The only way to achieve something is to believe you can achieve it and work hard to achieve it
In response to the challenges posed by the digital forces that museums and galleries must tackle, I believe that it is possible to adapt organisations and their staff to the new ways of working in a blended digital-physical world. Luckily, evidence points in the direction that it is people who make change, not organisations, and a positive change needs the right people at the right time doing the right stuff. Easier said than done.
It happened, just as I was having all these thoughts, that I attended a Mobile Experiences: Cultural Audiences (ME:CA) event organised by Frankly, Green + Webb and Martha Henson at the British Museum yesterday where Fiona Romeo, Head of Design and Digital Media at the National Maritime Museum, gave a talk about, well, exactly that. She confirmed my thoughts and beliefs when she pointed out that there is no shortage of digital ideas in the museums, but also that ‘no one takes the (digital) role in the museum to work only on the website’. Fiona also reminded us that ‘it is not enough to design brilliant digital projects without the organisational change’. Existing digital skills are, in her opinion and mine too, currently still being underused, brought into projects too late in the day and where the action is inherently happening, ‘where digital meets physical’ – which practically means just about everywhere.
While she definitely wanted to champion and broaden the remit of ‘smart digital folks’ within the museum, she didn’t think she needed a digital strategy, but as she was expected to write one, she included best practice examples and used it to get a buy-in at the top of the organisation. She also used it as an opportunity to articulate new approaches, such as open-by-default and inclusive design. It certainly helped for her to present some mind-blowing digital trends to back up her arguments.
When it came down to applying strategic thinking, she shared some insights into practices she used at the National Maritime Museum. One of those was a list of ten design principles to guide the whole organisation through digital productions of all kinds. I see no reason other than a bad habit why this simple list of principles shouldn’t be used in any institution, no matter how big or small, to aid collaboration and use them in meetings to help spread digital literacy.
What I thought was really crucial to her success is that the National Maritime Museum’s digital strategy set out a number of catalytic projects outside of the website domain that the department would lead on.
To me, the most influential factor for the success of this digitally forced change at the National Maritime Museum was the willingness of the decision-makers in the museum to embrace this new way of thinking, move away from the idea of digital as a servant, and let highly digitally literate to lead the way into the ‘digital within physical’ future. The change in thinking meant that digital folk were suddenly present everywhere and leading multidisciplinary teams. Fiona also seemed to think that digital folk are the best networkers and strategic thinkers. I am sure not all of us are, but I think that the nature of our roles means that anyone who manages the holistic web presence for a museum would have had to take care of the user experience of every possible type of visitor as well as their interaction and engagement with the institution. Digital folk have always taken great care of the museum website’s visitors.
Fiona reminded us of Dan Hill, who in his book, Dark Matter and Trojan Horses, uses the ‘dark matter’ as a metaphor for constraints surrounding the digital staff. The solution is, according to Fiona – and I could not agree more – in engaging with the dark matter and blending in via a creation of multidisciplinary teams.
After embracing many a dark matter on the way, the largest outcome of this new direction, is the Great Map, a digital-physical floor installation in one of the museum’s biggest spaces, due to open in time for Easter half-term break. Talk about great timing for a family-targeted product!
It sounds so impressive that I cannot wait to take a stroll with the kids through the Greenwich Park and experience it myself.
Tijana Tasich currently works as Digital Producer for Tate where she leads the digital production team. She was the project lead and information architect for the Tate’s website which was relaunched in April 2012. Tijana studied Art History but eventually got a degree in Arts Management.
You may also be interested in reading:
Villaespesa and Tasich (2013) Meeting the real user: evaluating the usability of Tate’s website. Museums and the Web 2013: Proceedings.
Villaespesa and Tasich (2012) Making sense of numbers: a journey of spreading the online metrics culture across Tate. Museums and the Web 2012: Proceedings.