance of engaging audiences where they are whether that is social media, or special interest groups in their shared webspaces.

  • How to measure the success of social media in engaging audiences and justify the time invested in generating content.

  • The importance of understanding the needs and habits of your digital audience using tools such as Google Analytics.

  • Best practice in designing websites and digital platforms that share the considerable collections information held by organisations in an appropriate and engaging way.

  • The importance of imbedding digital practice across organisations rather than the domain of a small few and enabling all staff to become digitally engaged.

  • Creating digital learning platforms and online learning resources.

  • Using digital engagement within museums using apps or augmented reality to enrich visitor experiences.

  • The importance of engaging with Open Archive Initiatives to make data available and create a shared cultural digital landscape.

  • How to manage copyright and intellectual property in a shared digital landscape.

  • The possibility of including an element of digital practice in museum accreditation standards.

  • A desire to have ongoing opportunities to discuss digital ideas with colleagues across the sector.

Positive and informative conversations led to a successful day with delegates identifying the roundtable format as “excellent” for providing an “opportunity to meet other colleagues and discuss key ideas”.

Many delegates expressed a keen interest in discussing specific elements touched on during the day in more depth, particularly social media, digital learning, website design, copyright and intellectual property, and apps and augmented reality.  ASPIRE wants to programme events that meet sector needs so we are now exploring opportunities to hold follow up sessions on some of these topics.

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