4. What role does digital culture play in your leadership?

Many of the most pressing social issues we face as an increasingly networked and connected society don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a complex, multi-causal ecosystem that has digital culture woven into its fabric. Being able to understand the nuances of this digital culture is a key aspect of digital literacy for anyone. 

‘Embracing and embedding digital in your organisation will help provide clarity in telling your story, what you stand for, and why you are relevant in the world.’Bryan Biggs, Director of Cultural Legacies, Bluecoat

Increasingly digital platforms are facilitators for the debate, activism and amplification of profound societal issues such as Black Lives Matter and environmental campaigning. These issues are all being played out online in a way that is very difficult to ignore.  Whilst Covid-19 has been a catalyst to draw out all of these issues, we need to remember that they existed before and will not go away when the pandemic ends. 

In these socially divided, fraught times where technology is at the heart of so much of our human interaction, there is growing recognition of the importance of human connection and relationships for individual and societal wellbeing.

Many, if not all, of the heritage leaders on our Leading the Sector programme were grappling with the issues and opportunities that this fast moving digital culture brings. As with digital skills-building, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to those challenges but awareness of the issues and the part your leadership can play is the first step. 

Carving out time to consider the issues and reflect on what they mean for your context is essential for effective, purposeful digitally literate leadership of any cultural organisation no matter the size, type or location.

‘I wanted to try and marry digital and inclusivity, using the course as a way of carving out my own identity as a digital leader that was not based on technical expertise but on using digital for social purpose.’Valerie Johnson, Director of Research and Collections, The National Archives

Learn from others:

Commit to spending an hour a week to build a deeper understanding of the digital world – talk to people in and beyond your team who are more digitally confident than you; talk to a teenager and ask them about their behaviours online; reach out to peers and organise a call to explore shared digital challenges and find articles by interesting thinkers who are publishing ideas and research in this area. 

You could begin with reading articles by Rachel Coldicutt, Scott Smith, Kajsa Hartig, Matt Locke, or Adam Koszary. With a little more time, read through influential reports such as Dr Ceri Gorton’s Building Digital Leadership and Resilience in the UK’s Cultural Sector or BeatFreek’s recent National Youth Trends Take the Temperature report on the impact of Covid on young people. 

There are always opportunities to learn from others, with people sharing ideas, projects and inspiration on a daily basis. 


Consider taking a more values-driven approach to your digital activities. Start by looking at the Charter which is part of the Digital Culture Compass. This has been designed so directors, trustees and senior managers can make and communicate a commitment to approaching digital activities in ways that are led by core values, centred on people’s needs and responsive to change. It offers a great starting point for a discussion with colleagues or your Board.


Michael Peter Edson in his ‘The Web We Want’  talk to the Museum Computer Network conference in 2019 makes a powerful call to action to the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector to work together to ‘weave a web of love of trust’ and not ‘burnish the credibility of the dot coms with our edifice.’  As cultural organisations we cannot ignore the politics of digital power and the ethics of the digital tech giants. These are issues that are crucial to the future of digital democracy within our society and acknowledging and understanding these are vital for genuinely digitally literate leaders.

The Social Dilemma on Netflix – The Social Dilemma documentary focuses on how social media companies use algorithms that encourage addiction to manipulate users and how they use this to increase engagement, growth, and advertising revenue. They have also created a number of resources, including discussion and action guides to discuss and take action around the Mental Health Dilemma, Democracy Dilemma, and the Discrimination Dilemma. You can find those resources on their website.


These two articles by Culture24 on ‘Why should the cultural sector change their existing digital practices to prioritise deeper human connection?‘ and ‘Taking a values-orientated approach to redesigning our digital practices’ focus on values-driven human connection in digital practice. The first looks at the importance of such an approach and the second at how we begin applying it.

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