The Science Museum Group’s mission is to “engage people in a dialogue about the history, present and future of human ingenuity”. Increasingly, achieving this mission is dependent on making digital a dimension of everything the Group does.
The Science Museum Group will focus its 2015–17 digital activity in the areas that provide greatest impact for audiences, where we must be world leading and where effects are cumulative.
Improve audience experience through a user-centered and holistic approach to the visitor journey, and develop a strategic approach to interpretation to make best use of digital media to bring the displays to life;
Increase use of audience data, initiate a Digital Lab to deliver groundbreaking and innovative digital experiences, and build organisation-wide capability;
Provide digital access to the collection through investment in infrastructure and user interface; adopt open content licenses; and invite audiences to contribute to this work;
4. Narrative content
Tell the stories of how the modern world was shaped by the areas covered by the collection through narrative-based content; and engage audiences with contemporary science, engineering, media, transport, medicine and media through a dynamic, multi-channel approach;
Build sustainable and scalable technical infrastructure to deliver these ambitions and lay the foundations for ambitious future initiatives.
Context: audiences in the digital age
Digital is transforming audiences and affords museums new ways to fulfill their mission:
— Audiences’ interaction with museums now always has a digital component. Museums can gain value by creating high-quality digital experiences and using audience data to improve experience and communications.
— Audiences have access to unparalleled volumes of information. The museum can create value by being an authoritative source of digital information.
— Audiences seek to understand the museums’ subject areas. Museums can create value by structuring and interpreting the collections through digital narratives.
— Through digital tools, audiences are participating in the creation of media. Museums can create value by providing resources for audiences to use to their own ends.
— The collections encompass areas where there is considerable audience expertise. Museums can gain value by inviting audiences to share this expertise in support of the museum’s mission.
For many, the digital visit is their primary touch point with the museums. The museums that address digital audiences first and furthest will establish themselves as the global go-to destination for their subject areas.
The following principles will guide our approach to digital:
1) Audience centred
— Define digital audiences through qualitative and quantitative insight.
— Share this knowledge widely to shape better decision-making.
— Develop content around clearly defined audience needs.
— Test on real users as part of development process.
— Analyse which channels are most appropriate to which audience needs.
— Ensure that digital content and services are accessible to all.
— Launch with simple products, evaluate and progressively enhance.
2) Sustainable and scalable
— Build for the long-term and for growth.
— Commission content with the whole user experience in mind.
— Ensure the digital roadmap benefits all Science Museum Group museums through single, shared infrastructure.
— Implement processes that ensure that content and technology is well maintained.
3) Entrepreneurial and innovative
— Make innovative use of established and proven technologies.
— Respond to the rapidly evolving technology landscape through experimentation that informs future initiatives.
— Provide open data platforms on which others can build.
— Seek new partnerships and collaborations to increase capability.
4) Open, reusable and sharable
— Use permissive content licenses, allowing non-commercial reuse.
— Promote content reuse through partnerships.
— Apply open standards and use open source software where possible.
— Share collection data and other data sets where they will aid external researchers.
5) Embedded across the organisation
— Establish pan-museum digital department with deep expertise.
— Overhaul processes, guidelines and policies.
— Build digital mindset in organisation through knowledge sharing.
— Embed digital into development processes for all initiatives.
— Share the impacts and effectiveness of digital initiatives widely.
1.1) The Museums will deliver a world-class digital communications
The Museums will undertake a phased redesign of the web offer. Fulfilling audience needs simply will be at the heart of this new web presence. Better promotion of the paid programmes will be delivered through greater prominence and a move to more sophisticated, personalised digital communications. There will be a significantly greater use of multimedia and audience content to promote the experience of visiting the museums.
1.2) The Museums will deliver inspiring digital learning experiences
Building on the unique experience of the proximity of the collections, the museums will offer digital experiences that cannot be had elsewhere. An integrated and consistent implementation of digital media will be implemented to aid visitors’ interpretation of the museums’ displays, alongside a small number of bespoke, large-scale interventions to bring the displays to life, explain the scientific concepts and engage the visitors with issues around science and its practice.
A new approach to digital learning resources will be developed that are a go to destination for educators, students and families. Video resources, new digital tools and 3D scans of objects are among the approaches under consideration.
2.1) The Group’s digital activity will be guided by user data.
New tools and metrics reports will be implemented to shape digital activity. Annual surveys of web users and on-going analysis of digital in the museums (in particular mobile usage) will be implemented to build knowledge and track trends.
2.2) The Group will embed digital activity across the organisation
Increasingly managing and maintaining digital content and services will be devolved across the organisation. Through development of a holistic, user-centered approach to web content development new guidelines and policies, training and skills sharing, the digital aptitude of the organisation will be increased.
2.3) The Group will establish itself as a digital innovator through a Digital Lab
Digital technologies and audience behaviour is evolving quickly and the Group must provide groundbreaking audience experiences through new technologies. We will achieve this by establishing a Digital Lab. The Digital Lab will be a set of activities that will build capability, explore the full potential of digital and establish the digital reputation of the Group.
The Digital Lab will focus activity in areas of medium- and long-term strategic importance, undertake initiatives with a short lifetime, explore new technologies through collaborations with the commercial sector and higher education; seek funding through previously untapped sources; and publish findings and outputs of research, including through the Science Museum Journal.
2.4) The Group will share their work openly
A version of the digital strategy and associated policies and guidelines will be published online. A digital blog will be launched to share expertise, progress and in-progress thinking. Where possible, code will be released under an open source licence for others to build on.
3.1) The Group will provide access to digitised collections
Our collections and curatorial expertise are unparalleled, and this is matched in our ambitions for our online collection. A refreshed online collection website will be developed that will offer a single interface and powerful search to all collections, offer large images and be highly discoverable.
Once the refreshed web presence is deployed, the group will have a scalable infrastructure platform (see 5.1) for potentially millions of objects and increasing digitisation can be considered.
3.2) The Group will provide resources that empower audiences
The Group will enable audience’s reuse of images of collection objects to increase reach and promote the collection. This will be achieved though adoption of permissive, “open” content licenses – such as Creative Commons – that enable non-commercial reuse. As currently, high-resolution images will be available for commercial licensing through Science and Society Picture Library.
3.3) The Group will invite audiences to contribute to collection research
The museums will establish an online crowdsourcing initiative to allow the public to share their expertise around the collection. It is likely that the first initiative will be around systematic “tagging” the photography collection to aid discovery by search in the forthcoming online collection.
4) Narrative content
4.1) The Museums will tell the stories behind the collections
Through a development of engaging narrative-based content that focuses on telling the stories of people’s lives, we will create the go-to online destination for exploring the subjects covered by the collection. These narratives will be a major feature of each museum’s website, enabling them to “own” their content area online.
The narratives will be “evergreen” and built to grow, be for adult audiences, have a user-friendly discovery layer, consolidate existing content, and establish a format that exhibitions, public programme and gallery masterplan projects will all contribute to.
4.2) The Museums will engages audiences with emerging developments in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths)
The digital approach to contemporary STEM will be given renewed energy through digital. Using “guerrilla” style interview video, social media and digital tools, the Group will create a vibrant suite of digital initiatives that bring contemporary STEM to life and to new audiences.
5.1) The Museums’ websites will move to a single, shared technology platform
To maximise the impact of resources, the websites will move to a single infrastructure, and savings from use of an open source technologies will be analysed. New search technologies will be considered to provide better discoverability of web content.
5.2) The collections delivery infrastructure will be extended to improve search and support larger scale delivery
The next phase of the collections delivery infrastructure will build scale for delivery of digitised collections, and add more powerful search capabilities. The approach will be modular to establish a platform for ambitious future initiatives and to aid automation of digitisation workflow.