Digital challenges (for heritage, for the cultural sector)

Are we, the organisations, adapting ourselves well to the digital environment? Undoubtedly, a lot of progress has been made and there are successful initiatives and notable efforts have been made towards knowing how to live, or survive (?), in the new setting. But are we doing enough? And are we doing it well enough?

Digital users. New York. Photo: Conxa Rodà

My head is still swimming from the many ideas and conversations that arose in the Conference  Future paradigms for  feedback on cultural action at the University of Barcelona, I will share some of those that I explained at the roundtable “The digital challenge”, that I had the honour of sharing with Dolors Reig, Rafa Millan and Jaron Rowan.

We all know that the Digital Culture is very new, that we still haven’t gone very far, and what’s more, it’s continually changing and everything moves very fast.  It is therefore not strange that there is some uncertanty, fear of changes, the amount still unknown, and a certain creative chaos.  Faced with the ubiquitous possibilities of lifelong, participative, and digital learning, how are the museums and cultural centres positioned?

To the transformation of habits of creation and cultural consumption, the organisations should respond with an offer that fulfils the expectations. In general lines we have various fronts and challenges.  Here I mention a few, although not in order of importance or of execution, because to do so well, I believe we need to progress with all of them simultaneously.

digitisation (still): we have digitised a lot, numerous libraries and museums have made a great effort in terms of digitisation and making their collections available to the public, but there is still a lot to do.  We need to offer more content and of higher quality.

training: we urgently need to get updated in the digital social uses and trends.  Users who are more and more active and participative, universal technology and connectivity that make the digital environment an everyday thing, with all of this meaning that we should know how to use the new ways of accessing, sharing and constructing information and knowledge.  The platforms and tools, which can go on evolving, are not important, what is really essential is the accessibility and the mentality to share.

– extensive use of social networks and mobile devices: as organisations we need to know how to get the most out of them.  Not for fashion reasons, but for trends, a trend which can only go on progressing and for which there is no turning back.  To be where the users are, and not only the young ones, to approach the public, to use those tools which are already widespread, so as to extend knowledge and foster creativity.

Smartphones at all times | The  collection’s highlights on the mobile. Museu Picasso

getting over the fear: the fear of not knowing, the fear of losing control and of triviality.  We need to know, listen and converse.  Not controlling, but monitoring.  And it is true that there could be a lot that is trivial and a lot of forwarding from others, but there is also a lot of substance if you want to see it, if you discriminate well who you follow, in the case of Twitter, what to read, of the blogs, what to see, on flickr, youtube, etc.

organisational change: all this digital and social revolution represents an important change.  It is necessary to plan processes and beat the resistance. The transition from the museums and libraries as “possessors” of knowledge and the voice of authority, to share and converse on a “one-to-one basis”, providing the public with a direct line to everyone in the organisation means a complete turn-round that requires time for assimilation and adaptation.

– to enter in an Open Philosophy (Open data, free culture): the more knowledge is shared the more it gets enriched.  Freeing data, documents, images, turns them back into an enrichment that benefits everybody.  We have excellent examples in  Europeana that makes the details available to the cultural hackers  so that they may develop applications to approach their 20 million objects to the public, and  Wikipedia, that we have already talked about often.  It is necessary to encourage the publication of content under Creative Commons, that doesn’t mean giving up the authorship, and that allows adjusting the release we want. In the case of public cultural centres, funded with public money, I believe it is not only a logical consequence, but an obligation to make sure that data –cartographic, of collections, statistics, etc.– are also in the public domain.

updating copyright laws: with a pre-digital era approach, they have become obsolete and it is now urgent to go ahead with a revision and an adaptation to the current reality.  Releasing content is not just a question of generosity or altruism, it can  be good business.  There exist very interesting examples of creators that at the same time as they publish their disk or book, have offered it free on the net, and that has led to an increase in the number of sales.  This is the case of Roger Subirana in Jammendo, that you can find in the document The Power of Open, in his words “even though it might seem to be a contradiction, having music under the license of Creative Commons has made my music more marketed, more commercial and better known”.

more content of greater quality: we have to produce more and better.  Technology has moved much faster than the cultural sector and we’ve got a long way to go.  Here are a few aspects that, from my point of view, we need to take into account:

  • content thought up specifically for the net (not just adapted)
  • better online / onsite integration (to strengthen the interpretation, the museographical discourse)
  • greater interactivity (websites and materials  still very flat)
  • more multichannel, multiplatform (“transmedia” as Dolors Reig says)

Multimedia gallery. Neues Museum, Berlin | Audiovisual that shows the processes of restoration. Galeria degli Uffizi, Florence | Interactive device about Picasso and Cubism. Tate Modern, London.  Photos: Conxa Rodà

in social networks we are still overly acting as broadcasters, we use them too much as notice-boards and forget they are spaces for conversation.  Not marketing. If we do it well, this will be our best marketing!

to evaluate: excellence cannot only be associated with quantitative indicators.  We need assessment tools of the digital trajectory.

As a sort of synthesis of everything, it could be summed up in the idea that we need a global digital strategy. One that is not fragmented, or of contents or reach within the institution.

It’s turning the work round, isn’t it?

I leave you with a magnificent presentation given by Dolors Reig and to not go on further, I also leave you with a link to the collection of tweets of the session that could be followed through #repensarcultura (rethinkingculture). From here I would like to pass on my thanks to the tweeters who collected what we left on the table @dreig, @rafamillan, @sirjaron and myself, @innova2,  as well as to all the participants and organisers.

If you are a cultural centre, how are you living the digital challenge? If you are users, what do you feel you are missing?

Related links

Visual summary of all Conferences

Jornadas Paradigmas de Futuro para realimentar la acción cultural

Jornadas UB 2011 en gestión cultural 2011…

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