The Mapping the Museum Digital Skills Ecosystem 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). The project began in September 2017 and is due to complete in March 2020.

The report comes just one month after the DCMS published its Culture Is Digital report, which it said was a call to action and the first time that it had looked at how the two sectors of culture and digital could work together. The new universities’ research outlines how 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. However, to do this well, the report says, requires a high level of digital literacy among staff and volunteers.

A team from the University of Leicester’s Institute for Employment Research (IER) and from CAMEo (Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies) 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.

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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.

“This is an extremely timely and important piece of live research,” said Dr Parry. “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.”

But the research also exposed a challenge pertaining to all museums: they lack a shared recognition of how significant digital transformations are for their work.

“This important study offers a new approach to understanding and developing digital literacy in the UK museum sector,” said Dr Sally-Anne Barnes, who led the IER team. “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.”

She said the findings highlight how digital responsibilities and skills are managed and shared by those working in museums and has demonstrated that there is great potential to create a digitally confident museum workforce that can adapt and evolve with technology.

The researchers say this first phase is a starting point and gives a clear picture of where the skills are in the sector and how they are being used and developed. The next phases of the project will start defining, prototyping and testing practical activities that help build digital literacies. This will allow the team to begin to develop a new national framework for digitally upskilling the UK museum sector.

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