Reflections on the One by One research

Our latest guest blog post was written by Fiona Talbott, Head of Museums, Libraries & Archives Policy UK at the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A reflective mirrored sculpture inside a historic hall with a black and white chequered floor

Reflective artwork at Cartwright Hall (c) National Lottery Heritage Fund

For the past few years, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has been a partner in the One by One collaborative digital research project. In that time, I have attended two ‘Research Retreats’ that turned out to be two of the most stimulating and creative exercises I’ve ever participated in.

This has made me reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt from the project process and content – and what they mean for a museum funder.

I came in to this research on the back of an internal report that looked at the digital projects which the National Lottery Heritage Fund had funded since our 2011 digital policy change. A key feature was the lack of confidence and skills in museum staff at all levels of the organisation. One by One offered an opportunity for us to be part of an initiative that looked at how to shift thinking and practice to embed what we called ‘digital literacy‘ in museums.

From the beginning, a people-centred design approach was used to define the propositions we wanted our Digital Fellows to address. Shout out to Hannah Fox of Derby Museums, who led us through the process with energy and enthusiasm! What struck me was how vital it was for us to work this way.

If we couldn’t define propositions that were people-centred, then how could we expect museums to build their digital literacy to be people- rather than technology-centred?

The final propositions look at digital confidence through different lenses, moving away from the reactive, narrow, siloed, disconnected approach. From the Heritage Fund research findings, this is exactly what is needed. As funders we need to support projects where digital is part of the weft and weave, rather than an add-on or too removed from what the museum is trying to achieve overall.

The other striking feature I’ve noticed is the changes that the Digital Fellows have made with their host museums. We talk about culture change, and how it is often a long-term process – however, the Fellows quickly became embedded in their host organisations and set about culture change. I was particularly taken by their fearless approach of bringing together the pertinent people who needed to be involved in the action research. That idea of involving everyone who can help shift the approach of a digitally confident museum is a strong learning point coming out of the research.

Thinking back to the two Research Retreats, the predominant issue that ran through all of our discussions was putting people at the heart of digital work, whether that be in understanding how to nurture digital confidence or how to design digital products and services.

For the Heritage Fund, this is a key lesson to ensure digital is fully integrated into our continued commitment to funding high quality projects.