Digital Strategy According to Museum Technology Conferences

This was originally published in June 2015. Interestingly the recently wrapped MCN 2016 museum technology conference didn’t have such a strong digital strategy theme, for (I believe) two reasons. 1) MCN’s main theme “the human-centered museum”, and 2) growing sector maturity. I suspect we won’t be having these discussions in 2026.

Reading through Michael Parry’s comprehensive (and at times funny) slides from his Museums Australia 2015 talk Digital Strategy and Engagement Models reminded me of the rich vein of “what to do about digital in museums?” conference talks over the last few years. Museums and Web 2015 was particularly fertile, with a very active twitter conversation appearing under #MWchange. As was noted in Emily Kelly’s insightful museum educator’s takeaways from the conference:

“…one of the biggest threads of the conference was about how change is affecting our institutions… You’ll notice that “digital” wasn’t in that sentence, but it seems to me that organizational change is, at many institutions, being spearheaded by digital staff.”

There’s been so many of these talks over the years, it’s hard to pick out the key ones, so I’ll just highlight some that I enjoyed like Rob Stein’s Blow up Your Digital Strategy at MW2012, Nick Poole’s talk on Digital Benchmarking at GLAM-Wiki 2013 and Avoid Icebergs while Steering the Titanic at MW2013 which began with representatives from the Metropolitan Museum, SFMOMA and Museums Victoria describing where digital sits in their respective museums followed by an open discussion. It was the latter of these sessions that inspired my contribution to this linage with a panel I was part of a Museums and the Web 2015 in Chicago. It too was more about stories than a slide deck.

I’m convinced that PowerPoint slides (or Google or Keynote) are just about the worst way to communicate anything. Humans learn best through story, they communicate best through story, and remember stories much more readily than looking at bullet points on a distant projection screen. So how can you communicate digital strategy through stories, and how do you do so in a panel format…at a museum conference?

For our session Organising for Change, Change in Organisations Michael Parry, Dafydd James, Tim Hart and I tried to do that by giving ourselves some rules. We picked 6 truisms and told 1 minute revealing anecdotes for each. We following Chatham House rules, which we chose to interpret for this talk as:

Share any story. Do so without attributing it to a particular institution, person or project.

Choose stories that help progress the conversation.

We then opened up to the audience to share their stories with the same rules, the responses (in person and on twitter) were amazing. Due to the Chatham House rules, I can’t repeat what the panel or the audience said, but I found it fascinating and the number of people who referenced the session, or thanked me in person, suggests that a story led approach to thinking about these questions is a helpful one.

The key takeaway from this for me, and it’s another truism, is that best way to define a digital strategy for you museum is not by reading big reports, it’s not by paying a consultant and it’s not by looking through the slides from museums conference. The best guidance your going to get is by asking questions of (and listening to the stories told by) the people who are doing more/faster/better than you are.

So, for what they’re worth, here are the slides.


Originally published at keir.winesmith.co, June 2015. Republishing here so I can decommission an old WordPress server.