MCG Museums+Tech 2023 — Future-proofing the digital museum
Friday November 24 2023
Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK.
Our headline sponsor this year is TPXimpact: “Working in the cultural and impact space for over a decade, we partner with various organisations to engage their audiences, members, visitors and supporters through outstanding, sustainable and inclusive experiences – across all digital platforms.” Find out more about TPXimpact.
Our secondary sponsor for this year is Numiko.
Find our about our Corporate Membership options and prices.
Future-proofing the digital museum
Most museums deal with objects which have survived centuries and from them we glean an understanding of the past – but what will survive from our current time for future generations, and what effect does our work have on that future for those generations?
We live in a digital age, where much of our work happens on computers, which can store lots of information – but how long does that data last for? Formats and methods of accessing digital data are always changing, entire platforms transform into something unrecognisable, and preserving both the data and the means of access quickly becomes difficult. What can we do to ensure that what we create will last?
We must also consider the impact our digital work has on the future. What is the sustainability of huge cloud storage facilities eating up electricity and raw materials? What about all the projectors and giant screens? How will the impact of incorporating processor intensive AI into our projects? And how can we mitigate the resulting physical waste?
Our 2023 conference seeks to discuss all aspects of future-proofing our work. We want to hear your varying situations and strategies across institutions, sharing best practices for digital futures, telling cautionary tales, and situating digital cultural heritage within the wider legacy and sustainability landscape.
It’s time to celebrate good work, and share ideas for helping museums and other cultural institutions do better.
ARRIVAL & REGISTRATION
WELCOME & INTRODUCTIONS
Dafydd James, Chair, Museums Computer Group
Algorithms are the New Historians
George Oates, Executive Director, Flickr Foundation
Given the amount of information being published online every second, you’d think we’d be getting better at knowing what it all means.
Using small data approaches embedded in a selection of past projects combined with a critical look at generated images as her material, George will outline her core strategies for future-proofing culture work, and give a whistle-stop tour of how the new Flickr Foundation is considering its next 100 years.
11:40am Keynote Q&A
Telling timeless stories with cutting edge tech: The secrets of successful digital collections.
David Eccles, Creative Strategy Director, Numiko
David shares insights from Numiko’s work bringing digital collections to life for institutions including the British Museum, Science Museum, The National Archives and Royal Armouries. Numiko have refined the art of crafting engaging narratives with digital tools over many years, and in this fascinating session, will explore future trends and creative possibilities that generative AI and Large Language Models offer the sector.
David is a founding partner of Numiko. Over the years, he has grown the business from a graduate start-up into a multi-award-winning team who regularly work with well-known brands across a wide range of sectors, including museums such as the British Museum, Science Museum Group, and Royal Armouries, as well as working on large digital collection projects at the likes of The National Archives and Lloyd’s Register Foundation. David works closely with all Numiko’s major clients to do more than simply achieve the objectives outlined in the brief; he works hard to develop strategies that allow clients to communicate more effectively online to inspire, excite and build loyalty with their audience. Leading our user-centred design process, David ensures we always deliver creative and inspiring websites that surprise and delight audiences.
Act Green 2023: Understanding the role visitors want museums to play in tackling the climate emergency
Flo Carr, Associate Director, Indigo Ltd..
81% of museum visitors think cultural organisations have a responsibility to influence society to make radical change to address the climate emergency. Act Green is a UK-wide survey which took place for a second year running in July 2023. It asked visitors and audiences to say what role they thought cultural organisations should play in tackling the climate crisis. The survey was sent out by 86 cultural organisations and generated 17,500 responses from visitors to museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas and arts centres. Visitors were asked for their views on everything from how museums manage their buildings and exhibitions to whether they should be producing digital guides and interpretation or making changes to websites to decrease its carbon footprint. In this session, we will present the results from museum visitors for the first time, comparing their responses to the benchmark data set. Bringing visitors on the journey with you will be vital to environmental future-proofing and the overall results will help to frame decisions about digital within the wider context of views on sustainability. The Act Green findings will help museums to understand more about what is important to their visitors, and how this can shape how museums communicate with different visitor groups and develop strategies to involve visitors in sustainability initiatives. Act Green in an Indigo Share: Hot Topic. It was sponsored by Supercool, which meant it was free for cultural organisations in the UK to take part in.
Flo is a marketer, communications specialist and consultant with a passion for audience development and CRM. Her previous roles include Head of Communications and Marketing at Arcola Theatre, Marketing & CRM Manager at English National Opera and Press & Marketing Manager at Cambridge Live.
Stories and survival
Vanesha Kirita Singh & Alice White, Digital Editors at the Wellcome Collection.
One thing that migrating content management systems three times has shown us is that whilst a lot of things can be lost in the process, stories are remarkably persistent. So carefully curating the stories that we tell is vital. Most organisations today have stated their intentions to be more diverse. But often, our collections and the people employed within our organisations represent only a very narrow view of the world. In this talk, we’ll discuss our work on Wellcome Collection Stories, where we use participant-led commissioning to provide a platform for voices from a much wider range of perspectives. You’ll encounter some joyful, insightful, and moving stories of health rooted in lived experience and created by people who are disabled and minoritized. Come behind the scenes with us as we talk about commissioning and producing these stories, and the work required to collaborate on them. We’ll be honest about what went well and more importantly, what we’ve learned the hard way. These stories have the power to change the future, whether by helping people (including doctors) to understand a disabled person’s life, by showing how climate change is already impacting health today in tangible and comprehensible ways, or by providing a commission that helps to begin someone’s career.
Vanesha is a Digital Editor for Wellcome Collection. She is a writer and researcher, and is also working to deepen our understandings of history by telling stories from the Indo-Caribbean community.
Alice is a Digital Editor and Wikimedian for Wellcome Collection. She has worked on projects to make large-scale events more accessible, to support guest editors to tell new stories, and to improve access to information and collections by people who have never heard of Wellcome. Before joining Wellcome, she researched frogs, moustaches, psychiatry in World War II, and British science-fiction fans.
Future proofing heritage tech: a private sector perspective
Natalie McGowan, Head of Partnerships, Humap.
The lightning fast evolution of new technologies, and their expanding use in the heritage sector, is undoubtedly a net positive. These new technologies do pose many challenges and bring up many questions, though. How do museums preserve digital heritage as successfully as they preserve physical heritage? How can museums, often publicly funded/funded by donations, capitalise on new tech? What is the role of the private sector in safeguarding digital heritage? In this presentation I’ll be talking about the questions of digital sustainability from the perspective of a private sector; what makes private sector/collaborations work, how to safeguard the project, how to set realistic goals, and how to mitigate some of the shortcomings in the grant funding system where they pertain to sustainability. I’ll also touch on the most common mistakes we’ve seen heritage organisations make when they partner with private sector companies. Digital heritage projects help keep our culture and history safe and make it possible to share the past with more people than ever before. But here’s the challenge: to keep them running and up to date, they need money. In this talk, we’ll also look at practical ways to make sure these projects can keep going. We’ll explore how they can stay important and useful in a world where money often decides what works and what doesn’t.
Natalie McGowan is Head of Partnerships at Humap, coordinating their online presence and working closely with clients. Her academic background is in Ancient History (BA, University of Birmingham) and Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology (MSc, University of Oxford). She has a wealth of voluntary experience in the UK heritage sector and has collaborated with the Ashmolean Museum, Mainly Museums, and Bury St. Edmunds Guildhall among others. She is particularly interested in the digital humanities and the unique challenges the discipline faces from questions of project longevity and sustainability.
The Museum & The Creator Economy
Nik Wyness, Head of Marketing, The Tank Museum.
The Tank Museum experience in the creator economy offers a contemporary model for increasing financial sustainability. In 2022, The Tank Museum generated over 25% of its total turnover online from non-visitors by adopting identical strategies that have allowed entrepreneurial YouTubers to make a living from content creation. We’ve been pioneering a content strategy that values distinct online programming, distributed on free online platforms, to build an audience that has grown into an engaged community of “fans”. We’re now realising the value of this investment, benefiting from advertising revenue, sponsorships and big increases in memberships and ecommerce. The presentation will outline a strategic framework which delivers an increase in charitable benefit, reach, the creation of a loyal community and a significant increase in revenue.
Nik Wyness is the Head of Marketing and Engagement at The Tank Museum in Dorset. He has led the digital transformation of this rural regimental Museum and registered charity, creating an industry-leading strategy in the development and monetisation of a global online community. The Tank Museum tells the story of the tank and the people that served in them, with a collection of over 300 vehicles dating from World War One to the present day, displayed in modern awe-inspiring exhibitions. But the Museum’s rural location poses an ever-present challenge – how to make people aware it exists? With the simple objective of “Being more famous” and a passion for powerful historical stories, Nik used social media channels like Facebook and YouTube to begin building a niche following worldwide.
12:45pm Lightning Talks Q&A
1:00-1:30 Museums Computer Group AGM
Digital’s physical shadow: Why the digital industry isn’t as planet friendly as it seems, and how museums can make their digital estate more sustainable.
A long acknowledged benefit of digitising our society, interactions, art, history, spaces and stories is that it helps reduce harm to the planet, environment and all other life that relies upon them. Reduce paper for tickets and catalogues. Reduce travel to your museum. Reduce emissions for transport, heating etc. Reduce damage to the planet. An online visitor is a sustainable visitor, right?
These benefits are undoubtedly true. Information we can access digitally has a smaller negative impact on the planet than if we were to access that information by travelling to see physical objects or having stuff sent to us.
However, the digital industry is not fulfilling its potential in terms of reducing the harm done to the planet. This is because of the unseen and misunderstood physical elements that make up the internet, the number of people connected by the internet and the scale at which things on the internet operate on. There is a growing body of research and industry action, but action and awareness, particularly amongst those commissioning museum websites, is painfully low.
Therefore, we will talk about:
- Why raising awareness of, and action on, the impact of your digital activities is so important
- Why the de facto key performance indicator in digital (more attention for longer) is bad for society and the wider planet
- Why emerging immersive technologies and the culture of build fast, disrupt things and iterate later could be exacerbating the situation
- How to challenge digital teams/suppliers (designers, content creators, developers, product owners etc.), and those who initiate digital projects, to embrace the planet as a stakeholder
- How to avoid accusations of greenwashing by ensuring a planet focused digital project is well rounded, i.e. is energy efficient, hardware efficient and carbon aware
- Where do the benefits of planet focused design, content creation and development crossover with other established best practices such as accessibility, performance, user experience and security
- What other organisations are doing to take action on the impact of the digital industry, which will showcase the implementable next steps a museum can take on their existing and future digital projects
Andrea Wallace, Associate Professor of Law & Technology, University of Exeter & Francesca Farmer, Research Fellow, GLAM-E Lab & Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
Like many museums around the world, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum has been repatriating objects for several decades. The focus has been the return of physical artefacts with little consideration of the documentation and information that remains in the collection, or to the rights issues concerning the content associated with repatriated objects. With the GLAM-E Lab, RAMM has now turned its attention to the restitution of associated collections materials and intellectual property, or what we call digital and intellectual property restitution.
Digital and intellectual property restitution is a process by which associated collections materials, digital media and rights are also transferred to their communities of origin. This might include 2D or 3D digital surrogates, recordings of songs and oral histories, and other documentation, like provenance data, cataloging data and metadata. Rights in these materials can vary depending on the jurisdiction of creation, who has owned them, and who holds rights in them, such as rights in property, contract, or intellectual property. Similar to rights conflicts during physical restitution, these rights can obstruct restitution goals and raise new questions about the ownership and management of materials remaining in collections. Left unresolved, new inequities will emerge around who can own, access, use, control, and commercialize these materials for decades to come.
The presentation explores how restitution is incomplete unless it also addresses the analog and digital materials and rights generated around an object after its dispossession. It then presents an in-progress case study of future-proofing restitution at the RAMM.
Andrea Wallace, University of Exeter and Francesca Farmer Research Fellow, GLAM-E Lab & Royal Albert Memorial Museum lead the GLAM-E Lab project at Exeter Law School in partnership with the Digital Humanities Lab and Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Andrea’s research focuses on intersections of art and cultural heritage with the digital realm and digital heritage management. Her research considers the impact of digital technologies on the preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of cultural heritage. She frequently writes and presents on open culture and the impact that a claim to copyright in reproductions has on meaningful access to and reuse of cultural heritage in the public domain. Francesca’s research focuses on the intersection between technology, law and public policy. Her research considers the impact of technology on privacy, data protection and copyright. She is currently a Research Fellow at the GLAM-E Lab, an interdisciplinary digitisation clinic for smaller and less well-resourced cultural institutions and community organisations.
Planning a roadmap for sustainable innovation
Sarah Fuller, Digital Product Lead & Jules Jans, Technical Lead, Royal Academy of Arts.
The RA product stack is large for an arts organisation of this size and we have a lot of bespoke digital infrastructure, including multiple websites and internal tools used by our curatorial and exhibition teams. Given that we have a small development team to maintain, develop and support this, we have been working on both simplifying and updating our digital product stack. Many of the bespoke products we maintain are now in need of large upgrades, as they were built without an ongoing development and maintenance roadmap or budget in place. We are trying to gradually address this. Key to this is thinking about sustainability from the beginning of projects. It’s crucial to ensure that product decisions consider the lifespan of a piece of work and what technical support and maintenance requirements are needed on an ongoing basis. Additionally we have to plan for the development of additional pieces of functionality, and optimisation of existing functionality, to meet ongoing user needs. We are moving forward with our roadmap considering the following principles: – Delivering updates in an iterative and ongoing way – Moving away from monolithic architecture towards microservices which can be more easily updated moving forwards – Reducing complexity wherever possible – Costing in the time and resource for adequate QA from the start.
Sarah has been Digital Product Lead at the Royal Academy of Arts since the start of 2021. During this time, she has helped deliver significant infrastructure upgrades, the annual Summer Exhibition ecommerce platform (twice), and is in the process of aiding TNEW upgrade to version 16. With a background in product development in the telecommunications industry, this is her first role working in the museum and gallery sector, and she’s really enjoying delivery digital effect in such a creative and stimulating environment.
Jules began his career in the arts over 20 years ago, working for a London art dealer. Inspired by the challenges of technology adoption in the field he became obsessed with software development, building custom CRMs, websites and mobile applications. After a brief period working in the public transport sector he returned to the arts in 2020, joining the RA as technical lead, where he oversees software development and digital infrastructure.
Future-proofing your AI Museum Projects from an ethical point of view
Oonagh Murphy, Senior Lecturer Digital Culture and Society, Goldsmiths & Giuliano Gaia, IULM University, Milan.
AI has significantly impacted the world in recent years. Museums are now actively experimenting with it, both excited and cautious about its potential. More than other digital technologies, AI raises critical ethical questions that no cultural organization should ignore. The Museum+AI Network, initiated by Goldsmiths University and Pratt Institute in 2019, serves as a platform for connecting researchers and museums to address the ethical challenges posed by AI in museums. It also offers a practical framework for museum staff. The initial tool has been refined in collaboration with international museums in the UK, USA, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Dr. Oonagh Murphy from Goldsmiths University will introduce the network, and Giuliano Gaia from IULM University will discuss the latest AI applications in Italian and international museums from an ethical perspective.
Dr Oonagh Murphy is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Culture and Society at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is based within the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, where her research focuses on the scalability or emerging technologies for museums, galleries and cultural organisations. She regularly advises government, funders and museums on the responsible use of technology and is co-founder of the AHRC funded Museums + AI Network.
Giuliano Gaia has been working in digital communications for museums since 1995 and is co-founder of InvisibleStudio, a studio based in London and Milan fostering innovation in museums. Before InvisibleStudio, he founded the New Media Department at the Milan Science Museum and created Virtual Leonardo, an online 3D interactive world that anticipated Second Life and was mentioned in the New York Times. Giuliano is adjunct professor in Digital Communication at IULM University in Milan.
3:00 Future Proofing Q&A
Collection image metadata: Aligning documentation practices to respond to audience needs
Cassandra Kist, Research Assistant, University of Glasgow, Maria Economou, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, University of Glasgow, Chanté St Clair Inglis, Head of Collections Services, Pam Babes, Collections Data and Digitisation Manager, National Museums Scotland, Hannah Norfolk, Collections Data Specialist, National Museums Scotland & Angus Kneale, Collections Systems Manager, National Museums Scotland.
In this presentation we discuss the findings of a collaborative project between National Museums Scotland (the Museums) collections staff and University of Glasgow researchers on shaping the collections image metadata to be user-centred. We summarise our findings on how participants want to search/explore the collections through the Museums’ ‘Search Our Collections’ portal, drawing on a dataset of collection queries, online surveys, and interviews with users/non-users. Our findings expose the social and affective potential of online collections. In turn, based on a workshop and discussions with the Museum staff, we envision prospective changes required to the organisation and practices to incorporate and sustain user-centred metadata into the museum’s collections systems. The presentation thus, exposes how we might work with and against legacies of collection systems and associated practices to foster workarounds and innovations. We reflect on ways to prioritise and sustain user engagement with online collections that is sensitive to emotional and social memory-making processes.
Dr Cassandra Kist is a Research Assistant in the faculty of Information Studies at the University of Glasgow and during her PhD research, she was a Marie Curie Fellow in the Horizon 2020 European Union Training Network POEM (Participatory Memory Practices). Her research combines several disciplines including Anthropology, Museum Studies, and Science and Technology Studies, to investigate the overlaps and disconnections between cultural heritage, social inclusion, and digital infrastructures
Maria Economou is Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Glasgow, a joint post shared between Information Studies (College of Arts) and The Hunterian, the university’s museum and gallery service. She is Vice-President of the UNIVERSEUM Board, the European Academic Heritage Network (2017-2024) and Co-Director of the Digital Cultural Heritage Arts Lab at the University of Glasgow. She holds a British Academy/Wolfson Research Professorship (2022-2025) investigating emotional engagement with museum collections.
Chanté St Clair Inglis is the Head of Collections Services at National Museums Scotland where she leads the teams of conservation, collections care, collections management, analytical science, collections digitisation and the research library. She is responsible for setting the policies and procedures that underpin the Museums’ best practice work to manage, care for and share the collections. This ranges from managing hazardous materials in collections, acquiring, reviewing, and disposing of collections, to digitising and sharing collections online. She also plays a central role developing and facilitating cross-disciplinary research strategies, fostering external partnerships in Scotland, across the UK and internationally and securing significant grants to enable research projects.
Pam Babes is the Collections Data and Digitisation Manager at National Museums Scotland where she leads the Collections Data and Digitisation team which provides expertise for the digitisation and online sharing of National Museums Scotland’s diverse collections. This team has three streams of expertise: Collections Data, Collections Systems, and the Photography Studio. She is an information and collections management specialist with over 30 years’ professional Museum experience. She is responsible for the development, implementation, and management of the Museum’s collections information system and digitisation of the collections. Prior to joining the Museum, Pam trained as an Air Radar Technician with the RAF, working on various aircraft radar systems in the RAF and the private sector.
Hannah Norfolk is a Collections Data Specialist at National Museums Scotland, supporting and enabling the delivery of collections data programmes. She is also responsible for developing and delivering Collections Information System training and support, managing the collections audit programme, and supporting retrospective documentation at the Museums.
Angus Kneale is Collections Systems Manager at National Museums Scotland where he is responsible for the ongoing management and development of the Museums’ Collections Information System and its associated Digital Asset Management System. He has also been known to turn his hand to a bit of data wrangling when required.
Looking ahead so we can look back: legacy planning for digital projects
Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, British Library.
This talk presents two case studies of legacy planning for digital projects at the British Library: LibCrowds and Living with Machines. LibCrowds was a small but impactful crowdsourcing website, built on a customised version of Pybossa. Its final incarnation was launched by a digital curator and research software engineer at the British Library to host ‘In the Spotlight’, a project for crowdsourcing the transcription of historical playbills. Despite running on a shoestring with some additional support from another curator, it reached over 3000 volunteers who made over a quarter of a million contributions. When the research software engineer left the Library, their post disappeared, and over time the site became unreliable and hard to maintain. Rather than let the user experience for volunteers degrade over time, I made the decision to ‘sunset’ the site, capturing its functionality as best we could with web archiving software. I’ll reflect on the options for sunsetting participatory sites, and the lessons learnt from the choices we made. In contrast, Living with Machines was a huge, well-funded project, with a headline budget of £9 million and a team of about 25 people at any given time. Ensuring the legacy of this project was complex, with outputs ranging from derived datasets and machine learning models, to workshops and tutorials, to conference papers and published books. I’ll discuss how we approached legacy planning with the many stakeholders involved, and negotiated issues from copyright clearance to academic incentives and the perceived value of this work.
Mia Ridge is the British Library’s Digital Curator for Western Heritage Collections where she provides advice and training on computational research, AI / machine learning and crowdsourcing. Mia enables innovative research based on the British Library’s digital collections, offering support, training and guidance on applying computational research methods to historical collections. From 2018 – 23, Mia was a Co-Investigator on the Living with Machines digital humanities / data science project, leading public engagement with digital scholarship and heritage collections through crowdsourcing. In 2021, she co-authored The Collective Wisdom Handbook: perspectives on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage.
From single-use content to FAIR data: how the Museum Data Service aims to change the way we all work with collections
Kevin Gosling, Chief Executive, Collections Trust & Andrew Ellis Chief Executive, Art UK.
At a time when museums are under financial pressure as never before, it seems strange that expensively-produced outputs such as exhibition text or significance reviews are often treated as single-use, quickly gathering digital dust once the project that prompted them has finished. This is partly because many museums find it hard to manage collections-related information created outside their core systems. A new initiative from Collections Trust, Art UK and the University of Leicester aims to pave the way for an ecosystem of tools and services that will make it easy to create such content with one eye on future re-use. The Museum Data Service, which will have its beta launch in November, will bring together existing object records and make them accessible online, with persistent identifiers, as the raw material for a wide range of uses. That’s ambitious enough, but the service also aims to be a repository for new and enhanced records arising from those uses, created using new curation tools that interact seamlessly with the core MDS. In this presentation, two of the driving forces behind the MDS explain how it will work and invite museum and developer colleagues to take advantage of the futureproofing potential of this new infrastructure.
Kevin joined Collections Trust as Chief Executive in September 2015, having previously worked for the organisation (then the Museum Documentation Association) back in the mid-1990s. He is currently leading CT’s collaboration with Art UK and the University of Leicester to create a sustainable Museum Data Service that will pool millions of object records and share them as the raw material for countless public and research uses. Kevin was previously Director of Communications for Britten 100, the award-winning centenary of composer Benjamin Britten in 2013, and has also worked for the museum-planning consultants Lord Cultural Resources, the Museum of London, and in Norway and St Lucia. He is a Fellow of the Museums Association.
Andy has been Director of Art UK since 2003, responsible for the management and strategic direction of the organisation and plays a major role in fundraising. He was instrumental in transforming the organisation from being a publisher of hardcopy catalogues of oil paintings in public ownership to being the digital platform of the nation’s art collection, developing partnerships with the BBC, Oxford University Press, the Paul Mellon Centre, the Guardian and most recently Bloomberg Philanthropies. Andy sits on the AHRC’s ‘Towards a National Collection’ Steering Committee and until recently he was a Trustee of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. Previously he worked at investment bank Robert Fleming, subsequently part of JP Morgan Chase, in various equity research and management roles in London and Tokyo.
4:45pm Digital Preservation Q&A
PANEL DISCUSSION – FUTURE PROOFING THE MCG
5:30pm Panel discussion Q&A
5:45pm CLOSING ADDRESS
Dafydd James, Chair, Museums Computer Group
Join us for a Post Conference social at the Kings Head pub to continue the conversations…
[Address: Kings Head Inn, 10 Stafford Street, London, Greater London, W1S 4RX]