In May 2023, the ReInHerit H2020 project published a very informative webinar on ”Collaboration in digital heritage: networks, resources, and digital strategies development”.
The presenter, Ass. Prof. Chiara Zuanni, introduced the main points that one needs to take into account when developing a sustainable digital strategy for museums. Her presentation goes over the topics:
- Why develop a digital strategy
- How to start
- What to include
- How to evaluate it
- Where to find more resources
She focused on the process of digitizing collections and fostering digital engagements, emphasizing why this is important according to current European policies as well. I cannot over-recommend the webinar!
For those who prefer a textual summary of her presentation, below you find some of the main points she highlighted.
Why develop a digital strategy?
Having a digital strategy is crucial for an organization’s success in the digital age. It allows for mapping out potential activities and objectives in line with available capacities. Setting guidelines for sustainable digital practices and standardizing digitization of collections can help promote exhibitions and events, and make collections more accessible to a broader audience. Effective communication online through various channels and ways of measuring success and improving online presence should also be considered. The digital strategy should be an iterative document open to evaluation and improvements.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the museum industry, with over 90% of museums worldwide closing their doors, according to UNESCO. However, the closure resulted in an increase in digital activities, with over 15% of museums worldwide increasing their digital services, as reported by ICOM in Spring 2020. ICOM’s Autumn 2020 report further revealed that the lockdown led to an increase in online activities, with 7% of museums starting to work on online collections, and 54% continuing or enhancing existing digital activities. NEMO’s Winter 2021 report found that 93% of responding museums increased or started online services during the pandemic.
However, UNESCO reported that museums in developing countries struggled to offer digital content and services, with only 5% doing so.
In addition, the pandemic brought about various trends in the museum industry. Collections were presented in diverse formats and technologies such as databases, interactive websites, 3D visualizations, and audiovisual tours. Online public programs became more prevalent, including live streams, webinars, downloadable resources, video series, and short games. Social media also played a significant role, with many museums sharing previous content through these platforms.
Finally, In 2021, when the European Union published its recommendations about digitization of museums’ cultural heritage, developing a digital strategy became part of the national recovery and resilience plans. Each country has specific targets to reach by 2030 in relation to digitisation of cultural heritage.
Developing a sustainable digital strategy
A comprehensive digital strategy involves digitizing collections, publishing them online, communicating through various channels, and adapting through evaluation. To start, assess your assets, including collections, staff, infrastructure, and audience. Then, get your hands dirty and digitize your archive, creating images and 3D models and following data standards. Next, online publication can be achieved through open-access portals, publications, and digital exhibitions. When it comes to relating to the audience, in-gallery digital engagement can enhance the visitor experience, with solutions like mobile apps and touchscreens. Finally, evaluation involves considering impact, sustainability, preservation, and user experience.
It’s crucial for institutions to have a comprehensive digital strategy that considers their assets, such as collections, staff, and infrastructure, and outlines a plan for digitization, online publication, and in-gallery applications. Without a proper strategy, an increase of digital content can become overwhelming and ineffective.
Currently, museums and cultural institutions have had to adapt to offering more digital content to reach their audiences. This has resulted in the acquisition of new audiences and the implementation of more accessible practices. However, as museums begin to reopen, it’s important to maintain these newly acquired audiences and bring the lessons learned from virtual visits back into the physical space.