Why and how might small museums use the Digital Culture Compass?

Work in a small museum? No time to keep up with new initiatives? This Pathway helps you get to know the Digital Culture Compass and suggests useful ways into it

You’re based in a small to medium-sized museum, run off your feet trying to keep everyone happy. You’ve heard increasing talk in the sector about digital maturity, skills and transformation and are aware that digital tools, processes, channels and approaches can be useful. Maybe you’re confident deploying them, but time to think about these things in the abstract is in very short supply.

It is worth taking the time to get to know a free online resource called Digital Culture Compass.

In this Pathway we suggest several ways you might use the resource in your museum – useful, interesting ways that are worth your effort and time investment (and, disclaimer, not just because we helped to write it).

Firstly, what is it?

The Digital Culture Compass (DCC) is an online resource to help cultural organisations approach, assess and improve their digital activities. It was commissioned by Arts Council England and The National Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the UK Government’s Culture is Digital initiative. It was developed by a partnership of organisations who understand and work with digital and culture every day and who understand what it’s like to be in your position. Crucially, it had input from a wide range of people who work in museums and other cultural settings across the UK at every stage of its development.

The DCC has two main elements, a charter and a tracking tool.

The Digital Culture Charter is a set of eight principles designed to help cultural organisations using, or planning to use, digital content, services, experiences, data, systems or technologies as part of their work. The principles suggest a responsive, people-centred approach, driven by the values of the organisation.  They are simply there as a guide, a suggested set of values for you to consider adopting.

The Digital Progress Tracker is a self-assessment tool to help you work out how digitally mature your organisation is – how well it’s adapting to and integrating all things digital. It will help you plan and develop your work in a more strategic way.

There’s no denying the Progress Tracker can look daunting from certain angles. It covers every activity that every type of cultural organisation might be doing in order to function, which means there are lots of sections and sub-sections! On the flip side, that breadth and depth of coverage is what makes it useful and meaningful. You can dip in and out in a multitude of ways, so please don’t let the scope of the endeavour put you off.

Why is it worth my time?

All museums need to develop and maintain their digital maturity, capacity and skills. It’s an ongoing, essential process, no matter what their starting point. Ongoing development needs structure and change needs a catalyst. The DCC is useful on both counts: it can spark a new thought or direction and give structure to planning and processes.  It also:

  • Gives definitions and a shared vocabulary. The site usefully frames an approach to thinking about and working with anything and everything to do with ‘digital’. For instance, this phrase – ‘digital content, services, experiences, data, systems or technologies’ – taken from the Charter is useful as a talking point to ensure everyone understands what digital does and could mean in your museum.
  • Prompts reflection and conversations. Both the Charter and the Progress Tracker will prompt you and colleagues to think about what, when, how and why your museum is doing and planning when it comes to digital. It’s a perfect basis for the relevant, useful conversations we all need to have about digital capacity but can often find difficult to find our way into. The insights arising from these conversations and reflections can have profound impact.

Give it half an hour

Get started by taking half an hour or so to get acquainted with the website, just reading, on your own. Coffee or tea is optional but advised.

Begin with the Charter. It’s not long, only eight principles in all, but addresses a host of ideas. The principles are split into three themes – people-centred, values-driven and purposeful – that underpin the whole DCC approach.

Now look at the Tracker. To do this you’ll need to register but don’t let that put you off. It’s free, quick and doesn’t commit you to anything.

To get to know the Progress Tracker, start on Quick Guide and read the very short ‘What does it do?’ section at the top of that page. Then stop and jump straight to these two links –

That’s the basics covered – enough to give you a feel for the scope of the Tracker’s activity areas and maturity levels and the Charter’s approach. Hopefully you’ll see the relevance of the content for your museum’s work?

If so, there are several ways you can engage with the DCC in a little more depth, with a little more time…

One more hour

You’ve got acquainted with the Digital Culture Compass in that first half hour. Invest another hour or so with one of the following suggestions and you’ll see touchpoints for your museum and begin to identify areas for development.

  • Sit down with one or two colleagues and a print-out of the Charter to discuss just one of the three themes – either values-led, people-centred or responsive – in depth. Do you agree with the principles? Can you see how they relate to your museum’s digital activities and infrastructure? Is your museum working along those lines yet? If so, how? If not, could you be?
  • If you are a trustee of the museum or have influence on the Board meetings, try the activity above, discussing an element of the Charter, with the Board. It’s the perfect starting point for engaging trustees in thinking about the museum’s approach to digital, whatever their levels of confidence.
  • Either by yourself or with a colleague or two, go into the Progress Tracker, select the ‘Create Assessment’ option and work through the HR section, scoring your museum. Starting there, with a focus on the systems around managing people in your museum, be they volunteers or paid staff, gives you a practical focus with relatable examples at each scoring level. It will also give you a feel for the scoring mechanism and how long it takes to self-assess.

Half a day (every so often)

You’ll have a good idea of what the Charter and/or the Progress Tracker are all about and where their value could lie for your museum by now. Reading through them and reflecting on the issues they raise has hopefully given you food for thought and discussion.

If you decide they are helpful and are a useful way to support planning and development in your museum, that will take more time. Holding a half-day workshop/team meeting with some or all of your colleagues, or your Board, is a good way to kick-start a new approach. Longer sessions like this really come into their own if you’re making strategic decisions – new project plans, funding bids, longer term business planning, governance reviews and so on.

A chair or facilitator (internal or external) who is digitally literate is a help here but not a necessity. You might…

  • Work through the whole Charter, decide as a team if you can sign up to it and map what that would mean in practice for each principle. Focus on principles in turn, map ways in which your museum does and doesn’t meet it currently, brainstorm ideas for manageable, practical changes, choose the three most achievable and set realistic timescales for putting them into action. Check back in three months. Rinse and repeat.
  • Gather a group of colleagues and work through two or three of the Progress Tracker activity areas. Be honest and discuss as you go. Appointing a scribe who’s logged in to do your scoring helps, as does being able to project the screen so everyone can easily see. You can also print sections out so, whilst the scribe has the computer screen, everyone else is looking at sections on paper. Remember to set targets as well as scoring your current status and keep brief notes for each element. Again, check back in three months later and next time do a couple more sections. Repeat every three months until you’ve covered all of the sections that relate to your organisation, then drop back to checking in with shorter meetings.

Make it routine

Use the Digital Culture Compass as a nudge every now and then, keeping your approach to digital informed and considered, with these routine touchpoints:

  • print out the Charter, pin it up in the office and refer to it whenever decisions around anything digital come up.
  • set the Charter as an agenda item at staff meetings once a month or so and make a point of discussing any challenges and successes.
  • hold regular and brief Progress Tracker catch-ups with one or two colleagues – focus on a specific target or area. Discuss and record challenges and successes.
  • Set ‘digital progress’ as an agenda item on Board meeting agendas, identify priorities for development using the Tracker and briefly report back.

Making a point of talking about digital issues in this way keeps it in sight and in mind, making it more likely your museum will develop and build its digital confidence and maturity.

Further reading

If you’re interested in maturity models as a concept and how the Digital Culture Compass’ digital maturity model relates to the cultural sector read this article by Dr Lauren Vargas, an expert in maturity models and one of the team who created the DCC.

Take a look at these three workshop templates, also by Dr Vargas. The templates are designed to be used alongside the DCC as a series of prompts and provocations to help organise your thoughts and inform planning. They each have a different focus – Strategic planning, Tactical fixes and finally a ‘Service‘ focus which looks at visitor experiences.

For a raft of resources on developing digital skills and maturity, across all elements of museum activity, get to know Digital Pathways (the website this resource sits on). We create, commission and signpost all sorts of resources designed to help you.

The Digital Culture Compass is the result of two of the twelve policy commitments in 2018’s Culture is Digital report. Having ‘culture’ and ‘digital’ interwoven in policy for the first time set the tone for much of the current investment and effort going into digital transformation in the UK’s cultural sector. Both the 2018 report and its 2019 follow-up make interesting reading.