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No cultural venue undergoes a digital transformation autonomously. Behind every digital pivot is the collective effort of an organization’s staff pulling duties not limited to manning online databases, calling virtual meetings, creating digital content, and managing social media accounts. Their digital skills have particularly been essential to the functioning of their respective institutions over two pandemic-marked years, as virtual platforms and remote working arrangements have become the norm. 

So how have the digital skills of cultural and heritage workers evolved over lockdowns? The UK’s National Lottery Heritage Fund offers some insight in its second Digital Attitudes and Skills for Heritage (DASH) report, which emerges from a 2021 survey of 4,514 individuals from 323 UK heritage organizations. The headline: digital confidence has grown, with 80 percent of respondents, compared to 75 percent in 2021, recording their facility with day-to-day digital working practices like video conferencing and collaborative workspaces. Senior staff members also reported interest in gaining new digital skills.

Still, gaps remain for heritage organizations to truly lead with digital. Below are three more takeaways from the report highlighting key challenges and accompanying recommendations for institutions looking to maximize their digital expertise. 

 

Barriers to learning

Barriers still exist for individuals looking to develop their digital know-how within the heritage organizations surveyed. Most respondents (42 percent) cited a lack of time to gain new digital skills, while others noted a lack of access to online training resources (17 percent), and to reliable devices and software (16 percent). Funding and resource constraints, as well as dated infrastructure, also hampered staff’s ability to better use digital or implement digital plans.

Here, organizational support is critical, not just to aid in the digital growth of senior staff, but in training volunteers, which reported the lowest level of digital confidence. Only by engaging the digital abilities of staff members across roles, the report reads, can organization leaders “harness the full benefit of digital technology.”

Considering hybridity

“The research demonstrates the ingenuity and determination of a sector which made the most of technology to keep working, communicating and connecting during an extremely difficult time,” said  Josie Fraser, the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Head of Digital Policy. Image: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

A majority of survey respondents indicated that their digital development was aided by informal learning: 42 percent picked up skills from co-workers and 31 percent transferred their skills from a previous organization. The report further highlights how even the most casual of face-to-face interactions have supported learning across the organization.

Remote working arrangements have thwarted such informal learning, but as organizations emerge out of lockdowns and into hybrid working environments, considerations should be made for these physical exchanges to spur knowledge-sharing. Yes, online resources and training might prove valuable, but, as a survey respondent reflects, they are best supplemented by “‘in practice’ development and skill building” to ensure a consistency of knowledge within teams.

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Digital for the long term

“A pandemic is not necessarily a fertile ground for ‘innovation,’” the report notes — a statement backed by 48 percent of respondents who described their organization’s digital approach as simply “keeping up with the times.” Indeed, for an institution to more fully leverage digital to deliver on its mission, a broader digital strategy is vital. This should look beyond business-critical responses to the pandemic and toward institution-wide digital innovation.

Besides ensuring digital resilience for the organization, a broader strategy will also aid heritage organizations as they plan and prioritize to meet raised audience expectations in the coming years. With a digital vision in place, institutions can better consider new technologies, allocate resources, and develop digital programs that are aligned with their goals. As the report emphasizes, “The true benefit of a ‘digital strategy’ is one that works across all workstreams, supporting the organization’s core aims and mission, embedded in all elements of work.”

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