With a history that goes back to the late 1960s, the museum sector is about to step into its second half-century of working with computers.
Over that time the advent of digital technology has changed the way we manage collections, do research, shape exhibitions, and build relationships with our audiences.
But despite fifty years of computer-enabled advancement and transformation in the ways museums work, the sector as a whole still lacks digital confidence. We still don’t have (or at least we don’t think we have) the digital skills we need to meet ours, and our visitors’ expectations.
Why does this lack of digital confidence exist? We believe it’s because of an existing mindset, prevalent across much of the museum sector, that assumes digital skills relate to specific technical skills.
This approach regards the key digital challenge for museums as needing to react to a changing set of specific hardware and software technologies. To address this, museums create specific projects relying on particular competencies that only a few IT professionals can master.
This creates a relationship with digital that is reactive, narrow, siloed and disconnected both from the needs of audiences and the wider needs of museums, resulting in a fundamental lack of digital confidence across the museum.
We think it’s time to confront this squarely. And that’s what the ‘One by One’ project is aiming to do.
There is a key assumption at the heart of the project that we think will help us to improve museums’ digital confidence.
Put simply, it goes like this: we need to shift our outlook from thinking narrowly about ‘technical skills’ to thinking much more widely about ‘digital literacy’.
This is not about generic technical skills that drop down from a higher national skill set or curriculum. Instead – crucially – these are digital literacies that grow from below, out of the needs of individuals in professional settings within specific institutions.
This shift is about moving from the mindset of developing technical skills within a small specialist group such as IT teams, to instead cultivating digital literacies within everyone’s roles within the institution.
This means not just becoming competent in knowing how to use one particular type of program, e.g. being able to write just for Twitter, but rather developing the confidence to write for and work with lots of similar applications, platforms and social media channels as they come and go.
It’s about not seeing these as particular skills to be deployed within the context of specific projects but rather as generic literacies that are always present and active in the work of the entire organisation.
This means moving from museums considering their digital challenge as being simply about how they must react to changing hardware and software systems, to more strategically examining how they remain relevant to audiences who are operating within a changing digital culture.
In other words, this is about shifting from just thinking about the technology and how to use it, to thinking instead about how we value digital, how we manage it, how we think and create with it. It’s about people in museums being informed, reflective, responsive and active around digital.
In short: it’s about moving from digital competency to digital confidence.
Working from this assumption, and flipping the current model, our project is about building a digitally fluent museum workforce, from the ground up… one by one.
For more on why the One by One project is so necessary – see the current gap in museum digital literacy.