More often than ever cultural organisations look for new ways of using new technologies to create and share digital content and to communicate, respond and engage with wider audiences. Experimenting and developing digital content is becoming more and more a vital element of management strategies and actions.

A cultural entrepreneur and expert on creative and business strategy, Jonathan Drori is also an advisor, mentor and non-executive Director for some  of the UK’s largest cultural institutions. He has previously been Head of Digital Media for BBC Education, Head of Commissioning for BBC Online and founding Director of Culture Online for the UK Government. He was honoured with a CBE by Her Majesty the Queen in 2006.

In the document Encouraging Digital Access to Culture Jonathan Drori draws on his own experience in consultations with the sector on what exactly the challenges and opportunities in relation to digital content usability in the cultural organisations are. The document contains findings, advises and recommendations across a number of key areas especially related to connections between digitalisation and organisational strategy,  leadership, organisational culture, project management and more.  It could be of use for cultural professionals, decision makers in the cultural sector so that they can accelerate public digital access to cultural institutions and projects.

1. Why is it important for leaders in the cultural sector to be “digitally-aware”?

The cultural sector as a whole needs to use every means possible to engage its audiences. New techniques pop up all the time and the institutions need to understand and use them. Digital techniques are especially important to understand at the moment because they enable a whole range of new ways to reach people and for the public to participate. Leaders and managers need to understand enough of the new digital possibilities to be able confidently to take decisions about whether or not to deploy or develop them.

2. Boards usually consist of professionals with very diverse background, experience and knowledge. What are the ways to make sure that the board members of cultural organisations, networks and associations are aware of digital policies and strategies, and understand their importance for the future development of an organisation in the cultural sector – not only for marketing and visibility, but also in the overall creative and managerial processes?

First, executives and trustees need to acknowledge that within the group, they need to have this knowledge and that there should be a critical mass of people who feel confident in the area. That’s the hard bit. After that, it’s relatively easy. In the UK I and my colleagues act as mentors and trainers for senior government people, trustees and executives and I expect there are similar services available in the rest of Europe. There are many other suggestions for increasing the pool of knowledge in the publication itself. 

3. How do you understand the term “digital policy” and how is it related to the overall strategic planning process in a cultural organisation?

Some of the areas in the document include organisations’ attitudes to sharing material and allowing the public to adapt or re-distribute it, how to deal with copyright issues, defining what factors are really important within a partnership or collaboration and of course, the business models that are being pursued.

4. How does the free use of online content in the cultural sector change the issues of ownership of content? How does this phenomenon reflect on the business companies in the cultural sector and on their ongoing aim to keep the ownership on the content and to generate profit by its distribution?

The booklet describes different kinds of material as far as ownership and copyright are concerned. Much of the material we’re talking about is a very long time out of copyright and our feeling in the UK at least is that this material should be freely available to the public, at least for non-commercial use. A useful model for commercial exploitation is to allow people to experiment and then stipulate a revenue-share with the institution if an idea makes money.  The important things are public access and the ability of different kinds of organisations to experiment with business models. Assets are of little value to anyone, public or commercial, if they never see the light of day!

5. You say in your book that “The sector needs a simple and routine method for encouraging innovative ideas…”. Could you give an example of what kind of management tools and techniques could be implemented to foster innovation in the arts?

This might vary from country to country. One of the things I suggest in Encouraging Digital Access is a source of commissioning money within organisations, or in the sector, that enables people to get over the initial ‘Catch 22’ problem of not being able to start on a project until its properly defined but can’t set about defining it until there are resources available.

6. Could you give a few concrete examples on how audiences can add value to online cultural projects by active participation and creation of content?

There are many examples and techniques described in the booklet. They range from recommendation engines that infer people’s tastes from their online behaviour, to voting mechanisms, to expert comment that the public can provide. The public can aid marketing too, by creating links and and drawing in their friends and contacts to enjoy and participate. In the UK there are many examples in which curators have been humbled by the knowledge of the public, especially in matters relating to the portrayal of recent history and we have all been delighted by artworks that derive from pre-existing material.

7. You provide a helpful list of “10 essential Things to Do”, one of them is “be user-focused, not driven by management structures or technical solutions”. That’s great advice, but don’t you think it might be very difficult to implement in types of organisations who are not driven by audience participation or user interactions? Or maybe there could be a good balance in any digital strategy between participatory, managerial and technological approach towards content creation and further actions?

There is always a danger, especially with publicly funded bodies that are guaranteed income whatever they do, that people lose sight of public needs and desires. Retailers and media companies are perhaps more likely than Government departments to achieve the difficult balance between supplying what their audiences want, and developing the services that their audiences don’t yet realise they desire.


Encouraging Digital Access to Culture: free download:

Read the blog post also on LabforCulture.

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