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The DOORS of perception are open, do come on in

A while ago we applied to a call for projects… 

It caught our attention because it was aimed at small to medium sized museums and focused on enabling them to develop prototypes-digital pilot projects which (if successfully implemented) would then be offered into the cumulative knowledge and experience of the larger European network of museums. If accepted, the museum organizations would undergo a Digital museum incubator program in two stages, giving them the opportunity to transfer newly gained knowledge and insights onto the pilot projects as they go. I believe we were never more excited about applying for any program before. This was something we just loved for its mission, its structure and Its focus on the very process, not just the results. 

So we put our heads together and came up with not one but three proposed pilot projects, one by each department head and pitched them excitedly with more internal zest and commitment than actual hope for making the cut. Because this was exactly what we needed in 2022: We needed to think more deeply about all the seeds of digital activity that sprouted anew during the pandemic and to nurture the work that has already had significant organization-wide impact without being designed to do that as a primary function. And if accepted into the program it would do just that for us. Take us on a journey on which not only would we be able to work on a pilot project, we found interesting for us. Not only to work on a pilot project we firmly believed has the shape and size that could be used by other organizations tackling some of the same digital existential challenges. But also to work on a project and be surrounded with peers with whom we could connect and exchange best practices, talk about the daily or strategic challenges, get to know different organizational cultures but also have access to a vast network of mentors boosting our ability to expand our understanding of the museum landscape as well as various levels of digital expertise. 

And why would we as a Computer History Museum actually need to be educated about various things “digital”, you ask me? Because we know what we don’t know… and because we’d love to confirm the fact that we do know some things nonetheless. Even though we are 18 years old this year, we are organizationally a young institution. We also have the added capacity of understanding the value of mentorship supported work as we have ourselves provided mentorship help to others. And then there is the value of being removed from the daily grind for a certain amount of pre-allocated time, even though sometimes hard to defend in the light of pressing immediate tasks, gives you the ability to re-focus on what is really important for the organization, strategically. 

Plus, we got really excited about the prospects of our pilot project proposals and knew that being led through a structured program immensely increased the speed and efficiency of implementation. There’s nothing like a good peer group to keep you on your toes and moving along with a decent tempo. And a network of new international connections is always a good boost. 

However and more importantly: Why am I even writing this? 

Because we got invited to participate and the selected pilot project has me down as the lead. So here we go, we’re joining a digital incubator for museums and fingers crossed it’ll be a Tech-Stars level of experience! We start tomorrow. I promise to be too focused on the content to spend energy on social media during the program, but I’ll do my best to let you know how it goes.

You can read more about DOORS here

But in case you’re short on time let me just quote the bits that resonated with us the most: 

  • harmonious blend between onsite and online
  • explore possible reconfigurations of cultural spaces and their offers and find new ways of content distribution and new revenue and organization models

DOORS – Digital Incubator for Museums comes to support museums at a moment in which attitudes towards the digitalisation of the sector are changing. The accelerated pace of technological and digital developments and the pressure coming from the competition with on-demand content creates not only haunting insecurity but also a strong desire for change in the sector. Regarded with less scepticism, the digital transformation of museums is now seen as a necessary, urgent, even exciting endeavour. 

It’s time to develop strategies that incorporate the digital into the DNA of institutions to foster pro-active, rather than reactive digital transformations.

Despite the urgency, digital strategies for the future can be neither makeshift nor standard. We must take the time to engage critically with technology and address concerns around it, move beyond a perception of digital technologies as cutting-edge appendixes and instead, understand them as part of a broader context in which they must integrate harmoniously. Only then will museums reach the digital maturity levels that can sustain the integration of technology into existing practices, thus becoming adaptable, diverse, and inclusive spaces.

To redesign cultural spaces and services and their relationship with museum audiences means to decode existing dynamics within them. In response, DOORS wants to support museums in developing future-proof strategies that recode these dynamics both to seamlessly integrate technology and to enrich the online and onsite cultural offer.

The DOORS program has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It is run by a consortium of partners, we find so inspiring that we’ll just quote their full DOORS website texts: 

 

Ars Electronica is a cultural institution, educational facility and R&D lab based in Linz, Austria. Since the Ars Electronica Festival first took place in 1979, Ars Electronica has developed a unique, comprehensive approach to techno-cultural phenomena and gained worldwide recognition. Ars Electronica now includes four divisions — the annual Ars Electronica Festival, the Prix Ars Electronica, the Ars Electronica Center, and the Ars Electronica FutureLab – that work in parallel yet inspire one another in a circuit of creativity. From the international, artistic experimentations celebrated with the Ars Electronica Festival and the Prix Ars Electronica, to the local educational and entertainment programme of the Ars Electronica Center and the ground-breaking research conducted in the FutureLab, their approach responds to the Zeitgeist and transgresses disciplinary territories creating a space of dialogue and inter-disciplinary translation.

 

MUSEUM BOOSTER is a Vienna-based research & consultancy company with a focus on the strategic advancement of museums and cultural institutions through digital transformation and organisational innovation. MUSEUM BOOSTER focuses on four areas of activities and services: (1) identifying innovations that can enhance visitor experience of museums and cultural institutions (Future Museum – international research project), (2) conducting research on new media technologies in museums (e.g., Museum Innovation Barometer), (3) consulting museums on digital transformation and designing new revenue sources, and (4) conceptualising museums.

 

Ecsite, the European Network for Science Centres & Museums, is the only Europe-wide network organisation linking science centres and museums, natural history museums, zoos, aquariums, universities, and research organisations. The common thread uniting these organisations is a commitment to public engagement: pursuing the vision of fostering creativity and critical thinking in European society and emboldening citizens to engage with science and technology. Ecsite facilitates co-operation among Europe’s science centres and museums by establishing standards, sharing expertise, disseminating best practices, encouraging collaboration, and developing training programmes. The Ecsite Conference is Europe’s most prominent meeting bringing together 1,200 science engagement professionals from around Europe and the world each spring.