Over the next 16 months, I will be facilitating a variety of research activities, answering the question: How can digital technology aid more empathy and equity in museums?
Track 1 involves activities that are modular in design, meaning participants should not feel pressured to engage in each activity, but focus on engaging in those activities of interest to them and that best fit within their schedule.
Through a combination of:
- Book Club
- Literacy exchanges
- Digital Commons (‘One by One’ online community) engagement
- Periodic Table of Skills (PToS) workshops
- Individual and group listening sessions
I am using the Digital Commons (the ‘One by One’ online community space) to research-out-loud; meaning, I am introducing concepts in the Digital Commons and using events such as a monthly book club and open workshops to work through and test various ideas and approaches. This research track is not dependent upon case studies; rather, it is a blend of discourse analysis, action research, and grounded research.
What is the value in participating in these research activities?
- Connect with museum practitioners from around the globe and exchange perspectives, knowledge, and practices;
- Develop a deeper understanding of what is need to achieve and embed digital capabilities within your organization; and
- Contribute to the design of the Periodic Table of Skills (PToS) and related resources.
The research will culminate in the creation of the Periodic Table of Skills (PToS). This tool identifies the business, digital, and emotional skills essential for achieving digital maturity. The PToS may be used by individuals, teams, and organizations to assist in embedding digital literacy into all job roles and functions; the development of right-size job descriptions and professional development and performance plans; and the identification of employee / user experience design of internal intranets and communities of practice / interest.
This research continues my ongoing scholarship into the study of emotion and empathy within digital skills development in museums. Building on other institutional studies developed since ‘One by One’ began, we have found digital literacy and overall maturity is achieved when emotional skills are combined with business intelligence and digital skills.
We hope that this research will provide a tool and set of resources that will aid in the discussion of how digital skills do not belong to the select few; rather, digital skills are a part of every museum role and responsibility. The Periodic Table of Skills (PToS) will help to develop a new vocabulary and language around digital skills to help organizations rethink, reimagine, and reframe organizational hierarchies, job descriptions, job compensation, hiring processes and practices, continuous professional development, and performance evaluation.
The following research activities are planned as part of this research track:
- [Public] ‘One by One’ Book Club: Each month, we have selected a non-fiction (business literature) book that aligns to the epic or subject of the PToS capabilities being explored [during that time period]. Each week, we will share related resources and unpack the themes of the monthly book selection within the Digital Commons. Then, at the end of the month, we invite you to take part in a discussion about the book. Please see ‘Events’ for a listing of all Book Club discussions planned for 2021.
- [Public and Private] Capability Building Workshops and Literacy: The ‘One by One’ Book Club discussions may help us unlock elements we might add to the PToS and / or identify the elements necessary to achieve various capabilities and digital maturity. It is through additional workshops (one per epic cycle), we will ask you to join us in thinking through what skills are needed, why and when [do we apply these skills], to achieve meaningful change and impact. We are not creating a laundry list of skills. We aim to visualize and discuss how these skills may improve our hiring process as well as performance and development planning, so that we may embed digital literacy across the organization.
- [Private] Literacy Exchanges: We will conduct a series of guided knowledge exchanges between a senior leader and museum practitioner with expertise / experience of the capabilities being explored [during the epic time period]. This research activity will help us consider how we might develop exercises using the PToS to cultivate digital literacy and leaderful practices across all levels / roles of the organization.
- [Public and Private] Individual / Group Listening Sessions: At the conclusion of each epic cycle, we will ask a series of questions summarizing and testing what we have observed.
- [Public] Resource Development: Similar to what we produced during the first ‘One by One’ project, we will develop a series of snackable tools and resources that may be used in tandem with the PToS. These tools and resources will not be one-size-fits-all; rather, we will produce materials specifically for the individual, team, and [small, medium, and large] organization.
As a ‘One by One’ research associate, I will live into our ‘One by One’ values by being
- ethical – not just through its adherence to the University of Leicester’s ‘Research Code of Conduct and Good Practice in Research’, but by committing the project to the minimum amount of air travel, and instead modelling behaviour for sustaining a successful transatlantic multi-institution partnership using online collaborative tools;
- equitable – by consciously including museum practitioners outside of the project’s formally named partners via the ‘Digital Commons’ (the ‘One by One’ online community space) and early career practitioners from museum training programmes such as SUNO (one of the US’s ‘Historically Black Colleges and Universities’) and the University of Leicester (with its current Museum Studies cohort from over 14 different countries), and therefore continuing to question ‘who is in the room’ when questions of digital transformation and issues digital research are being framed;
- expert – by working with practitioners and academics alike (each leading at different parts of the project, each bringing key insights), and by recognising in the ‘Digital Commons’ that expertise sits with many different communities of interest and practice (early career practitioners, technologists, leaders and curators) – all of whom can help us to answer our research question, shape our partnership and identify our future collaborative research projects together;
- expansive – by partnering with both the established communities of practice for digital heritage (the MCN and MCG) and the wider professional bodies in both countries (the AAM and MA), ensuring that the discourse and application of the project remains relevant to more than just the eight partner (UK and US) museums initially at the centre of this research; and
- experimental – not just in the use of the action research interventions at the Smithsonian Institution as tests, but by placing a design idiom at the centre of this research investigation, using ‘Design Thinking’ as the logic and structure to allow the project partners to research-out-loud via the ‘Digital Commons’ and work imaginatively and courageously with these issues of digital transformation and leadership.
Here are the reasons I am committed to examining and tackling narratives of systemic oppression in the cultural and heritage sectors:
- because I am committed to equitable workplace practices and continuous professional development;
- because I am committed to building and enabling inclusive conversations and communities; and
- because I am committed to being a better human, advocate, and ally.
In this spirit, I will use the Digital Commons (‘One by One’ online community) and a series of individual and group listening sessions to ensure the voices of a diverse set of museum professionals from across the USA and UK are part of an equitable and fair co-creation process to build the Periodic Table of Skills (PToS). Part of the research-out-loud approach is to ensure the openness and transparency of the research methodology and findings.
By day, Dr. Lauren ‘L’ Vargas is a digital dragon wrangler with 20 years experience assisting organizations with their community and communication strategies. Vargas is an independent researcher and consultant of Your Digital Tattoo, as well as, a ‘One by One’ Research Associate with the University of Leicester – delivering a “practical approach to building digital literacies within specific museum contexts” for UK and US museums. As a communications professional and adjunct university instructor / lecturer, Vargas enables organizations and students to engage with the communities they serve by fostering authentic relationships built on trust and dynamic dialogue.