Case study: Leading the Sector, The Hunterian University of Glasgow

This case study is part of a set of resources from Developing digitally literate leadership in heritage organisations.

About the participant:

Name: Giovanna Vitelli

Role: Head of Collections and Curatorial

Organisation: The Hunterian University of Glasgow

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What did you want to find out or achieve as you tried things out? | What did you do? | What was difficult? | What surprised you? And/or was new? | What’s next? | What 3 quick takeaways would you give other heritage leaders? | Has thinking about and developing your own digitally literate leadership changed your overall leadership style? | Covid-19 gave the heritage sector’s digital transformation a kickstart – how do heritage leaders build on that? | Any further reflections around digital leadership that you’d like to add?

What did you want to find out or achieve as you tried things out?

Whether I had enough information and perspective to drive a change in perception of the digital within my organisation, and to empower staff to think of themselves as (to some degree) digitally competent and able to contribute.

What did you do?

  1. I advocated for the hire of a more current type of Comms/Experience Head to break with the traditional model within the organisation; I sourced market information to develop a more updated job description to attract the kind of person we needed to be part of leadership. 
  2.  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.

What was difficult?

It took time to understand what ‘digitally literate’ looked like, and whether I could stand up in front of my staff and lead on this. I needed to talk to LTS colleagues and mentors a great deal, just to ease into this, and normalise digital thinking. I had to run with this in the leadership team and found the most challenging part to be translating our digital ‘needs’ into language that could be understood and accepted.

What surprised you? And/or was new?

Surprised by my own confidence and assurance in defining the sector to myself and in extracting what I needed from it, without becoming an ‘expert’ in anything. Mostly it’s having de-mystified the digital (and accepting that needs definition!) to the point where I can ask questions and plug the answers into a framework of sorts.

What’s next?

Well….I am happy to keep pushing staff to develop skills (so many online courses that make sense); to work with our new Comms head in an informed way; to have an overview of our programming that can make better judgements about what suits physical output as opposed to digital content; and to make it a natural part of my conversations to say ‘let’s look at this from the digital point of view’, which I have discovered doesn’t happen as a rule in my demographic.

What 3 quick takeaways would you give other heritage leaders?

Normalise thinking about the digital as part of the everyday. Everyone on the staff has a contribution to make. Instead of hiring in talent, perhaps do a review of capacity and a skills audit, and figure out how to develop internal competencies.

Has thinking about and developing your own digitally literate leadership changed your overall leadership style? If so, how? And… Has it changed the way you view your organisation’s mission or objectives?

As mentioned, it’s all about ‘digital thinking’ and raising awareness/capacity. It’s just become part of what I do in talking to staff about their potential – a sort of ‘digital’ component’.

Covid-19 gave the heritage sector’s digital transformation a kickstart – how do heritage leaders build on that? And…Has your experience during the pandemic changed the way you prioritise digital transformation? And… Where are the main challenges and opportunities for digital leadership and transformation in heritage arising from the Covid kickstart?

To stand back and take stock of what the sector has done, pick out good examples, develop your own style, not be rushed into plonking massive amounts of content online. Different thinking is needed to make your online offer dynamic and ongoing; this requires a different mentality from the exhibition mindset that saw the product as an end point and not as the start of engagement.

I have been stimulated and pushed to incorporate a new way of thinking into my work and leadership, to see how it can work for us, if I have the ability to make it serve our needs.

Supporting material

*This case study was created as part of ‘Leading the Sector’ , a professional development course in Digital Leadership for a cohort of 16 leaders from medium-to-large heritage organisations across the UK. The course was part of The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage and ran from April 2020 to May 2021. Project partners were Golant Innovation/The Audience Agency and specialist advisors were Professor Ross Parry, University of Leicester and Dr Nick Winterbotham.

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 “Case Study: Leading the Sector, The Hunterian University of Glasgow (2021) by Culture24 and Giovanna Vitelli, The Hunterian University of Glasgow supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0