Ashley Smith-Hammond

On the first Wednesday in May, a group of 40 people from across Scotland's cultural sector came together to talk about their hopes, challenges, fears and aspirations for the digital transformation of our sector.

A Digital Transformation Discussion

Earlier this month, Culture Republic hosted an event inviting our network to join us for an open conversation around the question “What does digital transformation mean to you and your organisation?”

The conversation was structured around six key questions and the roundtables of participants took each in turn. Here are the highlights from each of the conversations.

WHAT ARE THE LATEST WAYS YOU ARE USING DATA AND DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY TO UNDERSTAND AND ENGAGE AUDIENCES?

notes reading 'one size fits all impossible for different clients'Participants who engaged with this question saw opportunities to do more at a community level – either through chosen communities of interest or geographic communities. They observed that different people had their needs met in different ways by the same channels. There is therefore more space for organisations to think from users’ perspectives in order to make sure their strategies are meeting their audiences’ needs. Professionally, people were using online channels as places to learn, ask questions and smooth the way to making connections with people who have a particular interest or expertise.

WHAT SKILLS AND TRAINING IS NEEDED TO DEVELOP EFFECTIVE DIGITAL STRATEGIES FOR THE FUTURE E.G. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW AND BE ABLE TO DO?

notes reading 'use digital to be less digital'In this discussion there was a focus on the positive emotional outcome from greater skills: the removal of (or at least reduction in) what the participants dubbed ‘digital fear’. People spoke about an interest in particular skills such as using CRM systems better or learning to manage social channels more effectively. However, the focus was on people: internally through learning from each other; and externally by using new technology to ‘be more human’ and connect with audiences as individuals. Respondents reported that they could see opportunities for this kind of improvement right across their own organisations.

HOW COULD THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT, FUNDERS AND INDUSTRY WORK TOGETHER TO HELP YOU MAXIMISE THE BENEFITS OF DATA AND DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY?

note saying 'time to fail, it's okay to try lots'Participants were looking for leadership around this. They suggested that funders could help by being more tolerant of risk and experimentation – people were worried they couldn’t try things and be seen to fail. They were also hungry for funders to help them access audiences they couldn’t reach on their own – this could be through facilitating collaboration with other organisations or through the funder leveraging its own channels. From both they were looking for a central point of information for guidance and shared practice.

There was a strong feeling that infrastructure was a core area that the Scottish Government could contribute. Digital infrastructure in terms of broadband or 4G wireless access are still very unevenly distributed around the country. This affects how much artists, producers and cultural organisations in particular areas of the country could make use of online tools. It also limits the degree to which audiences could use technology to access information about what’s on offer locally. This is an issue for local residents and visitors alike.

LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT ARE YOU OR YOUR ORGANISATIONS’ KEY CHALLENGES AROUND COLLECTING, USING AUDIENCE DATA AND BEING MORE DIGITALLY FOCUSSED?

Time and resources were big issues for people who did not feel they had enough to take a steer on how to change things. There was a particular uncertainty among many about what tools worked best.

cartoon 'no ticket sales no data'Some organisations were using digital to reach audiences around the world. They saw digital tools as something that was making the world a smaller place.

Participants reported that they sometimes needed digital analysis to evidence what they would do going forward and prove it was worthwhile. Many however are still using paper-based tools (surveys, sending out brochures) and are looking to reduce these even further.

Leadership was seen as an issue. People felt they could see some examples of good leaders who are helping to steer change for some organisations and provide lessons for other organisations.

IF MONEY, RESOURCES AND TIME WERE NO BARRIER, WHAT ARE THE FIRST STEPS YOU OR YOUR ORGANISATION WOULD TAKE TO BECOMING MORE DIGITALLY RESPONSIVE?

post it note reading 'social mediocre'Here people talked about both investing in systems (CRM or box office or tools to help manage internal processes) as well as ‘proper training’ to build skills for effective online marketing for example. The pace of organisational change was seen as a particular issue which lagged behind the pace of technological change. There was a sense from participants that the use of digital tools wasn’t embedded equally across all areas of organisations.

Participants were concerned that many online communications were a bit dull or rote and coined the term ‘social mediocrity’. They reported feeling a greater challenge around being imaginative and distinctive.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN AUDIENCE BEHAVIOUR ONLINE?

notes reading 'different across generations'

People were particularly concerned about the speed of change in the area of social media with a constant flux in which platforms are used, how they are used and the profile of the users. How can we plan for these kinds of changes and deliver strategically? 

There has also been a change in the customer expectation that the organisation was ‘always on,’ with 24:7 availability on all channels. People found this hard to be responsive to and staff appropriately. 

Participants were aware that online audiences did not mirror in-person audiences, and they felt they were unsure how to meet the needs for the different segments within the online audience. What do online users want and what’s the best way to provide it?