Please note that this is an archived event
Museums+Tech 2022: Turning it off and on again
Friday November 11 2022
One Birdcage Walk
Westminster, London SW1H 9JJ
What does ‘digital’ mean to the museum of 2022? How have user needs changed and how have museums responded? What were the successes and failures from the digital interventions of 2020? We’ll be discussing this, and more, at this year’s conference.
2020 saw cultural heritage organisations produce a multitude of digital responses to events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ongoing climate crisis.
Two years on, what is the legacy of these digital interventions? Has the disruption to visiting a physical space resulted in embedding long-term digital initiatives that have persisted following reopening, or have they been abandoned in a bid to recreate the ‘old normal’?
Our 2022 conference seeks to discuss the varying situations and strategies across institutions, sharing best practices for digital futures, telling cautionary tales, and situating digital cultural heritage within the wider political and financial landscape.
The MCG Committee is proud to present a truly hybrid conference, with a mix of in-person and remote presentations. We hope that this allows all of our community to participate.
10.00 Welcome and introductions
- What was that? Reflections on two and a half years of change within the cultural sector
Kati Price; Head of Experience and Digital at the V&A
As well we know, museums – and the wider cultural sector – experienced a massive shift in the context in which we work and live. And that shift had a lot of consequences – some good, some bad, some temporary and some more permanent. Kati will reflect on the impact these have had, both individually and collectively, on the work we do and how we do it.
11.00 2-minute silence
11.30 Session 1: Organisational change
- Impact Areas and best practices regarding the maximisation of the impact of digitisation of cultural heritage. The importance of Digital Cultural Active Participation
Maria Tartari (IULM University), Pier Luigi Sacco (Università degli Studi “G. d’Annunzio”), Chieti Pescara (Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche, Pedagogiche ed Economico-Quantitative), Federico Pilati (IULM University), Francesca Manfredini (EFHA)
In the present paper, we propose a conceptual framework for CHIs’ impact assessment, showing how active digital cultural participation in 8 specific areas could support new strategies for change development. After assessing what is the role of digital technologies in promoting and facilitating cultural participation (also considering the dynamics of the attention economy and the role of social skills and capabilities), we advanced computational social science analyses aimed at understanding which is the behaviour of a vast amount of users in open digital platforms (Wikipedia, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, A03). The results converged on the same point: there is still a considerable active participation gap. This led us to develop an Impact Areas framework that shows, according to a wide collection of literature and best cases, the benefits that active participation in various cultural activities in the digital sphere can generate, touching the following 8 spheres: Innovation and knowledge, Welfare and well-being, Sustainability and Environment, Social cohesion, New forms of entrepreneurship, Learning society, Collective identity, Soft power. For Museums and CHIs, embracing this new perspective can foster their role as change-makers for empowering their communities of reference, working as a civic arena for developing new capabilities, psycho-social skills, and practising paths of democracy and social justice.
- Recruiting collective intelligence to level the contemporary art world’s stratified distribution of prestige and value: how online collections could potentially impact the actual art system
Stephanie Bertrand (ICS-FORTH)
Although online collections have been around since the mid-1990s, museums are still deliberating how best to exploit these growing databases to benefit stakeholders. This talk proposes a new use for online, digitised, art collections beyond providing an expanded public with access to images and information about physical artworks. It argues that these increasingly interconnected collections have the potential to transform the unjust distribution of prestige and success in the actual art system by recruiting collective intelligence on a mass scale to generate alternative value for different artworks than the ones promoted by the system. The claim is that online collections could be used to offset some of the perverse effects of the contemporary art world’s gatekeeping mechanisms by opening up its access barriers to institutional recognition, and help foster more equality and diversity in the milieu. Yet, this cannot be achieved by creating open platforms devoid of gatekeeping mechanisms, nor using altmetrics (views and likes) to capture user preferences. The main issue with these strategies is not findability. Designing interfaces that enable non-expert publics to discover diverse artworks is vital; but, if the goal is to ensure more equality and diversity in the art world, then the main obstacle is the network effects biasing individual judgment. Given these effects, the answer is not to relinquish institutional control and defer to public taste. The proposed solution is to involve users in a choice-based task recruiting their sensemaking faculty instead of their personal taste through a precisely curated, choice-based, pathfinding tool.
- Digital is our everyday reality, digital preservation should be too
Somaya Langley (Science Museum Group)
The memory sector is keenly aware of the need to preserve digital content in cultural heritage collections. While cohesively packaged as ‘GLAM’ (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), in comparison to archives and libraries, museums have taken longer to consider establishing digital preservation practices.The Science Museum Group (SMG) has recently commenced its digital preservation journey. Utilising lessons learnt across two decades of digital archiving and digital preservation activities in libraries, archives, audiovisual archives, and broadcasters, SMG is attempting to fast-track digital preservation maturity and capability across the organisation. SMG is currently defining and establishing its Digital Preservation Programme. This includes resourcing a project team to implement digital preservation technical infrastructure – incorporating an integrated Digital Preservation System and preservation storage – processes, and workflows. Alongside policy development and governance arrangements, practical techniques include maturity modelling, benchmarking, and implementing decision-making tools for curators to use when acquiring digital content.For museums to ensure the long-term sustainability of their digital content, preservation needs should be ‘baked in’ as early as possible. This includes preservation considerations when proposing potential acquisitions, indicating the digital content’s complexity (eg, dependencies, limitations, and vulnerabilities) in order to determine acquisition approaches. SMG has recently begun using a ‘Digital Content Assessment Tool’ – a self-created and iteratively developed Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – which is guiding born-digital acquisitions under consideration. While it is early days, SMG is factoring in other organisations’ experiences, while simultaneously sharing recently established processes and considerations.
- From the top: ACMI’s CEO Digital Mentoring Program
Seb Chan (ACMI), Indigo Holcombe-James (ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society)
Responding to the pandemic and changed demands on our cultural institutions, in 2021 ACMI launched a national pilot program to develop the technological literacies of cultural CEOs and senior leaders. Designed as an intervention to a decade lacking real progress in wide-scale digital transformation across the arts and cultural sector, our approach in directly addressing CEOs was drawn from lived experiences of many failed digital initiatives. We also drew on earlier work by Culture24 and others to respond to an identified gap in existing initiatives. These typically work from the bottom up (eg, curriculum development) or with existing staff (eg, PD programs). This program, instead, targets those already in the highest positions. The pilot revealed the value and need for this type of intervention resulting in an expanded program in 2022. Key to the initiative is a parallel program of research. This is exploratory and qualitative, and sets out to document not only the program’s processes, but to tease out where the value lies through leaving space for unexpected findings. Presenting this data, we explore outcomes and experiences of participating CEOs and senior leaders and make recommendations for its replication in and across other jurisdictions.
12.15 Session 2: Collections
- Momentous: redefining crisis through digital engagement at the National Museum of Australia
Craig Middleton (National Museum of Australia), Caroline Wilson-Barnao (University of Queensland), Lisa Enright (University of Queensland)
COVID-19 has highlighted an urgent need for museums to develop and implement policies and practices that allow them to be more responsive to audiences’ needs during a crisis, in many cases pushing them to explore new technologies and approaches. Based on an analysis of the National Museum of Australia and its digital engagement throughout the 2019/2020 bushfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic this paper will discuss some of the contemporary logics and mechanisms at play when collecting during a crisis. Referencing ‘Momentous’, a purpose-built website, and two Facebook groups ‘Fridge Door Fire Stories’ and ‘Bridging the Distance’ we explore the content shared on these platforms by users and place this in conversation with the reflections of the cultural workers who created and maintained these online platforms. We claim that historically museums have long responded to their communities by seeking out new ways to provide collection access but suggest that we are witnessing the emergence of new approaches enabled by technologies that allow communities to take a more active role in negotiating how the museum represents their experiences.
- Place, from a distance: using digital media to go local
David Weinczok (National Museums Scotland)
Objects in a museum’s collections are often a natural focus for digital media activities – but what about the places the objects come from?International audiences have long been fascinated with Scotland’s historic landscapes and communities. Domestic audiences, partly due to pandemic lockdowns making knowledge of ‘the local’ more integral to day-to-day life than ever before, are no less enthusiastic. How can museums’ digital media tap into this desire to understand and explore the world immediately around us?One approach is to tell the stories of specific places, using objects from our collections as the connecting thread rather than the focus. Over the past two years, National Museums Scotland have experimented with ways to do this, including on social media and in editorial content such as blog posts, videos, and ‘Explore’ webpages.
In this lightning talk, Digital Media Content Producer David Weinczok will discuss the guiding principles behind this experimentation, give examples of how following it has broadened our digital reach beyond our traditional, core audience, and explain how it influences our approach to online storytelling.
- New normal = same to dos, new pressure, different angles
Amy Adams (National Museum of the Royal Navy), Karen Clarke (National Museum of the Royal Navy)
COVID-19 transformed the National Museum of the Royal Navy approach to digital, in that, it convinced internal stakeholders of the importance and value of digital. For the practitioners on the ground, with this understanding already, did it actually change our priorities? Probably not. It has however increased the pressure and intensity on digital work and projects to deliver.More importantly the cultural change which also occurred during this time, with the Black Lives Matter movement, has led to key work in the National Museum on better addressing the legacy of the British Empire within the Royal Navy’s story as well as wider Equality & Diversity initiatives. For those in collections it kickstarted crucial work reviewing how we record, describe and make available our collections.Amy Adams & Karen Clarke will discuss their experience of delivering the National Museum’s first Digital Asset Management system, made possible by the pandemic. As well as their current Collections Online project which has had a massive overhaul in approach. Lessons learnt including: finding ways to positively reframe new demands, continuing to make the right case for digital, and how to start addressing inequalities and the legacy of the British Empire in collections information, will also be covered.
- Cyberattacks: the reality, the trauma, and how to survive. A case study from Hackney Museum
Niti Acharya (Hackney Museum), Rebecca Odell (Hackney Museum)
In October 2020, following the upheavals and digital transformations with COVID-19, the London Borough of Hackney was hit by a devastating cyberattack. Staff at the small council run museum were confident they were following best practice in securing their digital data and assets. However the unexpected realities and complications of an actual cyberattack saw the loss of years of work and has far reaching consequences that still affect every bit of the museum’s work today.Hackney was not the first museum to be victim to a cyberattack, and certainly won’t be the last. So let us be your canary down the mine as we talk you through what the experience is really like, what we wish we had known in advance, and how you can survive over the first days, weeks, and months.
13.00 Lunch and AGM (13:20)
14.00 Session 3: User experience
- How social media users experience museums’ posting on social issues
Sophia Bakogianni (Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens)
Museums traditionally have been reluctant to engage in contemporary debates on critical social issues. They have evaded taking sides, and most times have chosen to stay silent and be risk-averse (Sandell, 2012). Furthermore, the absence of museums’ engagement in contemporary debates and social issues in the realm of social media is striking. In the wake of the anti-racism and Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe in summer of 2020, many museums felt compelled to stand up for racial justice, and issued statements of solidarity and relevant posting on their social media accounts. The same period, I conducted a mixed-methods study for MoMA’s official accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which I took as a case study for the needs of my PhD thesis, employing both surveys, interviews and observational analysis of posts and comments to understand users’ experiences when they interact with museums on social media (Bakogianni, 2021, 2022). This paper presents findings from this larger study about users’ perceptions towards museum postings on social issues. Museum followers are split towards MoMA’s engagement on current issues, however both users’ and MoMA’s approach towards events that marked the summer of 2020 show the direction that museums could follow to tackle social issues through their social media accounts.
- The new phygital normal: case studies from India
Shalini Bansal (Museums22)
COVID-19 changed the approach of Indian museums and their patrons towards adoption of technology to solve problems especially around visitor experience. However, the success of any solution lies in its validation by users over time and this is no different.We will present case studies to showcase the response of both the frontend user-museum visitor and the backend user- museum staff. We believe this marriage of tech with the traditional museum sector can be expected to survive well, perhaps because the solution put out there lies at the intersection of great user experience and efficient simple backend management.While many museums were ready to invest in technology and go the digital way, in Indian museums, the staff may not always be tech-savvy enough or equipped to manage the tech. We devised solutions to work effectively and sustainably as an external agency with every museum addressing all apprehensions of the museum teams to win their trust.
Museums were keen to put out their repository of information for all the world to see beyond the boundaries of geography, time zones and then, lockdowns. However, one was also keen to make best use of funds and balance short-term with long-term goals. Our affordable and flexible structure of collaboration and solutions promised that comfort and the outcome is evidence enough.
We conclude by urging museums to invest in smart tech and let today’s solution drive tomorrows decision- make agile, data driven and tech driven decisions instead of relying on intuition.
- A shot in the arm for QR Codes in museums
Adam Coulson (National Museums Scotland)
QR codes in museums & galleries draw strong reactions from many in the GLAM community. The COVID pandemic has given these little black & white squares shot in the arm, but how can museums ensure they’re used considerately and enhance the visitor experience? Adam Coulson has been testing out how best to present QR codes to visitors so you don’t have to. This talk highlights some of the pitfalls and offers a set of design tips based on user data from experiments with QR codes at National Museums Scotland.
- 12,000 sheets of paper per week
Sian Shaw (Westminster Abbey)
‘This project has the ability to save a significant amount of money and reduce paper usage in the organisation by 12,000 sheets of paper per week.’What a way to be given a digital project manager brief. It’s September 2020. While the Abbey had wanted to reduce paper waste and printing costs for a while, when the pandemic required us to reduce physical contact too, it was time to put this idea into action.Great for people’s health, great for the environment and great for the purse strings, so it’s an easy decision. But here’s the challenge: introduce digital order of services in Westminster Abbey when everything you know about church suggests is one of the few times people want to put their phones away. In short, people might not like it.
So, how do you go about designing and developing a new digital product with a very limited budget and an audience who potentially aren’t interested? When your product is meant to be simple, meant to reflect what’s already available on paper and solves a problem that your audience might not want solving, it’s time to go back to basics.
14.45 Session 4: Innovation
- Balancing enhancement, innovation and invention
Katherine Woollard (National Trust)
The pandemic made us put the brakes on digital development, only making essential changes which enabled us to keep operating. This placed a big challenge on how we developed the strategy we needed to adopt to move back into delivery, being at least 2 years behind where we wanted to be and with a huge backlog. With limited budgets how do you balance the areas to focus on for making improvements to what’s already there, the places to try new but established technologies and where to test the truly inventive and disruptive?Understanding the audience has to be at the core of this, and taking the opportunity to look across the existing estate to see where it can be simplified to free up the resource and headspace to not just maintain but move forward. Being clear on priorities and what we will and most importantly what we won’t do based on good quality data. And taking a ring-fenced approach to innovation and invention to make sure those elements aren’t lost in the constant stream of enhancement asks.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning for the analysis and enrichment of digital collections
Dr. Nicolai Bohn (Navigating.art)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) provide immense potential to increase accessibility and findability of digitised collections for both cultural professionals and non-professionals. AI and ML allow for image analysis, information extraction, and semantic understanding in huge text corpora combined with a presentation of extensive collection data in new ways. Building on the learnings generated from several digital collection projects, AI and ML methods will be presented that were successfully applied to increase accessibility and findability (ie FAIR data principles) significantly. Further ongoing work addressing opportunities for the analysis and presentation of digital collections will be presented to provide an outlook.
- Smart Museum. Cultural Heritage in the Virtual Space
Harald Klinke (LMU Munich)
When museums were closed during the lock-down, museums struggled to connect with their audiences, to display items from their collections and stimulate a societal discourse about culture. The reason for this is often the lack of a front-end for the virtual space besides the website. This presentation shows how to build a foundation that enables access to open data, a multi-front-end strategy, and real-time feedback from users.
The physical museum space is viewed as a front end to the public. The presentation shows how to present the museum where the audience is as well: in the virtual space. Based on practical experience in the museums of the city of Dresden, where the speaker is the digital manager, this lecture shows how objects already in a database can be made accessible online as structured data via a defined interface (RestAPI) in a machine-readable format, how to build an infrastructure that meets both internal and external needs and to generate synergies through cooperation with natural partners. Based on this interface, various ways of exploratory access to the collection can be developed, such as accessing it via websites, apps, digital signage, citizen kiosks, etc. In addition, the data is used for hackathons and data harvesting processes such as the Europeana. The museum’s micro-service thus becomes an integral part of an open data strategy of the organisation such as a municipality. In this way, the diverse cultural heritage of the museums is made accessible to a larger public and brought into new, virtual contexts.
- Towards inclusive digital museum innovation: theoretical and practical issues around the digital transformation of museums
Raffaella Cecilia (UCL), Theano Moussouri (UCL), Young Yim Doh (KAIST), Juhee Park (KAIST), Seyeon Lee (KAIST), Ellen Pavey (UCL), Chenxing Zhao (UCL), Karam Eum (KAIST), Jungwha Kim and Pooseung Koh
In a post-pandemic society, digital transformations of museums have been accelerated in various ways, from the digitisation of collections to the development of virtual exhibitions in the metaverse. However, technologies are not neutral and digital methods do not work for all. Publicly funded cultural institutions must ask who is left behind by such digital innovation and how to bring about the digital transformation needed to meet changing needs and audience demographics in a sustainable, socially responsible and ethical manner.Towards Inclusive Digital Museum Innovation, an international research network funded by the UK-ESRC, explores inclusive approaches to the digital transformation of museums. The network brings together researchers from UCL (UK) and KAIST (Republic of Korea) with seven partner museums in the two countries. The aim of this project is to bring Korea’s advancements in digital technology and the digital game industry into dialogue with the UK’s socially engaged museum practices in order to explore inclusive approaches to museums’ digital transformations.This paper identifies theoretical and practical issues around the digital transformation of museums from a digital inclusion perspective, and shares initial findings and key themes based on initial interdisciplinary discussions among the network, promoting knowledge exchange for an improved understanding of digital leisure. The paper aims to motivate museums to take actions to mitigate global challenges of digital inequality and digital divide in society, improve our understanding of digital ethics regarding museum practices, and explore the potential benefits of digital gaming toward equity, diversity, and inclusion in museums.
16.00 Closing panel: Funding digital – what two years worth of data tells us
Chris Unitt (One Further), Mike Keating (Art Fund), Sarah Briggs (Museums Association), Georgina Brooke (One Further)
In 2020-1 Art Fund and Museums Association, like many other funders, gave away much more digital funding (and with far fewer strings attached) than ever before.
‘We felt comfortable funding untested projects… everything was at that point’ (Art Fund).
The question, at the start of 2022, was to what extent is the field more ‘tested’ now? What lessons from the last two years help us understand more about the moment we’re in now, and how best to support funded digital projects in the future?
So began an eight month research study undertaken by One Further and Cultural Associates Oxford, seeking to understand how museums can:
- measure the social impact of their digital work
- identify, understand and diversify their audiences online
- monetise digital effectively
Ultimately this project sought to determine what an effective post-pandemic digital strategy looks like and the key drivers of success on funded digital projects.
Through the use of the grant application and funding record, alongside a sector survey, expert interviews, and Action Learning sets with grant recipients, this project has identified key insights and sector learning, including:
- Not all audience development projects make sense digitally
- There’s no set standard or best practice way of evaluating the social impact of digital projects
- The sector’s biggest self-identified weakness is around strategy, which creates ripple-effect problems around resourcing, prioritisation and having a defined role for digital
This panel will unpack the findings from this project and draw conclusions about what makes a successful funded digital project in 2022 and beyond.