by Natasha Hutcheson, Regional Museums Development Manager, SHARE Museums East
‘Digital technology’, it seems to me, is fast becoming an overused phrase in the world of museums development, and the cultural sector in general; it is too generic. When the phrase ‘digital technology’ is used, it usually results in a level of incomprehension. There is no clarity as to what it means, largely, I assume, because it means anything and everything digital; from developing a comprehensive organisational digital strategy, through to creating a one off YouTube film (no mean feat in itself!). I have also noticed that many museums (and by museums, I really mean the people who work in them) have a tendency to freeze with anxiety when digital technology is mentioned.
So, having thought around the subject of digital technology and workforce development for some time, and having undertaken various pieces of work with varying success rates, I have come to the conclusion that we need to think about digital technology differently. We need to break it down into its component parts and start to think of digital technology as a tool-kit.
We know, for example, that as public organisations, one of the areas of work we are often engaged with is marketing and audience development. To have a dialogue with our audiences, we often reach out for a range of ‘paper-based’ tools, such as visitor books and exit surveys. But, we can also reach into our digital toolkit and pull out, for example, our social media and website tools to facilitate a dialogue – and we can use website analysis tools to better understand our online audience. When considering our best approaches to collections management, we need to take out our CMS tools, such as, for example, MODES or EHive. At this point, we can start thinking about how our collections tools can be related to our audience development tools – can we put some of our collections on line – and then tweet about them? To make this happen, do we need to delve into our digital toolkit and take out our digital camera and start making digital images of some of our collections?
Now, I am sure my analyses and suggestions are over simplified, but I do think it is important to get to a place with digital technology where it is does not become overwhelming, but instead becomes part the toolkit we have to deliver the best museums we can. And rather than starting with what should we do with ‘digital technology’, we should head back to our organisational forward plans and see how we can use various digital tools to deliver our goals.
So, reflecting the ‘let’s unpack the toolkit’ approach to understanding digital technology, SHARE Museums East will be providing support in this area of work in a number of ways. There will be social media training opportunities, and opportunities to undertake ‘point and shoot’ collections photography training. We also have an offer from one museum in the East of England to provide a session exploring digital storage. We will be producing a short report on digital strategies, and will aim to provide signposts to other digital resources. We will also be experimenting ourselves, and might have a go at producing a Wiki, and we will feedback our experience! Finally, from here on in, we will be keeping a regularly updated blog – which in the first instance will roll out the diary of our ‘virgin tweeter’. So please do follow, and if you would like to share your experiences in any areas of using digital technology, please do offer to guest blog for us. And, go and have at look at our Digital Ideas Bank, and keep an eye out for digital training opportunities on the next SHARE Museums East training calendar.