The opportunities technology is opening up to the cultural sector

Culture is Digital- girl using interactive artwork

Written by Paul Mayo, Head of Digital Culture, DCMS

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has the ambition to turn it into the Department of the Future, and our recently published Culture is Digital report very much feeds into this vision.

Culture and technology are two areas where the UK has a significant comparative advantage, with the Centre for Economics and Business Research’s World Economic League Table 2018 identifying the particular blend of creativity and technological skills as the driving force behind the UK’s strong economic prospects over the long term.

Bringing culture and digital together in a report is novel for this or any government to have done, although given how digital technology is breaking down silos in the cultural sector is certainly timely. Increasingly theatre blends with film and computer programming merges with sculpture. We have virtual reality curatorship, animated artworks and video games scored by classical music composers. Meanwhile, our creative higher education institutions turn out graduates with a strong grounding in creative tech so for example graphic design and architecture students learn to code so as to produce designs for brands, building and beyond.

New cultural markets are also developing quickly, for example Event Cinema – the live broadcasting of cultural events (for example ballet and comedy) in cinema –  currently accounts for between 1% – 3% of global box office receipts despite only having existed since the early 2000’s.

Given the newness of this area for the department and to ensure we were on the right track, the policy development phase was led by four secondees from the culture/media sectors and a fifth who helped with the evidence base. These were:

  • Will Saunders an independent consultant and ex BBC Creative Director
  • Tonya Nelson Head of Collections and Museums at UCL
  • Jane Finnis CEO of Culture24
  • Lucy Sollitt Creative Media Relationships Manager at the Arts Council England
  • Professor Simeon Yates Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Liverpool

This way of getting external experts in to drive the policy making process was novel for both the team and the secondees, and our team have been really keen to share the lessons learnt from this process with DCMS colleagues, where there has been significant interest in this as a model. It was definitely hugely valuable to get all this knowledge and the secondees network of contacts ‘parachuted’ into the project.

We saw there being three broad areas requiring practical action to help tackle the barriers in how cultural organisations use digital technology and work with tech companies of all sizes:-

1). Audiences – We looked at how culture and technology can work together to drive audience engagement including meeting consumer demand for new digital experiences, using technology to reach those less engaged with culture, particularly the opportunity tech presents with younger audiences, and looked at the need for the sector to collect better audience data to develop their business.

2). Digital Skills  How many cultural organisations lack the digital skills, leadership, under-utilise their intellectual property and do not have data analysis skills preventing them collecting data and using it to develop their business models.

3). Future Strategy – This looks at how cultural organisations need to engage with new technology and the need  for them to be more innovative by being prepared to take more risks and access the available R&D funding. Collaborations between tech and cultural creators are also highlighted of being of large benefit. The section also identifies the significant challenges of digitising collections and archives to enable users to curate their own content across multiple collections.

Given the focus of Digital Leaders on digital transformation within organisations, I think it is worth focusing on what we are doing around improving digital leadership in the sector.

Research such as The New Reality 2015 finds that a lack of engagement and buy-in from senior leadership is a common barrier to digital transformation and the 2017 Digital Culture Survey reports that organisations experiencing minimum impact from tech changes are less likely to have senior managers who are knowledgeable about digital or who distribute responsibility for digital across their organisation.

Against this backdrop, we were delighted that the Arts Council England will, through its new Digital Culture Network, provide targeted support to leaders to increase the digital maturity of the Arts Council England’s supported bodies. This includes the creation of a digital board bank – a list of board level individuals with significant digital expertise for organisations to appoint from – and producing guidance on the digital criteria to appoint someone to a senior leadership position.

The project is now at the implementation stage with Ministers keen to ensure policy commitments are delivered on.

The report is just the start of the strategy to enable the maximum benefits of technology to be enjoyed and we hope everyone in the sector can contribute and be part of the journey.


Read report here


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