Digital strategies for museums

Paard van Troje, Pieter Jalhea Furnius, Gerard van Groeningen, Gerard de Jode, in or before 1571, Bildquelle: http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.446197

Paard van Troje, Pieter Jalhea Furnius, Gerard van Groeningen, Gerard de Jode, engraving in or before 1571, Image: http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.446197

The digital as new challenge for (german) museums
In the past years digital media has gained more importance for museums and exhibitions. Next to classical online communication like websites and newsletters new fields like content management systems, digital management of collections, digitalisation projects, target-group-specific development of applications to e-commerce and e-publishing have developed. The digitalisation affects communication concepts, IT structures, human resources and sales channels within the own institution, but is also reflected by new patterns of behaviour of the audience. Since long digitalisation arrived in show rooms and museum departments and challenges the own “digital mindset”, the individual readiness and ability to embark digital media methods. This new digital field increasingly asks for a professional and profound attitude and “grammar of action” and an experienced eye to the “digital audience”: Ideas about spaces for action and interaction, target groups, social communities and habits of reception of the audience. The multitude and complexity as well as the fast pace of these digital developments ask for new professions, operation cycles, human resources and budgets. And for a grounded and holistic strategy for the process of development, conception, monitoring and management accounting.

The digital strategy for museums
If someone searches for a implemented “digital strategy” in cultural institutions one travels around the globe to a handful of big or smaller institutions, who engage exemplary within the field. Tate (London) is the most distinctive player and started working on a respective strategy as early as 2010. Each version of this strategy can be found online on Tate’s webpage and are documented in the different stages of development: „Digital media are an important channel for inspiring, challenging and engaging with local, national and international audiences“.
The Smithsonian Institute (USA) also shapes a whole landscape of digital perspectives of development. Between 2009 and 2014 they accompanied the whole process of finding an adequate strategy with an own wiki: „For the Smithsonian to remain a vital institution at this important time in our history, we need to fully engage younger generations with our collections and our knowledge. We need to use new digital technologies to their fullest potential so that we can fulfill the Smithsonian’s 19th-century mission—‘the increase and diffusion of knowledge’— in a thoroughly 21st-century way for the benefit of all Americans and people around the globe.
As early as 2007 the Victoria museum in Melbourne (AUS) framed a published “digital strategy” online: „A dynamic online presence that integrates and coordinates knowledge sharing, discoverability and access”. Also worth reading is the digital strategy of the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh (USA), published on the public file hosting service GIT-Hub, which is designed as a “living document”. This approach shows the essential conceptual respective journalistic dynamic of such a strategy: „The digital strategy is designed to be a living, organic document that can evolve as technology rapidly evolves the world around us“.
Also in Germany there are more and more institutions, which deal constructively with the issue and publish relevant statements. In the last years the Frankfurter Städel designed their “digital extension” as real alternative within their educational and meditational mandate. With a whole phalanx of initiatives the museum clearly marks their position: „Durch den faktisch unbegrenzten digitalen Raum wird die Reichweite der Aktivitäten des Städel um ein Vielfaches erweitert, sodass Sammlungs- und Ausstellungsinhalte mit einer völlig veränderten Skalierung vermittelt werden können und sich der Wirkungsraum des Museums signifikant vergrößert. Der physische Perimeter des Museums wird überwunden, ein uneingeschränkter globaler Zugang zu den kunsthistorischen Inhalten und Forschungsergebnissen eröffnet“.
Also the Deutsches Museum in Munich realised the challenges of the 21th century and in 2010 started a initiative: „Das Deutsche Museum Digital spiegelt diesen Wissenskosmos im virtuellen Raum, schöpft das Potential mit modernen Methoden der Wissensverarbeitung aus und macht es so den Menschen auf der Welt verfügbar. Neben der reinen Verfügbarmachung liegt der Schwerpunkt des Deutschen Museum Digital auf der semantischen Vernetzung der Bestände von Objektsammlung, Archiv und Bibliothek, die die mannigfaltigen Beziehungen zwischen den physisch getrennten Abteilung erst sichtbar macht.“ In July 2015 the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin published a medium term online strategy and described it in a statement with three cornerstones: „Ein Forum zur Stärkung der Partizipation (…). Ein Knotenpunkt für Online-Recherchen (…). Ein Kompetenzzentrum zur Vermittlung (…)“.
Although the digital strategy of the museum of Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg isn’t documented completely by now, it can be described concretely: „(…) Als besonders wichtig wird eine übergeordnete Vision und Zielsetzung erachtet, die das Digitale nicht isoliert, sondern als Querschnittsaufgabe für alle Bereiche des Museums sieht. Für die Zukunft brauche man aus Sicht des MKG neben den bereits zum Teil festgelegten Richtlinien für bestimmte Grundlagen der Digitalisierung und Prozesse, die Möglichkeit flexibel zu reagieren und zu experimentieren. (…) die Bedeutung des digitalen Wandels (wird) als sehr hoch bewertet. Es wird als Selbstverständlichkeit betrachtet, diesen in alle Bereiche miteinzubeziehen. Ein Museum spiegelt die Gesellschaft wider und diese ist heute digital (…)“.

Shapes of a digital strategy
A digital strategy defines and controls all structures, activities, projects, resources, competences and valences as well as cost and benefits, which a museum introduces in the digital media and combines it in a ideal cooperation (“grammar of action”).
This approach is to be understood as fundamental, long-term and sustainable. The digital strategy is a task crossing various fields and should be developed holistically meaning including all departments in a cultural institution also if affected in different manner.

Work tasks and fields of competence in the context of the “digital strategy” of a museum

Work tasks and fields of competence in the context of the “digital strategy” of a museum
© Christian Gries 2016

Digital strategies should ideally be implemented cross-media, meaning it should be designed to cross different social networks and platforms: digital strategies cover the “classic” web with the production and editing of content (‘strategy of content’), allocative functions of marketing online like SEO (“Search Engine Optimization”) and SEA (“Search Engine Advertising”) and channels of communication in social media and in email marketing.
Also projects for digitalisation, databases, cooperation in using content, projects in the field of electronic publishing, e-commerce, e-ticketing, Open Access and development of applications (apps) should be included in digital strategies.
The digital strategy also defines the internal “mindset” of a museum and thereby essential parameters and structures for implementation for all digital, technological (and probably also legal) questions. A digital strategy formulates all these positions towards the own institution and the public. It defines the interaction with the local IT (topics like wi-fi) and aspects of the immediate technological infrastructure on site.
Digital strategy also focuses on “customer journey” and “customer experience”, meaning the touch and interaction point of the visitor in the interplay of real and digital spaces. In interaction with the different departments of a institution concepts, structures and narratives, connecting work of collection, exhibition and mediation with immersive and participative approaches should be developed as a digital strategy. Ideally this strategy is agile, eager to experiment with new ideas and reacts quickly on actual topics in technology and society.

Logo_neu_h112The project at the Landesstelle
In September 2015 the Landesstelle für die nichtstaatlichen Museen in Bayern brought a new project into being which analyses and advises Bavarian museums in their online performance in the course of the next five year.
Criteria of a holistic online strategy will be researched within the local, national and international field: preconditions, targets, platforms and tools, benefit dimension, efforts and criteria for success. Main focuses are classical websites and accompanying tools like newsletters, blogs and social media. In collaboration with selected museums in Bavaria a holistic online strategy will be developed, which can be implemented autonomous. This concept can bring orientation and instruction for other museums. The results of the pilot experiment will be presented at the 20th day of Bavarian museums (20. Bayerischer Museumstag) in July 2019. Interim results will be presented at different conferences about which I will also report in this blog.

Hashtag for digital strategies: #DigSMus
A few months ago I introduced the hashtag #DigSMus and will tag posts (and hopefully not only I but other will follow – thanks so far to Peter Soemers) which contribute information and inspiration to the topic.


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