Project #3 (2021-2022) Modelling new digital leadership in museums

It is people who drive digital change in the museum.

Irrespective of the focus on ‘technology’ (on hardware and software, standards and systems, products and platforms), it will, in fact, always be the leaders and curators, partners and stakeholders, who enable the digital capability of museums.

And yet, the lived professional experience of individuals inside the organisation, in the workforce, around digital change is little understood, much overlooked, and frequently generalised upon. Plainly put: the very dimension that we now know is fundamental to digital change in the museum, is that about which – in our scholarship and practice – we know the least.

Moreover, at a time when museums are not only attempting to understand new forms of visitor participation and digital experience, but are doing so within a moment of both institutional and individual precarity, this need to understand the human (and not just the technical) dimension of museum digital change, becomes crucial.

And so, it is to this issue – and this gap in our knowledge of museum digital maturity – that this project looks. Project #3 is an 18-month, multi-partner, transatlantic research collaboration, bringing together cultural institutions, academics and professional bodies to open new directions for leading empathetic and equitable digital change in museums at a time of institutional and individual precarity.

The project asks what new models of ’empathic leadership’ might be needed to enable the holistic institutional adoption of (and adaption to) digital, as well as which inequalities exist in the landscape of digital change in museums, and how can these be confronted. In doing so, Project #3 attempts to initiate a retelling of what successful digital leadership in museums looks like – in human and not just business and technological terms.

This research confronts and articulates a new set of questions on equity, inclusion and diversity within the digital workforce, workplace and culture of museum digital change, re-locating museum technology as a socially purposeful subject and set of practices. In this way, the project is leading an ’emotional turn’ in museum computing and digital heritage, characterised by a new sensibility to the emotional labour, affective practices and personal storytelling underpinning digital work in museums.

Led by the University of Leicester and Southern University New Orleans (and supported by Harvard University and JohnsHopkins University), Project #3 is a unique research collaboration, bringing together the leading sector bodies in the UK and US: the American Alliance of Museums with the UK’s Museums Association, and the Museum Computer Network (US) with the Museums Computer Group (UK).

At the core of the project is a transatlantic partnership of cultural organisations, with digital leads across the Smithsonian Institution partnering with their counterparts in the Science Museum Group, Victoria and Albert Museum, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and National Museums Scotland.

Driving this practice-based research of Project #3′, are ‘3’ researchers following ‘3’ key themes (on ’empathy’, ‘precarity’, ‘equity’), through a series of live interventions within the working environments of the partner museums. Real-world tests of new approaches to leading digital change.

As well as producing a series of practitioner-facing resources, a new reflective podcast series for the sector, and the synthesis of its findings into a cohesive ‘Framework for New Digital Leadership in Museums’, Project #3 will also partner with its policy-making and industry collaborators (that include Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Culture24) to produce a ‘Sector White Paper’, setting out the challenges and opportunities for UK and US organisations as they lead digital change (empathetically and equitably) in these times of individual and institutional precarity.

You can find more information about the phases of Project #3 here. You can also find out about the first track of the project here and the second track of the project here.