Project lead, Ross Parry, gave a talk entitled ‘Building the digital literacies of the museum workforce’ at the Museum Computer Group’s Museums+Tech conference 2017: Museums and Tech in a Divided World, to introduce the project in November 2017.
Bridget and I were asked to think about looking back and looking forward and the themes that might emerge from the day so we’re thinking about today as a little microcosm of the Museums Computer Group generally and where we’ve been over the last, goodness, whatever is it, 35 years, and where we might go next, and I think we’ve been inspired by just some majestic, colourful, vivid, wonderful pieces of work right across our sector to give us a glimpse of where we are stepping to next.
The take I’d like to have just in these 5 minutes as a bit of a provocation is around skills, is around the competencies, the fluencies, the confidences and the literacies that we need as a sector to put a museum in a box, to build an escape room, to make an extraordinary first person experience, to create those amazing social media experiences that you’ve been describing today. To do all of those things, to be inspiring, to be entertaining, to be the educators that our missions tell us we are, we need an extraordinarily mature, complex skills set and I’d like to tell you a little bit about how as a community we can do that.
At the end of days like today, we typically switch business cards (Business cards? Am I the only one who has business cards?), we tweet, we say that we’re going to catch up with each other and we go back to our desks and sometimes we do. We want to do something different at the end of today. We want to launch something now. We want to launch a project for our entire sector that you can be part of, that will do something substantive and what I’d like to describe over the next 3 or 4 minutes is what I think is a little bit of a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us, as a museum computing community, to do something lasting in terms of our professional development and the skills set around digital for our workforce.
So this isn’t us just tailing off at the end of the day; this is actually about something really quite significant and important.
Over the last two or three years we’ve had a series of reports that have told us that despite our ambition, despite our creativity, we don’t have the digital skills that we need to meet the ambition of our strategies and the expectations of our visitors. From the new Media Consortium to NESTA to Arts and Humanities Research Council to Arts Council England, we hear from empirical surveys that what we have told those surveys that we don’t feel that we’re even 20 years on, 30 years on, actually 50 years on into our digital revolution that we are equipped with the literacies to build all that we want to build. At the same time we have Government challenging us to be better, we have a digital minister now who just last year stood up in a museum and threw down the gauntlet and said to the academy and to the museum sector and to the tech sector, “We need to work together. The people in this room, the constituencies represented in this room, need to come together to do something decisive, to transform.”
We have an Arts and Humanities Research Council that is challenging us as well. Their strategic priorities are around what is possible in our communities, in our constituencies with digital technology, what the network can do for cultural heritage, for developing identities, for sharing histories, for doing everything that we’ve described today.
So we have empirical data that says we need better skills, we want to be developing our skills and literacies. We have a government context, we have a policy context that’s challenging us, and now we have an industrial strategy challenging us to a new vision and we have a research council and a number of research councils that are willing to fund us together and build that digital literacy framework that will help us to be all that we want to be.
So today we are launching “One by One”. One by One is a £600,000 two-and-a-half year project involving 17 partners across the sector and it could involve you as well. One by One wants to build digital confidence and fluency within the museum workforce. We’re going to do this because actually we’ve been working really hard in a number of ways, and you’ve been working very hard in a number of ways, over the last 5 to 10 years. Culture24 have been extraordinary in the last 7 years, through the six iterations of Let’s Get Real that have done two things. Not only has it shown us and given us a data set of what we’ve achieved and what we want to achieve with digital but it’s also shown us a pattern of collaborative working, of action research, that shows how well we can work as an ensemble and as a collective.
We’ve been trying also at the same time to develop an intellectual agenda as well. We’ve been thinking very hard about what digital maturity means. We may not be a post-digital museum and maybe we won’t ever completely be a post-digital museum but we’re starting to think about what the traits are of digital maturity, to be after the beginning, to not just see technology as new, not just to see technology as something to be adopted, to be assimilated, an opportunity or a threat, something different and other on the periphery of our organisation but to see digital as embedded in our vision and strategy and policy and workflow and skills sets and modes of working and decision making. What would that sound like? What would be the characteristics of a digitally mature institution? We’ve been thinking hard about that over the last five years.
So we’ve also been talking to each other since 2014, the museum computing community here in the UK and in the US, our friends at Museums and the Web, have sat down and thought about what are the characteristics of digital maturity, digital confidence, and the Baltimore principles from 2014 where a number of us, and actually looking round the room, a number of you, sat down with training providers, curators, from around the world and thought about what are those characteristics of that digital skills set that we need in the 21st century. So we have that agreement, we have that manifesto, we have that intellectual agenda and we have that practical empirical data and ways of working from Culture24.
So this is what we are starting today. We’re thinking about those digital skills that we need within the museum workforce, we’re thinking about the assets, those technologies we’ve heard about today, the wider culture that digital sits within, the change that we want to effect within our society but also within our institutions and those varied experiences, we’re starting to think about how as an individual museum worker you might identify those assets, value that culture, manage that change and create those experiences. We’re starting to think about those characteristics that the digitally literate and the digitally fluent museum worker will have, both thinking about things that happen inside their institution and happen outside their institution and how you can be fluent in both of those discourses, how some of these things are things that exist in a context and some of these things are things we make. We’re learning how to articulate, finally, what it is to be digitally confident.
What we will do is, using practice-led research methods within a design thinking structure, and drawing upon all that great work that we’ve learnt from Culture24, we’re going to work together on a very ambitious project. We’re following design thinking so Hannah is one of the key members, one of the key leaders of the One by One project, and what Hannah has helped us to do is to see the benefit of conceiving the entire project as a design exercise, so we’ll be following those classic sort of sequences of empathise and define and ideate and prototype and test and share. That will be the sequence that we are going to work through over the next 2 years.
What we are going to do is this, and I’m going to summarise it in a minute and there’ll be lots of opportunities to talk about this in the months ahead, and possibly even the pub!
At the moment we’re working with the Institute of Employment Research at the University of Warwick who are putting together a bit of a landmark survey, benchmarking exercise, they’re doing an enormous literature review, gathering together reports from the last 10 years, understanding the data around digital skills. They are talking to you, they are running interviews and focus groups in museums to understand, give us a benchmark on what are the digital capabilities of museum workers today? Culture24 will then lead in our next phase a series of literacy labs across the country that will help us articulate what we think our needs are. What is it that we want to do? What is it that you need to do in your job? And what are those new literacies and confidences that you need so that you can build those incredible things that you’ve seen showcased today?
In the middle of the project we’ll then have a retreat where we’re all going to go to Derby! We’re going to go the Museum of Making, and we’re going to spend a few days with Hannah and we’re going to think together about what that digital literacy framework needs to be for our sector. And we’re going to design half a dozen projects. Museums are going to lead these projects and a network of digital fellows will then be embedded in those institutions for the best part of a year running projects that are strategically significant for that institution that will allow that institution to change, but together as a collective, as a portfolio and a suite of projects represent a wonderful testing of our hypothesis, and then right at the end we will give everything away. We will have a major skills summit with Arts Council; we’re going to Whitehall; we’re meeting with the Minister, we want to make a case for the funding that we might need, the strategic direction, the road map going forward, but everything that we produce on this project will be given away.
Think GLOs for digital. 15 years ago ‘Inspiring Learning For All’ funded by Resource MLA allowed the museum community to come together and to articulate why education is a defining part of the museum and how learning in a museum is different and important and needs to be funded. And what ‘Inspiring Learning For All’ did with the creation of those generic learning outcomes, is it created a consensual vocabulary, a common term list, a way of finally being able to differentiate in quite a mature and sophisticated way how learning happens in a museum and then work out the methods and tools we need together as a sector, as a workforce, to measure impact and so on. What those GLOs did that have become a standard, they’ve become a national standard, is that they’ve empowered us, equipped us, allowed us to have a conversation but most importantly or equally they’ve allowed us to have a consistent way of talking to policymakers, funders and to government. We have a joined up shared language and a shared set of principles around education and learning. It’s time to do that for digital and that’s what we are going to do.
One by One has a number of partners and I will stop here. But we’re very lucky that as well as a number of fantastic university departments, including the glorious School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester (I’m contractually obliged to say that!), we have six museums that have put up their hand and have said, “We want to be part of these action research projects” and with in-kind support they are going to mentor and lead those digital fellows. We also have all of the agencies we need, from the Museums Association, Arts Council England, Association of Independent Museums, Museum Development Network, Collections Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund – who have I missed? Culture24! – we have gathered together everybody we need. This hasn’t happened before. We’re looking forward to telling you more about One by One. I think one of the comments and papers before was about ‘Start the Fans’, I’m going to look to the back of the room to Sej and Anra and say, “Release the Tweets” because we want you to go and have a look at what we’re starting to say on-line. If you want to be part of this, if you want to help us shape the digital literacy framework so we have that clear articulation of what digital fluency is going to be for our workforce and then help us build our on-line set of tools that everyone will be able to use for free afterwards, then you should get in touch with us.
Thank you very much.
Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Digital)
University of Leicester