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Phase 2: Digital Engagement
Phase 2 of the Let’s Get Real action research project, led by Culture24 and involving 22 participating cultural organisations collaborating over an 11 month period, explored what digital engagement could mean for them. Each organisation in the project was supported through the process of considering this question in more detail in order to try and focus them to segment their audience and set more specific objectives.
The project provided a welcome opportunity to step back from the day to day issues of delivering digital services and to instead reflect upon the wider issues, whilst learning and sharing with colleagues and experts.
This final report ‘A journey towards understanding and measuring digital engagement’ tells the story of this journey for the 22 project partners, facilitated by the Culture24 project team. Its recommendations and learning provide invaluable insights and are a snapshot of the wider struggle the cultural sector faces to significantly improve its digital services.
The story of Phase 2
In 2010 when Culture24 was setting up its first collaborative action research project one of the key questions we tackled was how to meaningfully integrate digital tactics into a cultural organisation’s overall strategic mission. This sounds obvious but it is not as simple as it may first appear.
For many cultural organisations the online world and digital tools are still unfamiliar and unknown. They are aware of the knowledge gap between them and those (often younger) individuals who feel fluent in this new language. This tension is made worse by the fact that although digital technologies are understood as tools that need to be used and shaped to a purpose, they also change the very nature of their users’ behaviour – allowing access to information on the move, facilitating connections between sets of previously separate data and offering a multitude of opportunities for sharing and participation.
As such, the shift needed for an organisation to feel confident in understanding these changes in user behaviour and then to integrate the use of digital tactics into their overall strategic mission in useful ways requires a significant shift in internal thinking at all levels. The time, space and commitment needed to do this well cannot be under-estimated.
Many cultural organisations also face a raft of internal pressures sparked by expectations such as:
- Online developments will significantly improve audience reach
- Online developments will provide access to new audiences (especially younger ones)
- We need to be seen to be using digital tools and not getting left behind
- Senior management (directors/trustees) want us to build a big, shiny new showcase digital ‘thing’ that will show everyone we are cool (app, kiosk, game, etc.)
- Digital will help us earn more money
- Digital will increase participation
These expectations are often unrealistic and are strategically the wrong starting place for thinking about any new business development of any kind, but especially any using digital technologies. The starting point should, instead, be the mission of the organisation and the needs of the target audience. You need to know what you want to achieve and who it is for. A useful entry point for each cultural organisation to explore how their organisational missions can connect with the needs of their target audiences online is to examine the question ‘what is digital engagement?’
Once an organisation begins to understand this question, the key internal challenge then becomes one of digital literacy and technical capability amongst the staff team as they try to choose the right platform, channel or approach to do what they want to do. The journey becomes essentially one of internal change that is geared to nurturing digitally fluent staff and, crucially, digitally fluent decision-makers.