Epic Fail at Museums & the Web 2012, San Diego

Seb Chan (Cooper-Hewitt) I are hosting the closing plenary at Museums & the Web in San Diego this year. We’ve called it Epic Fail and we’re going to be shining a light on the failures that we individually and we collectively have had as project teams, institutions, and maybe even the sector as a whole.

Inspired by the valuable lessons we’ve learned personally from over-sharing our own failures on our blogs, and the growing trend in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors to share analyse, and learn from failures – we think the time has come for Museums and the Web to recognise the important role that documenting failures plays in making our community stronger.


Well, taking a cue from FailFaire, there are many common reasons for failure in the non-profit sector –

1. The project wasn’t right for the organisation (or the organisation wasn’t right for the project)
2. Tech is search of a problem
3. Must-be-invented-here syndrome
4. Know thy end-users
5. Trying to please donors rather than beneficiaries (and chasing small pots of money)
6. Forgetting people
7. Feature creep
8. Lack of a backup plan
9. Not connecting with local needs
10. Not knowing when to say goodbye

Sound familiar? we thought so.

So . . .

We’re doing a call out for ‘failures’ to be featured in our closed door session (that means no tweeting, no live blogging).

Each Fail will present a short 7-10 minute slot followed by 10 minutes panel and open-mic discussion. Each Fail needs to be presented by someone who worked on the project – this isn’t a crit-room – and we want you to feel comfortable enough to be honest and open. We want you to explore the reasons why you thought the project was a failure, diagnose where it went wrong, what would you do differently, and then collectively discuss the key lessons for future projects of a similar nature or targeting similar people.

Maybe, like Seb, you did an early project with QR codes that didn’t take into account the lighting situation in your exhibition, not to mention the lack of wifi? Or maybe a mobile App that you forgot to negotiate signage for the exhibition space? Or an amazing content management system that failed to address the internal culture and workflow for content production and ended up not being used?

In fact neither Seb or I can think of a project we have worked on that hasn’t had its own share of failure. But in most cases we’ve been able to address the problem and iterate, or, if necessary, as they say in the startup game, ‘pivot‘.

The more significant the failure, the better is its potential to be an agent of change.

So, if you are coming to Museums and the Web in San Diego in April this year, get in touch to nominate your project for a spot! We promise to create a safe environment for sharing these important lessons and end this year’s conference on a high.

Get in touch with the Fail Team – epicfail [at] freshandnew [dot] org

On a related note, here is a different kind of Epic Fail that can happen if you get caught out being a tourist in a Glasgow park without an umbrella!

“Join the Art Party” Connect10 needs you!

We are all very excited at Culture24 to be announcing the line-up of artists taking part in Connect10, a competition for cultural venues in the UK to win an artist-led event and a share of £7,000.

IMAGE: Bob & Roberta Smith, Join The Art Party, 2011.

The competition will match 10 contemporary artists with 10 museums and galleries for a series of unique events to be held as part of Museums at Night, the annual after-hours celebration of arts and heritage, which takes place over the weekend of 18-20 May 2012.

The 10 artists announced for Connect10 are:

Claire Barclay, futuristic Scottish sculptor whose carefully balanced installations have been exhibited in Tate Britain and Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery
Bompas & Parr, the jellymongers, who create spectacular culinary experiences ranging from architectural jellies to lakes of cocktails
Ryan Gander, provocative installation artist whose Artangel commission in a Hoxton warehouse provided clues for visitors to solve a mystery
Jon McGregor, award-winning novelist and short story writer, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even The Dogs
Polly Morgan, contemporary taxidermist whose poignant installations have been collected by Kate Moss
Terry O’Neill, fashion and rock photographer renowned for iconic images of Hollywood stars and bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
Martin Parr, documentary photographer whose pictures tell stories of leisure, consumption and communication
Simon Roberts, landscape photographer who spent a year crossing Russia and was Official Artist of the 2010 General Election
Bob & Roberta Smith, sign-painter and installation artist who uses text on recycled signs and floorboards
Susan Stockwell, creator of installations, drawings and films commenting on globalisation and colonisation, often using recycled materials

In order to pitch for the artists, venues need to find a connections between their location or collections and the work of one of the artists.

So… if you are a venue you have until Tuesday 31 January 2012 to pitch an exciting Museums at Night event idea involving your chosen artist to Culture24 using this online form.

Culture24 will then select the two or three event ideas for each of the 10 artists, and open them up to an online public vote. Each successful venue will receive a £500 bursary for their event, and those selected venues that don’t win an artist will still receive £100 to support an alternative Museums at Night event.

Who are we? WeAreCulture24

I’ve learned a lot in the last year. A lot about how we could do what we do better at Culture24 and crucially how confusing what we do can be for others.

Are we a website? Are we journalists? Are we data crunchers? Are we data aggregators? Are we Museums at Night champions? Are we researchers? Are we producers? Are we strategists? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

All of these and more but if you looked at our main online presence www.culture24.org.uk you would never know half of this. The site has evolved from our early incarnation as the 24 Hour Museum and was always triple headed. One face looking to the public offering them news, venues, listings and more. One face looking to the sector offering them information on how to work with us and how we can help them. One face looking to teachers offering them curriculum tagged cultural resources.

As our activities and the online world became more diverse, complicated and interrelated, this website had started to become confused and I believe became unclear to all it’s audiences exactly who we were or why they should bother.

So who are we? Well www.WeAreCulture24.org.uk is our new company website. The online presence of the nonprofit business that publishes culture24.org.uk (amongst other things) and is now home to details of all our projects, services, knowledge and our team.

The site also carries our new branding and logo which was developed with CRUSH creative agency in Brighton. It takes the forward slash from our original logo and moves it into the physical world – literally through placing it in a range of photographs but also by making it 3D in the logo itself.

The thinking behind is meant to reflect how we bridge the physical world of museums and galleries with the digital online space. Clever I think and also rather beautiful. By placing the forward slash in a range of different architectural settings (museum, gallery, library, heritage site, street etc) we also indicate the broad reach of our services across all these different parts of the sector.

Much of the learning from this year has in fact fallen out of my role leading our action research project on how to evaluate online success. Principally, to be confident to admit that we haven’t got things completely right and allowing for that ‘failing forward’ to shape change, iterate and define new directions.

The new site is live and growing and I hope you like it (or at least understand who we are and what we do).

Changes are also underway to refine, tweak and improve culture24.org.uk as our flagship site for culture lovers.

Hallelujah for failure.

Let’s Get Real: Crit Room, Failing Forward and Talk Tables

We’ve been having a great time pulling together some really unique stuff for the conference and have three different session types to offer you alongside the usual inspiring keynotes:

1. The Crit Room

A special troubleshooting Crit Room, where attendees can receive personalised problem-solving guidance in a friendly and supportive environment. Once you’ve bought your ticket fill in our form telling us about the site describing the main problem or challenge you’re currently experiencing. Our panel of experts will review the sites in advance, then offer constructive advice, mixed with practical suggestions and comments/ideas from the floor. The expert panel are Adam Gee, Cross-platform Commissioner for Factual at Channel 4 (Chair), Fiz Yazdi, User Experience Director at cxpartners (www.cxpartners.co.uk), Anra Kennedy, Head of Content and Partnerships at Culture24

2. Failing Forward Case Studies
Partners in our Action Research Project will present honest case studies about online projects they attempted, what didn’t work, and what they learned as a result. We have some wonderful title ….
‘If you build it they won’t come’ Hugh Wallace, Head of Digital Media, National Museums Scotland
‘I Will Never Tweet Again’ Josephine Chanter, Head of Communications, The Design Museum
‘Keeping an eye on my vital statistics’ James Morley, Website Development Manager, Kew
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ Matthew Cock, Head of Web, British Museum
‘Have you heard of us?’ Emma McLean, Digital Marketing Officer, National Maritime Museum
‘Trying to make the parts add up’ Louise Gardner, Head of Communications, Watershed

3. Talk Tables
Literally a series of tables where different companies/people discuss what they do and how they can offer help to delegates in areas around the conference theme.
They are informal and responsive, and geared to providing a space to find out about technical systems and digital tools, and meet experts who offer solutions to the problems and needs of arts and heritage organisations. You can talk to/about: Google Analytics; TripAdvisor; Building Digital Capacity for the Arts (Arts Council England); Hitwise (Experian); JISC; Cogapp; cxpartners; Loic Tallon (Pocket Proof); Social Media pick ‘n’ mix (Rachel Clements and Elena Villaespesa); Gaming (Danny Birchall and Martha Henson)

Tuesday 20th and Wednsday 21st September 2011, Watershed, Bristol
Last few tickets on sale here.

Let’s Get Real conference 2011: How to evaluate success online?

Culture24 Conference: Let’s Get Real at Bristol’s Watershed on September 20 and 21 2011.

Do we really know what we are doing online? Does counting the visitors to our websites really tell us anything? Do we need all the social media channels we start? Is there evidence of real engagement happening online? Do we really know what we are trying to achieve and who it is for?

These are difficult questions that everyone developing online services needs to ask themselves. It has almost become a cliché to say that online technologies have touched our lives, changed our behaviour and altered our expectations. The cultural sector is not immune to these changes, but how do we know if we are actually doing well?

Come and join Culture24 for some honesty, plain-speaking and troubleshooting. You can listen to great presentations, find out about our latest action research and most importantly join in the workshops, Crit Room, helpdesks and breakout sessions. You will leave with a better understanding of not just what success online might look like, but what it can mean for your organisation.

When: Evening of Tuesday September 20, 5pm to 9pm. Then all day on Wednesday September 21, 9am to 6pm.

Find out more here: http://bit.ly/mUMBEb

Notes and take homes from the Museums Computer Group spring meeting Culture24 hosted in Brighton in June 2011

Looking at the range of sectors, specialisms and interests of those who signed up for the day convinced me I had pitched the day right. My idea to split the programme so we’d spend the morning looking at the Arts Council world, and the afternoon exploring commercial collaborations was devised to consider, reflect and challenge the way museums currently work – and hopefully suggest new ways of doing things.

Andrew Nairne, Executive Director of Arts Council England and a very articulate and sensitive man, kicked off with a clear understanding of digital issues that came from the heart. I didn’t want him to just give a policy position (although obviously this is important), but to share more of his own thoughts and ideas about the morning theme.

He talked about how ACE are framing the user at the heart of all of their thinking, and linked the notion of a ‘user’ to that of a citizen. He talked about how digital solutions – what I might call infrastructure – can be used to support more than one agenda. This idea is not new, but it is progressive … and if ACE could find ways to support this with policy, it could be very powerful.

Inevitable, he tracked the framework for all ACE activities to their little strawberry pink book Achieving Great Art for Everyone – if you haven’t read it, you need to. It is very sensible and hard to disagree with. It sets out five clear forward-looking and sensible priorities for next ten years. Andrew talked about the work Estelle Morris is doing to explore the language and scope of this book and how/if it needs to change following the MLA integration. He suggested that with a little liberal interpretation of what ‘art’ might be, that the essence of the book translates well. To this effect, ACE are working on a companion book that will focus on the museums and library worlds more specifically, which will be duck egg blue. A reassuring colour I think.

Honor Harger, Director of Lighthouse (an established ACE client and a NPO) shared with us her thinking on digital culture involving a lot more than just technology, such as emotions, concepts, learning and touch. This comment got a lot of tweets and retweets, and I loved it. It’s very simple and human but helps to keep us rooted in concerns beyond just websites and databases.

She talked about the many ways that the scope of organisations is shifting:
– broadcasters are putting on exhibitions
– galleries are becoming broadcasters
– social media channels are delivering the news
– artists are making feature films

‘We have moved beyond convergence” she said, adding that “collaboration should take outside your comfort zone.”

The discussion that followed raised some good stuff:

– How can digital accelerate shared missions?
– In making strategy, you need to start with the actual mission of the organisation, or start with people – not the digital.
– Organisations need a holistic strategy for engagement.
– There are certain issues as a lot of different collection data, such as Europeana, were made for different purposes other than public publication online

– In developing new services there is a need to move beyond the museological perspective (e.g. historical) and tell stories with data, to take down the walls between institutions.
– Create spaces for mucking around.
– Digital is a mindset that has no walls – and cultural data needs the same priorities.

Last speaker of the morning was Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer from Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. He shared the museum’s thinking about the ways they have been trying to open up commercial exploitation of its data and assets.

“Copyright is a disreputable term,” he said: he likes to refer to it as image supply. He said he felt that the secure copyright model was bust. I cheered in my head.

They have established image sales, plus good distribution and customer service, but he pulled out the key role of the curator as a person bringing deep knowledge of a subject to managing data.

He talked about the fact that he saw the business model for image sales as being based on the questionable legal status of copyright of photographed images, which as objects are out of copyright. Discuss!

After a visit to Brighton Museum and lunch we reconvened for the afternoon.

I had brought together four *very* different commercial people who worked at *very* different organizations. What they all had in common, however, were established working partnerships that form a key part of their own business model. In other words, they are all passionate about culture and need to work with cultural organisations in some way to thrive.

Chris Thorpe, ArtFinder
Chris is a skilled developer, with a deep understanding and experience of commercial online development. He is a founder of the new cool art site ‘ArtFinder’ and he talked about the things he thinks are important to remember in developing a service:
– Users don’t care about what you care about.
– Size is a key issue in developing a service/platform: What am I (a small phone, a large phone?)
– How long will I last? – short-lived can be good.
– Finish-ability? Focus and scale your ambition and scope.
– The Human factor! – John Peel was the greatest serendipity machine ever.

Andy Budd, Clearleft
Andy talks about user experience all over the globe and is a seriously respected player. His company Clearleft know what they are doing when it comes to understanding user needs, behaviour and journeys. He is very straightforward in the delivery of his opinions and that is why I wanted him to speak at this event. Some people don’t appreciate this kind of bluntness but I do. Key things he said:
Designers (like him) *love* what they do. They are passionate about it in the same way as curators.
He is personally interested in problem solving first and foremost, and he sees problems online everywhere – in interfaces, booking systems, everywhere!
He sees most museum sites as focusing internally (inside the museums) with hardly anything looking outside the institution – maybe as much as a 95/5% split.
He would like to see this switch, but recognises the need for trust in the process to do this.

Laura Scott, EMEA External Relations, Google
Laura’s job at Google is to work on external partnerships. She sees the cultural sector as key in helping Google understand content, engagement and subsequently develop its own technologies more intelligently. She talked about:
– Google’s massive work on translating between different languages, and how important that is to culture.
– The mass digitisation of books that Google has undertaken.
– Their work with archives and the humanities, in particular the online preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls using image recognition software
– The seriously amazing ‘Life In A Day’ film that has just been released
– The new Google Cultural Institute in Paris – opening in 2012.
Google’s work with Culture24 to support the cultural sector in better understanding how to measure success online.

Alyssa Bonic, Arts Manager, BSkyB
Alyssa has watched over Sky Arts’ shift to working very actively with a variety of cultural partners. Although Sky Arts is a subscription service, it is still a seriously impressive, intelligent and unique route to audiences, and as a business they recognise the value of the cultural sector very keenly.
She talked about:
– Their 2 million subscriber base.
– Their audience development work across their channels.
– Their work at the Hay Festival.
– Their 3D dance production.
– Their new Ignite scheme of commissioning new work for production.
SkyArts sponsorship of Museums at Night.

The final discussion brought together all the speakers to talk about collaboration with commercial companies. I titled the session ‘Can you make money and not be evil’ to be deliberately provocative. I wanted to challenge what I often perceive as a negative feeling about working with commercial companies, with muttering of ‘they just want to make money’. Well yes, I say. Of course. But this should not be a problem – and in fact, this is increasingly exactly what cultural organisations are also trying to find ways of doing.

My big take-home from the day is how much the cultural and commercial worlds are coming together. You may see this as good or bad, but I feel it is inevitably true. For me, this is one of the last remaining boundaries to shift and integrate, and follows the long line of profound integrations that are already underway between sectors, technologies and media.

For further thoughts on the day check out Rhiannon Looseley’s guest post on the Culture24 Museums at Night blog.

Museums at Night training workshops: what would you like to learn?

Thank you to all the venues who helped to make Museums at Night 2011 the most successful yet.

352 venues staged 467 events, in 169 different towns and cities across the UK. More than 120,000 visitors attended an event, and the media coverage the campaign received was worth over £1.1 million pounds – an extraordinary result, based on direct funding of £95,000!

Check out the latest Culture24 e-newsletter, where we are asking venues to let us know who’d like a Museums at Night training workshop in their town.

‘Go Collaborate’: MCG Spring Meeting in partnership with Culture24

Friday 17th June 2011
10am to 5pm (arrival from 9.30am)
Lighthouse, 28 Kensington Street, Brighton, BN1 4AJ
Map here

Book your place

Now – perhaps more than ever – is a moment for the museum sector to look outwards and see the opportunities for collaboration.

At a time when the sector’s governance is being re-shaped, the funding landscape re-formed and individual services and institutions restructured, the drive for joint ventures and partnership have become more relevant than ever. In particular it is co-operation with the wider arts sector and with the commercial world that seem to demand attention and offer exciting possibilities for everyone.

Alert to this, Culture24 have brought together professionals from across the creative industries to reflect upon and share their experience of working digitally with cultural sector partners. Through a series of roundtable discussions, this day-long meeting will explore some of the evolving models for online collaboration and discuss the existing and perceived barriers and divisions between different sectors and the public/private worlds.

Those in conversation will include:

Andrew Nairne: Executive Director, Arts, Arts Council England
Gill Johnson: Director, Broadcasting & Digital, Arts Council England
Honor Harger, Director Lighthouse
Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer, The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
Spencer Hyman, CEO & Founder, Artfinder
Andy Budd, Director of user experience, Clearleft
Laura Scott, Laura Scott: EMEA External Relations
Freya Murray, Senior Arts Executive, BSKYB
Alyssa Bonic, Arts Manager, BSKYB
Jane Finnis: Director Culture24

There will also be a special trip to Brighton’s wonderfully unique Royal Pavilion and Museums site.

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Become an MCG member now (for FREE) and save 50% on registration for this meeting:

Latest details and programme for ‘Go Collaborate’:

“A Night Less Ordinary” – thoughts about social media, evalution and campaiging

The ACE scheme, Night Less Ordinary (ANLO), which has given away almost five hundred thousand theatre tickets to under 26-year-olds, is winding down. At RIBA this week, many of those who took part, were brought together by ACE and external consultant Pam Jarvis from sam who have been evaluating the campaign.

The aim of the event was to look at ‘What did we learn?’ I was there as part of a session called ‘Re-imagining A Night Less Ordinary’ and was asked to talk about the opportunities arising from social media to attract audiences.

The event was dominated by theatres and organisations working with young people and theatre. Not my usual crowd but there are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of cross overs with the GLAM sectors work – both in terms of using social media but also in developing audiences for young people.

I shared some learning from two projects Culture24 is leading on, as well as some personal thoughts about the initiative. Here are some of my speaker notes:

1. Action Research ‘How to evaluate online success’
Through this project we have been looking at differences between popularity and engagement within social media channels and also the relationship between:
– the organisations’ investment in social media and their return (either as increased popularity of demonstrable engagement)
– their level of investment and their popularity
– their levels of investment and their popularity
– those who ‘like’ their brand and those who engage with a subject

The project has found some perhaps unexpected findings that suggest that engagement is driven by brand rather than content. In other words, people engage with content about subjects they care about more than content about organisations – even if they ‘like’ these places.

There is clear evidence that, as with all traditional marketing, the more money and resources you throw at something, the more popular you can make it. But engagement – the more elusive cultural sector goal – is not just about scale of your resources but the nature of your message.

The key to all this is segmentation of your audience – targeting what you are offering to specific groups of people. The more precise you can be the better.

The project is working on a framework for measuring social media success that:
– sets objectives
– defines what success is
– looks at action planning
– defines what you need to count
– feedback loop

2. Museums at Night
Coordinated by Culture24, this is a low budget, high content value campaign of late night openings that take place each year in May.

Our approach to the campaign is to push the content of the individual events rather than the brand. We use our central digital infrastructure to collect all the information about individual events into one database. We then interrogate and cut this data to fit different Press and PR needs.

Social Media activities have focused on Twitter (sharing event details) and a ‘behind the scenes’ blog that is written for the sector (those venues putting on events) and feeds new ideas for cross sector collaboration, both of which have been successful in their different goals.

This year we have developed a strategy for Facebook that is all about pushing event listings and ticket offers into existing networks that already have a subject- related interest.

All of these approaches are editorially driven, using examples of stories, experiences and events to engage people and hopefully inspire them to share with their own networks.

We have tried to learn from how other sectors successful use Facebook and other social media networks, such as the Digital Street Teams that are often created from fan bases for bands.
An interesting point here is that this kind of approach crosses over between online and offline and there are interesting parallels with how you could take this approach in Museums or Galleries.

3. Thoughts
Whilst the successful buzz generated online around ANLO is great, it is possibly missing the point about what social media can really do. This is more about creating ‘conversations’. The question is how to create and nurture spaces for conversations to take place – especially when so often they are niche, unequal and opinionated?

There is a scale of participation which begins with those channels that are simply promotion and ends with channels that illicit curation, participation and ongoing relationships.

‘Liking’ is an easy commodity but how meaningful is it?

It does not require any dialogue, participation or exchange – ie: real engagement.
If you go further than just broadcasting your messages, you have to be ready to:
– have something to say
– be genuinely willing to listen/act
– have your whole organisation on board (vertically)
– link your backstage, front of house, management, education, marketing – all of it.
– have the capacity to keep the conversations going
– be specific about what your offer to different groups (under 26 is not one audience)

Finally, there are a lot of clichés about the scale of change around digital opportunities but the real revolution is social not technical. The best way to think about it all is not as ‘online’ or ‘offline’ but as a blended experience with a specific strategic aim.

The big opportunities lie at a deeper level around how your audiences can curate a program or lead your services. Projects like the Taking Part festival and A Younger Audience are testimony of this.

The video of me and the other speakers (Jake Orr, James Mackenzie-Blackman and Susan Whiddington) is available here.

Building digital capacity for the arts

I attended and spoke at the Arts Council and BBC event to promote their building digital capacity for the arts programme to “support the development of the arts sector’s media production skills by bringing together the BBC Academy’s media and digital experience with the Arts Council’s extensive knowledge of the arts sector.”

It is unequivocally a good thing and it was genuinely encouraging to see both organisations in listening mode.

The programme is still in development and will initially focus on five specific ‘tactics’ sessions on:

· creating system-ready content for IPTV, mobile platforms and applications
· commissioning A/V content
· rights
· digital approaches to raising revenue
· archive material

These will then be followed by further sessions, the focus of which is yet to be agreed.

I was part of the panel looking at “What are the challenges and opportunities in using digital technologies” and talked about this from the perspective of Culture24’s work in doing just that.

The panel was chaired by Will Gompertz with his usual (slightly acerbic) charm and he did it very well. I loved his question to me: ‘What is Culture24, as it seems to keep changing?’ – of course!

Ten years is a long time to have lived online and you have to evolve in order to grow and thrive. This has meant for us a radical journey from being a ‘portal’ (one website), to a publisher (many sites) to a platform for content aggregation and distribution. Where next, I wonder ….

Anyway, the end result I think was a good overview of the issues and questions and you can see it all on the videos here.

I came away with a few key thoughts:

– Everyone is talking about how to use different platforms to reach audiences. Everyone wants to get better at connecting with audiences via online channels. But to do this we must work together more and we need central data sets (in the model of Culture24) to do it properly. It’s not about who gets the credit here for a service, it’s about getting the data to the audiences that want it, in the platforms that they are already using.

– There is now hard evidence of how some institutions have used online tactics to revolutionize their audience attendance, participation and engagement. BUT, there are a lot more venues who are seriously challenged by how to engage with this stuff. They may lack the knowledge to understand how to integrate it strategically, and as a result are lost when deciding which tactical solutions to pursue.

– How we evaluate success and how we define the different forms it takes is a big challenge that needs serious work. Check out the Culture24 led action research project in this area and contact me to if you want to be kept up to date as it progresses.

– One size does not fit all. To actually build capacity in the arts you need to consider the needs of artists, performing arts venues, collection-based organisations, festivals and campaigns separately. The strategy and tactics will be different for each.


Below are my speaker’s notes, most of which I ‘actually’ said:

I was at an event yesterday called “mobile for the cultural sector” (see previous post) and I was struck by the clarity with which the commercial organisations there were able to articulate clearly what they are doing, who (specifically) it is designed for, and what their measure of success is.

I don’t see this kind of clarity when it comes to the core digital offerings of most cultural organisations. There is not the same degree of focus, perhaps because the nature of ‘public funding’ is inherently ‘public’ and for everyone. But this is nonsense! If you try and make one thing for everyone, it usually ends up not really meeting the needs of anyone.

I don’t see the current digital output from the cultural sector as being strategic as it really needs to be in its approach to audience segmentation. The lessons they know so well from the physical spaces (galleries, exhibitions, museums etc), the skills of curation, outreach, education, engagement, don’t seem to be carried over to the online world.

Since October 2010 Culture24 has been leading an action research project called ‘How to evaluate online success’ with a group of 17 big cultural organisations to begin to consider these kind of issues. To look in details at what we are all currently doing on our websites and social media channels and to try and define success and failures. To get real about what is not working – which in honesty is only ever a problem if you are ignoring the things that are not working well and not doing anything about them!

An example of being more specific could be if one of your organisation’s strategic aims is to increase your visitor numbers from the surrounding local community, you could analyse your web output by segmenting your audience in Google Analytics by location.

The project has raised a lot of questions about the differences between making decisions that are based on strategy as opposed to tactics. This means that the questions are not about how to build something mobile, but who are my users and what do they want to do on the move? Quite a different starting point.

So, the big challenge for all institutions (and you could say the Arts Council as well) is “what is their strategy behind digital?” . Specifically who are they trying to reach, what is it they are trying to achieve, what would success look like (so they can tell if it’s working) and then finally, how will it best be delivered (platform, technology, channel, brand, partner etc).

So where I work at Culture24 we have been publishing a mix of editorial, venue info, events and resources into our various channels for nearly ten years. We have a network of over 4,500 venues around the UK who contribute content into our system about their venue, events, exhibitions and resources.

This has created a big database of stuff that can be sliced, packed and shared in a multitude of ways either:
– into our own channels, or
– packaged and shared with others for reuse.

The epiphany came several years ago when we realized the potential for many different reuses and the economy of scale of the kind of centralised infrastructure we have built.

The most significant example of this packaging comes by way of a three year agreement with the BBC to be their ‘official cultural data provider’ of cultural activities in order to support their new ‘Things To Do’ project which will go live in April 2011. We are very excited about this and believe that it will slowly have a big impact on developing reach to audiences for cultural activities once it is live.

You could say we are becoming a platform and in that role face new challenges that come from curating data for sharing. This is difficult stuff and comes with a seemingly invisible set of skills and requirements that you don’t even know you haven’t thought about until you are in it.

We have found that our partners want the bigger picture so being a central system for certain kinds of data (content) is really valuable.

In fact, Culture24 have built what I believe is a necessary piece of the national central cultural digital infrastructure that the sector needs. There are others too: Culturelabel (buying), Culturegrid (collections), not to mention those outside the public sector such as FlickrCommons and GoogleArt.

My last point is about a project we coordinate called Museums at Night, which is a weekend of late night openings that are about doing something different to appeal to audiences who may think museums and galleries are not for them. The thing is that Museums at Night is not a digital project, but it would not be possible to deliver it without the central digital infrastructure that we have.

This means that:
– We use our network of venues to share ideas and resources to help them plan better events
– They use our database to tell us what they are planning
– We use the database to interrogate their plans and package events by audience or theme and pull them out to relevant press and audiences.

The end result in 2010 was more than 85,000 people doing something different with their evening by attending a Museums at Night event, of which 47% had never been to the venue before. The opportunity here is to consider how the infrastructure supports more than the obvious online outputs.

Read the speech by Mark Thompson from the BBC

Read the speech by Alan Davey from ACE