We all know that times are tough in the heritage sector. There’s less funding, less time, fewer members of staff. The impact has been felt across the board, in all aspects of museum work – particularly when it comes to digital activities.
The Digital Culture 2019 report, published by Nesta and ACE, has highlighted all of this in a handy 46 page report. But I’m assuming that you’ve not had time to read it, so I thought I’d outline the highlights below.
The main report focuses on the arts and culture sector as a whole, but they’ve also published an 11 page factsheet for museums. I’ll give you the highlights, and a few thoughts, from both reports.
Arts and culture report
The Digital Culture report covered a lot of ground for the arts and culture sector, from income generation to r&d. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in that report, but for the sake of brevity I’ll highlight five things that stood out (in no particular order).
Arts and culture organisations are still struggling with online ticket sales
In the previous report (2017) 52% of organisations were selling tickets online. That number is now 48%. Not a huge drop, but considering audiences are far more likely to purchase tickets online these days, you’d expect the % to be trending upwards, not downwards.
Now this is a fairly sweeping statistic for the sector, as it’s obvious that some organisations (theaters) are far more likely to sell tickets for events than others (libraries). So logic would dictate that some arts and culture organisations would not see the need to invest in online ticketing platforms. Therefore you wouldn’t expect the percentage to be that high (though I would expect it to be higher than it is).
However, check the Museum Computer Group’s JISCMail discussion list once or twice a month and you’ll soon realise that finding an appropriate online ticketing platform is a real struggle for many organisations. Art Fund’s new free ticketing platform, ‘Art Tickets‘ may be the answer for some, but not all.
Small organisations and distributed digital skills
Something that really popped out of the report was that smaller organisations are more likely than larger organisations to have distributed digital roles / skills. Now, it’s definitely worth unpacking that.
Kati Price and Daffyd James conducted some really interesting research into the structure of digital teams within museums. In their paper ‘Structuring for digital success‘, a distributed model was seen as an aspiration for the majority of organisations surveyed. So, the fact that smaller organisations are more likely to have distributed digital skills is a good thing, right?
Not so much. The problem here, (and I’m making this statement based on my experience of working with smaller museums to help develop their digital skills), is that this distributed model has been forced upon smaller organisations. Smaller organisations have distributed digital skills because of a lack of funding and support for digital within their organisations. Members of staff in smaller organisations have those digital skills because they have no choice. If the curators, front of house team, learning managers, directors, volunteers, do not have those skills, or don’t build those skills on the job, ‘digital’ will be overlooked. Which it often is.
Income generation and digital
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the report about income generation and digital within the sector. But something that jumped out for me was the growing divide between the ability of larger organisations to generate revenue using digital compared to smaller organisations.
It’s not surprising that larger organisations see more potential for revenue generation through digital than smaller organisations. What is surprising, though, is that in general smaller organisations are seeing less of an impact from digital on revenue generation than they did four years ago. There’s a number of reasons for this, but I think that one of those could be the cost and complexity of using digital to generate revenue.
It all comes back to the funding landscape. Over the last few decades there’s been money for flashy digital projects, but very little for digital infrastructure. Smaller organisations can’t afford (or don’t have the skills) to implement CRMs, to integrate online ticketing platforms, or to use data effectively. Particularly when there’s historically been little funding for them to develop those skills or those platforms in the first place.
Leadership and digital
It’s no surprise that leadership and digital features quite prominently in this report. The report highlights how the majority of organisations feel that leaders are getting less confident with digital.
What is interesting, though, is that respondents feel that their managers are less knowledgeable about digital now than they were in 2013. Quite significantly less.
There’s a number of factors at play, here. From funding, to priorities, to skills, to the increased prevalence of digital within society as a whole. Perhaps it’s not entirely that managers now know less, but that we as a sector now have a better idea of what we don’t know, than we did in 2013. Plus, there’s a lot more digital stuff to not know about now than there was 7 years ago. That doesn’t make it any less of an issue, of course.
Museums factsheet report
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the issues highlighted in the general arts and culture report are also relevant for the museum sector. But, nonetheless, here are three standout points from the museum factsheet report.
Mobile optimised websites
Let’s start with some good news! The number of museums with a mobile optimised presence has greatly increased since 2013 (unsurprisingly but still encouraging). In 2013, 29% of surveyed museums had a mobile optimised presence, now that number is 65%. There’s still a way to go, of course, but the increase is encouraging.
Barriers for digital
When compared to the overall sector, museums were more likely to perceive barriers to their digital aspirations. Of the 15 potential barriers listed in the survey, museums ranked higher in 10 of them.
The two biggest barriers for museums are staff time and funding. Interestingly, staff time was a bigger barrier than funding, but I believe that the two go hand-in-hand. More funding would give museum workers more time, more time would give museum workers more opportunities to apply for funding.
It’s clear, from the data, that museums feel pressured by a lack of in-house digital skills, as well as a lack of support for digital from managers. There are organisations that are trying to address these skills gaps, but progress is slow in many areas. In the last few weeks, a number of organisations have launched initiatives to help bridge this gap – I made a handy overview in my newsletter, if you’re interested.
Using data to inform strategy
Since 2013, the number of museums using data to inform their strategic direction has dropped quite considerably. In 2013, 57% of surveyed museums were using data to inform their strategy. Now, just 33% are using their data strategically.
Again, there are potentially a multitude of reasons for this. GDPR could well be one of them, perhaps due to the uncertainty caused by the new laws and what museums can and can’t do with the data they collect. Another reason for the sharp decline could be the wealth of data available and the increased access to it. As a sector, we’re getting better at knowing where we can gather data from, but we have less time to do the gathering and analysis of that data.
There’s a lot of really interesting stuff in these reports and I’d definitely recommend having a browse of the Museums factsheet, if you’re doing digital in the sector. Admittedly, the findings are fairly grim (though it does depend on the spin you put on it).
Something that is exciting, though, is that investment in digital skills and literacies is probably at the highest its ever been, with the recommendations from the Culture is Digital report (2018) leading to some rather exciting initiatives. Fingers crossed the next Digital Culture report will be far more positive.