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Government to help cultural sectors take advantage of digital

Arts and culture organisations will be given help to access new technologies and digital skills as part of a government plan to “support the whole digital culture ecology”

The UK’s technology and cultural sectors “make the ultimate power couple”, according to a report byMatt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

Launching a report on how the UK’s cultural sectors can benefit from digital, Hancock said he wants all organisations to see digital technology “as an enabler” and put focus on digital skills.

The report, entitled Culture is digital, sets out the government’s plan to bring culture and digital sectors together in order to “increase participation and boost the capability of cultural organisations”.

“Our report sets out how culture and technology can collaborate, learn from one another and keep innovating,” said Hancock. “By embracing new technologies and attracting more diverse audiences, we will continue to cement our status as a creative powerhouse in the digital age.”

The report highlights how technology makes cultural experiences more accessible, whether it’s through purchasing tickets online, looking at paintings online, or “listening to music at a moment’s notice” across multiple platforms.

Commitments in the report include the National Gallery’s plans to create an innovation lab, looking at how museums and other organisations can use immersive media like virtual reality to enhance the experience of visitors and the Royal Opera House creating an audience lab, creating content using emerging technologies.

Last year, the British Library launched an 18-month long project to investigate the possibility and demand for UK public libraries to get a joint online platform.

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The report said that throughout the project, “there have been calls for a more strategic and coordinated approach to enable more connections and curated content to be available across multiple digitised collections, across sectors and to improve discoverability for audiences”.

It added that digital technology is changing how audiences engage with, and participate in culture, particularly when it comes to instant feedback.

For organisations to be able to take advantage of and use audience data, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that that “funded organisations” get better at collecting and using data across different areas, such as understanding the impact of their digital and non-digital work, using it to inform future decisions.

Developing digital maturity

The government’s framework aims to ensure the country’s cultural organisations are able to take advantage of digital innovation, however, the report adds that to get the maximum benefit from new technologies, organisations must be digitally mature.

“Digital Maturity is where digital activity is embedded across an organisation as part of the strategic vision and throughout every part of the business, from its creative output and audience outreach through to e-commerce,” the report said.

It added that Art Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, together with partners, will “will create and pilot the use of a Digital Maturity Index for the cultural sector, to enable organisations to understand and benchmark their own digital capability and set plans in place to make improvements”.

They will also create a “digital culture code” formed by a set of guidelines and principles organisations can sign up to, demonstrating their “commitment to developing their own digital maturity and the maturity of the wider cultural sector”.

Improving skills

To get to the point of digital maturity, organisations also need to have the right skills in place. The report said leaders in cultural organisations must have both digital literacy and confidence to drive tech adoption.

However, only 28% of organisations felt they have the right skills to create a digital strategy, according to Nesta’s digital culture survey.

“The cultural sector has particular skills gaps around intellectual property and data analysis. Organisations don’t have the skills relating to rights clearance, or access to legal advice around intellectual property rights,” the report said.

“This lack of expertise is limiting their ability to create and exploit digital content. A lack of skills in data analysis is preventing cultural organisations from collecting data and using it to develop their business models.”

It added that the cultural sector needs to focus on digital skills, all the way from the basics to specialist skills, to ensure no one is left behind.

Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery fund will invest more than £2m to build digital capacity, the report added.

The arts council’s CEO Darren Henley said it’s important to ensure artists, museums, libraries and art organisations across the country have “the skills to use the best of technology to enable more people in more places to connect directly to this deep well of creativity”.

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