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Warwick and Leicester researchers help map the route to a highly skilled digital future for museums

logoResearch to explore ways of breaking down barriers to accessing museums

Research from the University of Warwick and the University of Leicester, being launched today in Vancouver, will help to transform the ways UK museums use digital technologies to share their collections and engage new audiences with their work.

Effective digital strategies can help museums make their collections more accessible, break down barriers to access, and find innovative ways to engage a wider audience. To do this well requires a high level of digital literacy among staff and volunteers.

A team from the University’s Institute for Employment Research (IER) and from CAMEo at the University of Leicester visited a range of UK museums to find out how staff and volunteers are currently using digital technology, and to investigate how demand for these skills is changing.

Their report is the first phase of the One by One project, an interdisciplinary project led by Dr Ross Parry from the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Dr Parry said: “This is an extremely timely and important piece of live research. The Government has recently challenged museums, within the wider culture sector, to reflect on how they might articulate and measure their levels of digital maturity and – specifically – to consider the digital skills needed for sector transformation. This is exactly what our One by One project is charged to do.”

Dr Sally-Anne Barnes, who led the IER team, said: “This important study offers a new approach to understanding and developing digital literacy in the UK museum sector. Today’s Phase One report maps 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."

The report finds:-

  • Museums have taken different approaches to developing and managing digital skills.
  • Museums are exploring, learning and demanding new digital skills to help them innovate and create with digital.
  • While all museum roles now have some kind of digital element, digital skills are not in ready supply throughout the museum workforce.
  • Museums typically rely on in-house and ad hoc training to develop digital skills among their staff and volunteers.
  • The need for a systematic approach to assessing and identifying skills needs is recognised but museums lack the time to do the work.

Dr Barnes added: “We have demonstrated that there is great potential to create a digitally confident museum workforce that can adapt and evolve with technology.

“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 testing practical activities that help build digital literacies.”

Dr Doris Ruth Eikhof from CAMEo said: “Digital skills are key to the cultural and creative industries – Arts Council England, the UK Government, and Nesta have all recently emphasised that. One by One asks how these digital priorities and opportunities for arts and culture play out in practice: how are museums staff driving digital innovation? How are they developing their digital skills? How are digital literacies changing the museums sector? CAMEo is delighted to provide, in close collaboration with colleagues from the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, new insight and inputs into this debate.”

Commenting on the broader aims of the One by One project, Dr Parry said:

“There is an exciting opportunity here to leverage research from the HE sector to make a substantive and poignant contribution to this strategic government priority. Our research can help deliver this change.

“The initial findings of the project, in this first phase, give us a fantastic starting point. We now have a high resolution and evidenced picture of exactly where the skills are in the sector and how they are being used and developed.

“It is this context that will allow us now to begin to develop a new national framework for digitally upskilling the UK museum sector.”

19 April 2018

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Sheila Kiggins

Media Relations Manager

University of Warwick

02476 150423

07876 218166

Alex Phillimore

News Content Officer

University of Leicester

0116 252 5761