2. What kind of digital skills do my staff and volunteers have and need?

‘Critically, the insight from ‘Leading the Sector’ led us to advertise for an IT & Digital Skills Manager, which attracted a strong field of candidates who were motivated by enabling and supporting colleagues, and how the tech could help us fulfil our mission, rather than tech per se. Embedding digital skills into the organisation in this way was perhaps the most impactful decision of my experiment and a significant legacy of the course. With our brilliant new IT & Digital Skills manager in post, we now have the capacity and leadership to take the project forwards with confidence and remove the fear of ‘what if something goes wrong’.’Christine Luxton, CEO, Suffolk Wildlife Trust

All organisations need digitally confident and skilled teams and your leadership has a crucial role to play in developing and sustaining those skills within your organisation. 

It is important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to building digital skills, literacy and confidence for people who work and volunteer in heritage and other cultural organisations. Whatever the scale, context and focus of your work, people all have different starting points and every organisation has different strengths and constraints. 

Successful skills-building depends on understanding people’s needs and creating an organisational culture that supports learning and development as part of everyday working practices. Also, a culture where experimentation is seen as a way to try out new ideas, take risks (in a managed way) and see failure as a valuable part of your learning journey. 

Start by ascertaining your own and your team’s levels of confidence, skills and attitudes around digital. We recommend two approaches to this, set out below. 

The first is a discursive and reflective process that helps you and your colleagues understand the types of digital skills you may have and use, drawing discussion of digital skills into the open, helping you create that supportive culture and relating skills assessment to specific areas of activity. 

The second approach is a more formal process, using National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Attitudes and Skills for Heritage (DASH) survey to self-assess and audit digital skills and confidence. This gives you scope for consistent benchmarking, both internally and beyond your organisation in comparison to the wider sector. 

Both approaches are valuable in different ways, complement each other and also stand alone.     

Understanding and mapping digital skills: 

‘It’s good to take the time to reflect from a different angle and really look at what kind of footprint your organisation has, its assets and its digital literacy.’Jenny Cousins, Director, Museum of East Anglian Life

This process works well with a two-step reflection or conversation. Firstly, look at your digital activity – and then focus on the digital skills. 

If you’ve not done so already, begin with the understanding and mapping digital activity exercise as a way for people to explore and discuss which digital elements they need to use, manage, create and understand as part of their work. 

You could work in a pair or with a small group of colleagues, focussing on one of your organisation’s projects, processes, services or products as a starting point, something familiar to everyone. 

Next, once you’ve mapped the relevant digital elements onto the activity grid, determining what you’re talking about, move on to mapping the how and the who. In this exercise we guide you through ways to discuss and map which digital skills, broken down into competencies, capabilities and literacies, the digital activity needs

You will also find it useful to work through those two exercises by yourself – map the digital elements of your leadership role onto the digital activity grid and then ask yourself which digital skills and literacies you have and where the gaps are. This will help you reflect on which skills and literacies your role demands of you personally and which you can support in team members.  

Conversations and processes of this kind work well across every level of organisation, from the Board to brand new volunteers. They… 

  • will reveal to what extent you and your colleagues feel confident, individually and collectively, that you have those digital skills
  • encourage a culture of openness around skills development
  • are an effective way of planning, strategically and practically
  • will reveal skills gaps you need to address and often shine a light on previously hidden talents and interests amongst team members. 

‘I got a lot out of the framework for assessing our digital literacy – it was helpful to have a clear way of reflecting.’Jenny Cousins, Director, Museum of East Anglian Life

Surveying digital skills: 

‘I organised a digital skills & attitudes survey for staff that had the aim of raising awareness of latent potential as well as highlighting our gaps and shared the results with key personnel in order to initiate small scale projects within the organisation to give confidence and some freedom to experiment with existing skills.’Giovanna Vitelli, Head of Collections and Curatorial, The Hunterian – University of Glasgow

The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Attitudes and Skills for Heritage (DASH) survey is a useful way to weave a more formal system of digital skills assessment and development into your management processes. 

The DASH survey was first run in 2020 as a free resource to help UK heritage organisations understand the digital confidence and skills of their staff and volunteers. DASH will run again in autumn 2021 and in the meantime, 2020’s DASH survey questions and a set of recommendations for building on the results are available to download and use in your setting.  

DASH 2021 will again offer to provide organisations with a web-based data dashboard and a spreadsheet of their staff and volunteers’ anonymised data once the surveys close. The vast majority of questions are repeated for continuity: for those who ran it last year, this offers the potential to repeat the survey and compare between years. For those using DASH for the first time in 2021, it provides an excellent opportunity to collect a vital baseline for future years. Sign up is via a short online form and interested organisations can get involved via the DASH 2021 website any time from Monday 6th September. DASH 2021 will run for nine weeks from 9th September to Sunday 7th November. Nationally, DASH 2021 will focus on identifying whether and what changes have occurred since the first survey ran 18 months ago.

Case study:

Giovanna Vitelli, one of the LTS cohort, used the 2020 DASH survey as the basis for a skills audit in her organisation, adapting it a little, adding in questions relating directly to The Hunterian’s context and priorities. Giovanna discusses her process and shares the questions she used in this case study.

Return to Developing digitally literate leadership in heritage organisations

This Pathway is also available, as a PDF, in Welsh: Fersiwn Gymraeg

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence. Please attribute as “Digital Pathway: Developing digitally literate leadership in heritage organisations (2021) by Culture24 supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0