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One by one: building the digital literacies of UK museums

‘One by One’ is a 30 month national digital literacy building project for UK museums of all sizes and types.
It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is led by Dr Ross Parry at the University of Leicester. The One by One project website has up-to-date information on the project.

Early findings - now available

Barnes, S-A., Kispeter, E., Eikhof, D. and Parry, R. (2018). Mapping the Museum Digital Skills Ecosystem Phase One Report. Leicester: University of Leicester. ISBN 978-0-9933380-8-3.

Parry, R., Eikhof, D., Barnes, S-A. and Kispeter, E. (2018). Development, supply, deployment, demand: Balancing the museum digital skills ecosystem. First findings of the ‘One by One’ national digital literacy project. MW18: Museums and the Web 2018 conference, Canada.

What is ‘One by One’ aiming to achieve?

‘One by One’ aims to help UK museums of any size better define, improve, measure and embed the digital literacy of their staff and volunteers in all roles and at all levels. By introducing a new approach to digital literacy understanding and development, this project aims to create new organisational mindsets in museums to help support their digital transformation needs.

The project also aims to practically up-skill all staff and volunteers (not just those in technical roles) with comprehensive, on-going, formal and informal digital learning initiatives covering a range of professional and individual digital literacies, enabling staff to more confidently embed digital skills and knowledge in their work.
Specifically the One by One project will design and test a practical digital literacy framework for the UK museum sector.

Why is this project is critical for the museum sector?

This project is needed to address the lack of digital skills within museums and other cultural organisations, highlighted in numerous recent studies and reports (e.g. Digital Culture Report 2015, NMC Horizon Report 2016 Museum Edition, 2015 Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value) as a major obstacle towards cultural organisations achieving their digital ambitions.

Recent discussions about how museums can become more responsive to digital change (See ‘The Baltimore Principles’, launched at recent Museums and the Web Conferences) indicate a shift in the way they need to think about digital training. Museums need to develop their thinking:

  • From being about ‘technical skills’ around specific forms of technology, to being about ‘digital literacies’;
  • From digital training being ‘about technology’, to being ‘with technology’; and
  • From ‘reactive training’ within an institution (where skills can become siloed), to ‘strategic improvement and professional development’ across the whole institution.

Whilst these recent studies and discussions identify the digital skills and literacy gaps within museums, none go onto define what these are, nor what the most effective interventions to realise them could be. This represents an important ‘capacity gap’ that the ‘One by One’ project aims to fill.

How will the project run?

The project advocates the use of human centred design principles, and this is demonstrated within the project’s own methodology. Therefore the project will pursue the following steps:

  • Empathising with museum needs, through researching existing museum digital skills provision.
  • Defining what museum digital literacies are required to meet museum needs.
  • Ideating and Prototyping a practical model of digital literacy building within museums.
  • Testing out the prototype model within partner museums of different functions, sizes and locations.
  • Sharing the final proposed museum digital literacy framework with the sector.

Who is involved in the project?

The programme will be managed as a partnership between The University of Leicester (School of Museum Studies), Culture24 and six museums, including:

  • National Museum Wales
  • National Museums Scotland
  • National Army Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Derby Museums
  • Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove

Additional academic research input will be provided by CAMEo, the Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, University of Leicester; and the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick.

In addition the project has gathered an important group of strategic stakeholders to represent the needs of all museums, provide vital advisory support, and to share and implement the project’s key findings. These are Arts Council England, Museums Association, Association of Independent Museums, Museum Development Network, Heritage Lottery Fund, National Museum Directors’ Council, Collections Trust and Nesta.

The project is also advised by two noteworthy international scholars in the field of digital heritage, namely Phyllis Hecht (Director of the MA Museums Studies program, John Hopkins University, US) and Vince Dzeikan (Director of Graduate Research in Design, Monash University, Australia).

One by One is also thrilled to be partnering with FutureLearn who will host the key output of the project, namely an open online professional development resource focusing on building the digital literacy of museum professionals.

Empathise - Phase one

Working with Dr Doris Eikhof (CAMEo, University of Leicester), IER have interviewed over 50 people working in the museum sector and visited six museums in England, Wales and Scotland. This research has allowed us to map the ways that digital skills are currently supplied, developed and deployed in the UK museum sector and has also pinpointed important changes in current demand for these skills.

Our findings highlight how digital responsibilities and skills are managed and shared by those working in museums. Museums are evolving and are using specialist digital skills to co-create share and tell stories about their objects and collections to enhance engagement with online and physical visitors. Importantly, museums are exploring, learning and demanding new digital skills as they innovate and create with digital.

The phase one findings offer museums and the cultural sector an opportunity to reflect on their own digital skills and how they can be used to take advantage of digital. The next phases of the project will start defining, prototyping and test practical activities that help build digital literacies.

The Phase 1 report is available to download.

One by One logo

IER Team

Dr Sally-Anne Barnes

Dr Erika Kispeter

CAMEo Team

Dr Doris Eikhof, University of Leicester

Principal Investigator

Dr Ross Parry, Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Project duration:

September 2017 - February 2020