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How do we keep museum staff upskilling in a fast-paced digital environment

Digital transformation in the museum space isn’t a quick fix. Nor is it really a single project with a clear start and finish date. It requires regular reassessment, reflection and reinvigoration in order to maintain momentum and keep staff members, stakeholders and visitors up to date with the next opportunities.

On the flip side, digital adoption for innovation’s sake can be seen as a trap that organisations should avoid falling into. While we’ve all seen the benefits of the pivot to digital over the course of the pandemic, chasing the next shiny technological development just because it appears to be “ahead of the curve” can be folly.

To make the most of digital transformation, museums must ensure that tools and technologies are introduced, adopted and embedded effectively in a way that leaves team members confident and comfortable. This requires suitable training and development activities which can be used to develop this capability and help museums and galleries reach their full digital potential.

What does digital training look like?

Digital training looks different for every venue, but basic digital skills are quickly becoming universally required by all museum staff. Whether it’s setting up devices and connections, communicating, collaborating or managing projects, it is always necessary to run workshops and training sessions to ensure that people are comfortable with their new tools. Just as importantly, effective training is critical to ensuring that cybersecurity and data protection are made priorities to reduce the likelihood of a breach or error.

In 2019, the government’s Essential Digital Skills Framework reported that 11.3 million people in the UK lacked the full suite of basic digital skills, and 10% of employees have no basic digital skills at all. While that has certainly been addressed within many organisations in the intervening period, there is undoubtedly still room for much improvement in this area.

Hybrid working is the future

If the numerous lockdowns enforced across 2020-2021 taught us anything, it’s that a hybrid working model is essential for all businesses and establishments, including museums. Cultural institutions were forced to take their engagement online during the height of the pandemic, meaning museum workers had to adapt to a hybrid way of completing tasks.

And even as workplaces open up, remote working is here to stay. According to Forbes, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and will only increase into 2023. In order to make the most of this, museum staff need digital skills in their arsenal – if only because it is vital to modern business continuity plans.

Project management and collaboration tools

A digital work environment is characterised by rapid and ongoing change, so digital training must match this pace and utilise effective management and collaboration. Ideally, this takes place on both a holistic and a personal level, teaching staff how to exploit technology effectively and improve overall quality of service. This can enhance individual levels of job satisfaction and commitment, while also bridging the gap between museums and their digital audience.

The Museum of London launched its digital futures programme, which ran throughout the pandemic and ended in 2021, only to replace it with an equally useful number of tutorials and training videos to help staff with their digital work. These include tutorials on how to edit videos, instructions on how to create 3D digital models of collections, and more. Staff are able to work collaboratively to share skills and get the best results both for themselves and the museum.

Leaving no one behind

A museum’s digital skillset is only as good as its least digitally-skilled member of staff. Effective digital learning doesn’t just propel those with a technological foundation forward, but helps staff at all levels develop their understanding and improve their skills.

One of the big shifts of the past few years has been the move to digital learning, and conferences like MuseumNext now offer museum professionals excellent resources to up skill. In fact, most museums attending MuseumNext events do so with organisational tickets which give everyone access to the latest digital thinking for a cost much lower than one person attending a traditional in-person event.

This kind of organisation wide learning seems essential if museums are going to give their staff the skills that they need to navigate the new digital world.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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