Ten steps to managing change

Notes From the Mu.SA Conference in Rome

On a warm Italian midsummer day, the Link Campus University hosted the Mu.SA project conference Re-designing Museums: Digital skills for change and innovation. The aim of this conference in Rome was to discuss the results of the research findings on digital competences for museums summarised in a Decalogue. Ten points identified in this document not only concern museum sector, but also policy makers. More investment in training, resources and creativity is needed to assist museums in digital transformation.

Achilles Kameas, professor at School of Science & Technology, Hellenic Open University and the Mu.SA project leader, opened the floor by presenting the project. Antonia Silvaggi from Melting Pro and Claudia Matera illustrated the Digital transformation Decalogue and set the scene for the discussions to follow.

Duncan Gough, Tech Lead at Victoria and Albert Museum (UK) and Paolo Cavallotti, Head of Digital at Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (IT) shared with the experiences on how they overcame the digital competences gap in their museums and presented the strategies they adopted.

Be careful with the wording, we’ve learned from Duncan, a former start-upist. While redesigning the website in the museum he preferred not to talk about a digital transformation because it could have scared people. Instead he decided to adopt an agile process by including different voices from different staff in the design process. What’s his role as a tech lead at V&A? He is both a digital mum for the team and a technical leader, creating creative moments for the team to generate new ideas! Download his presentation here.

According to Paolo Cavallotti change in his museum started by rethinking the role of the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia. Inclusiveness and audience participation are the cornerstones of the digital strategy of this museum, a tool to accomplish their vision “create the conditions to make the scientific method a way of thinking and a way of life. Download his presentation here.

In order to create conditions for change, museums need to have a vision, an action plan and required skills and resources to achieve the aim. Bridging the world of culture with the tech world is an important step, we’ve learned from the keynote speakers. These arguments opened the round table, managed by Valentina Tanni, Artribune. Anna Maria Marras from Technology Commission ICOM Italy, a digital technology project manager from 2014 talked about her project “ The Liquid Museum in Cagliari”, that also tackles the problem of digital sustainability issues. According to her experience one of the most important points of the Decalogue is to support continuing professional development and to build digital confidence for the whole staff of the museum.

Cristina Da Milano, representing both Eccom. Idee per la cultura and Culture Action Europe, talked instead about the issues which she came across over the last three years, while carrying out the “Study on audience development – How to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations”, a research project commissioned by the EU Commission with the double aim to understand the problem of limited cultural participation. The research also aimed at providing practical tools to cultural organisations on how to place audiences at the centre of their activities.

The study collected an extensive bibliography on audience development and analysed real case studies. According to Cristina da Milano, the digital element can contribute to diversify, increase and deepen the relationship with audiences. The case studies analysed by the research team, however, showed that with few exceptions, digital tools are mainly only use for online communication. “Institutions still do not have idea of the potentials. Therefore there is a strong need of capacity building,”- concluded Da Milano.

Natalie Giorgadze Communications and Community Director at Culture Action Europe underlined the role of cultural sector to lead the societal change and be aware of their power. “It is important to be engaged and informed about the tools, funds or initiatives, the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 being one of those.  After 10 years we have been given the opportunity to bring culture at the centre of the public debate once again.” Some of the themes of the year are engagement, innovation and emerging professional profiles. The initiative is going to be launched during the European Culture Forum in Milan in December.  8 million Euros are allocated for capacity building initiatives in Europe through a call of proposals, that will be launched in the second half of the year under the Creative Europe programme.

When asked what is the situation in Italy regarding the relation between museums and digital Margherita Sani from Istituto Beni Culturali della Regione Emilia-Romagna argued that Italy has implicit strategies. Her institution has done a lot in terms of digitizing information on collections for example. This implicit strategy included training of museum professionals and projects to develop digital tools in order to better appreciate heritage. Moreover she added, “In Italy we do not have the privilege to hire somebody from the start up world. We lack an agile labour market that could be brought inside to activate new ideas.” Going back to the Decalogue, 2 points arouse her attention- mental shift and rethinking the role of museums. Digital allows more people to participate, creates the space to experiment and make mistakes. Curiosity and appreciation of trial and error should be considered as illustrated in the publication of the Centre of the Future of Museums “TrendsWatch 2017”. Margerita Sani finished her intervention with a quote from Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Alexandre Matos from ICOM Portugal and Sistemas do Futuro, continued the conversation by underlining other important aspects. “In this time of change museums are under stress, and because they are low pace institutions mostly owned by the state, it is difficult for them to cope. They would like to have more opportunities to contribute to this change, yet they are burden by bureaucracy. Instead they should be able to focus more on developing digital projects like the ones we saw today.He finished by adding that digitized collections are important for the development of a digital strategy. The government has a responsibility to contribute with guidance for museums to face the challenges with new technologies.

In Greece the situation is different, explained Artemis Stamatelou from ICOM Greece. Since 2000 a huge digitization effort was carried out by the government. This effort included also the use of storytelling techniques to communicate to the public. “This was an opportunity to think about the collections differently.

Prisca Cupellini, Online Communications and Digital Projects Curator at Fondazione MAXXI, explained that their digital strategy started when the museum was still closed, they started by telling the audiences how the MAXXI Museum was build. She argued that “when digital skills are going to be fully part of our skillset we will not need to have this distinction, between digital and not digital professions”.

Achilles Kameas closed the conference with the following final consideration: “Considering that 42% of European people have no digital skills, (Digicom 2.0 framework), it is  important to train museum staff in digital competences. However, the Mu.SA project is more focused on providing advanced digital skills according to the role of the staff within the museum. One of the controversial topics in the sector is the issue of outsourcing. Some profiles in the museum sector have been always outsourced , but today we observe that they become fully integrated within the staff. We expect the same will happen for the Digital Strategy Manager, the Digital Collections Curator, the Online Community Manager, and the Digital Interactive Experience Developer.

You can watch the videos of the conference on our Mu.SA Facebook page here!