Track 2 involves the undertaking of a year-long ethnographic study of the Science Museum Group (SMG) exploring the everyday digital practices and behaviours that occur across the organisation and its workforce.
Through a combination of:
- qualitative one-to-one interviews
- small focus groups
- podcast recordings
I provide a safe space for the workforce to reflect on their feelings and attitudes towards digital change at SMG. While the voices of those working directly with digital technology in the institution are of interest to this research, the aim is also to explore the invisible and intangible labour involved in such activities within the museum, and to listen to those who don’t necessarily have ‘digital’ within their job title or job spec.
The research will culminate in a podcast series exploring the multi-faceted and future-focused role of technology at SMG (where the podcast format acts as a live research output in and of itself). This builds on previous podcasts – People. Change. Museums. (2020 – 21) and Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums (2020).
This research continues ongoing scholarship into the study of emotion and empathy within digital technology practices in museums at a time of widespread precarity. Building on other institutional studies developed since ‘One by One’ began, we have found an ethnographic survey of digital activities provides a richer understanding of the interplay between work processes, social relations, emotional labour and interpersonal connections underpinning museum work in general.
We hope that this research will provide a moment of reflection and pause for SMG in an otherwise challenging time. It will help to develop a new vocabulary and language around digital technology, and to embed this in parts of the organisation that tend to struggle to be convinced by the significance of technology in their work. We also hope that it may benefit the outward profile of the museum, further positioning it as a thought leader in the field of museum technology and research.
Since June, I have engaged with a range of staff members across SMG’s five physical sites to discuss the complex and nuanced role of technology in their work. It is clear that digital technology touches every area of this organisation, and that SMG is an institution worthy of in-depth study in relation to this topic. Having initially proposed a two-month period of study, I wish to extend my research period at SMG as there are so many areas of the organisation deserving of further exploration in terms of what they reveal about everyday practices of digital in museums – from the Wikimedian-in-Residence project to the ‘One Collection’ initiative, from the increase of online exhibitions held on social media since the pandemic began to the move to a more digital product focused culture at the Group.
Examples of imbalance in terms of diversity, access, equity and inclusion will be inevitable in this research track, as with any investigation of cultural work in 2021. Drawing on the words of Layla F. Saad, 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 anti-oppression and the dignity of all peoples,
- because I am committed to being a better friend, colleague and ally,
- because I am committed to my own personal values of equality of access to arts and culture for the benefit of our common humanity.
In this spirit, I will speak to the broadest possible range of staff members and volunteers and try to construct a dialogue which is frank, open and honest about the challenges faced by museums and cultural organisations in enabling continuous equality of access. The issue of digital poverty and how museums as public institutions can serve those who do not have access to technology is a central component in my research, never far from the surface in all questions I ask.
I am a researcher, writer and lecturer currently working as a Research Associate for the ‘One by One’ initiative at the School of Museums Studies, University of Leicester (UK). For over 10 years I have been collaborating with leading cultural institutions internationally to help them reflect on creativity, participation and change in their workforce and working practices. Working at the intersection between Visual Culture, Cultural and Creative Industries Studies, Museums Studies and Arts Management, I have worked with high profile organisations including Southbank Centre, British Film Institute, Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove and the Smithsonian Institution.