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How to get your Museum to buy into digital initiatives

Winning the hearts and minds of stakeholders and staff is key to ensuring museums are ahead of the curve.

Change can be scary. It’s understandable that not every member of the team jumps at the chance to update, innovate and switch things up within the museum space. Often, the thought of adopting new innovations can feel like a distraction for hardworking team members who simply want to get their head down and deliver on the day-to-day tasks.

Having said that, museums and galleries have an obligation to make time to explore new ideas and there often comes a point where the benefits of digital adoption have the potential to make working lives easier and more efficient in the long term. They just require adequate resource and careful planning.

In order to successfully embed fresh digital ideas into your cultural establishment, you need to win the hearts and minds of stakeholders and staff members alike. This involves highlighting the benefits of embracing digital change to everyone involved.

Understanding how to communicate and involve staff, stakeholders and volunteers in addressing the need for digital change is key. As such, we’re looking at what’s needed in order to successfully initiative and follow through a digital transformation.

Effective planning in order to mitigate challenges

Implementing any kind of significant change in the way an organisation is run requires plenty of forewarning and planning to ensure that team members are onboard and comfortable with what lies ahead. When adopting digital change, this presents unique challenges.

Digital change requires staff, stakeholders and volunteers to support a way of working which may fall completely outside of their expertise, experience and understanding. In order to successfully implement what may be a huge step outside the comfort zone for many, enough time must be given.

An example of this comes from the Chicago History Museum, whose 2007 visioning report for the future of the museum barely mentions the role of technology, representing the sea of change that has occurred in the last 15 years. However, the museum has since made substantial efforts to consider and plan its digital future, investing in programmes and projects built around digitalisation. The result of this approach has been the creation of award-winning digital experiences for staff and visitors alike.

Understanding the components of change

Because change – particularly when it comes to organisational infrastructure – is often an overwhelming notion, it needs to be specified and broken down into something that staff and stakeholders can analyse and digest successfully. The University of Leeds’ Dr Stephen Dobson breaks down change initiatives – such as digital – into three main components: regular communication, open discussion and the full disclosure of information.

Open discussion involves being clear and honest about what changes need to be made to successfully initiate the digital innovations up for debate, and how much time and energy this will require. This provides the opportunity for people to share concerns early on, and for ideas to be shared to maximise potential. Similarly, regular communication involves keeping people informed of progress and changes, as well as discussing ideas with a range of people: external partners, consultants, peers, trustees, staff, stakeholders, volunteers and more.

Of course, even the most positive of change can require some lenience, and will likely result in some disruption down the line, even for a matter of days or hours. This is where full disclosure of information is paramount. Dobson states that any changes to budgets or personnel created by digital transformation must be shared with full transparency as early as possible.

Identifying risks and benefits is essential for managing resistance

When it comes to digital change in museums, knowledge is power. In order to mitigate challenges faced during the digital transformation process, it’s important for those spearheading the change to have the answers to any questions and issues they may be faced with. Trial runs, market research and examples of similar initiatives from competitor venues can offer the vital evidence needed to gain approval for digital change.

In 2003, Welsh and McCarville outlined a model for the process of communicating organisational change. This model split the journey into four key segments:

  • Crystallising the need for change – what benefits will it bring? Why is it necessary?
  • Relating the change initiative to common objectives – what current challenges can be resolved by adopting digital change?
  • Clarifying employees’ roles in creating change – what will it mean on an individual level?
  • Promoting new behaviours to help with implementation – how will the change impact the day-to-day running of the museum?

In the world of digital change, the first hurdle is often the hardest to overcome, but getting the support of staff and stakeholders can make the utilisation of digital transformation in the museum space as beneficial as possible.

The MuseumNext Digital Summit 2022 kicks off on the 6th June, and will feature inspiring ideas and case studies from those championing the latest and greatest digital innovations in museums and galleries. Click here to book your tickets now, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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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