What questions would you ask your director about museums & digital technologies?

It’s almost time for the Museum Computer Network conference to begin and in a few short days, I’ll be on my way to Seattle.

On November 10th, I’ll be moderating a roundtable discussion with four directors, about what they see as the pressing issues for the museum field when it comes to digital technologies and what we all do. We will explore themes that emerge, and open it up to questions from the floor, and hopefully everybody will come away something useful. All the details are here.

The session is an outcome of a long Twitter conversation I blogged about months ago on the need for broadening the scope of the conversation about digital technologies, instead of just talking endlessly in our comfortable peer groups. It’s also a testament to the MCN Program Committee’s flexibility that they found a spot in the program for this session even though it grew up organically outside the session proposal mechanism.

I am very excited to sit down with group and hear what they think. I’m hoping for some lively discussion amongst the panelists and with the audience, but I’d like to include some voices from the wider world. So I have a question for you.

If you could ask a group of forward-thinking museum directors a question about the intersection of digital technologies and museum work, what would that question be?

I will be collecting responses all week, and will try to make sure they get asked in Seattle!




  1. I’m all about tying digital back to the core policies of a museum, so: what are your key goals for audience engagement this year/five years/ten years? Where do your audiences currently hang out online and in physical spaces/communities, and how do they self-identify? Are there any audiences you know you aren’t currently reaching?

    And even though technology is just a set of tools with a bunch of behaviours and expectations attached, I’d like to ask: what scares you about digital technologies and your museum?


    1. To take Mia’s last Q, and switch it up a little, I’d like to know what excites them about digital technologies and their museum; and what (if any) new opportunities they see that it brings for thinking or doing things that haven’t been possible before, but that might be desirable.


  2. I’d be interested to hear what ratio – in terms of resource allocation – directors regard as appropriate for physically-oriented work versus digitally-oriented. (And then compare the actual.)


  3. These are the 11 questions I’m trying to get local museum directors to answer at the minute:

    1) To what extent does cultural policy (and cultural policy metrics such as Key Performance Indicators) shape your institutions approach to digital practice?

    2) How does digital practice link to your museums broader institutional mission?

    3) Does your museum have a digital policy? (If yes, what does this cover e.g. digitisation, education, outreach, website, social media, in gallery technology)

    4) Emphasis in recent years has been placed on digitising collections. What should we do with these collections when they are digitised?

    5) How important do you think your museums digital presence is?

    6) What do you think will be the main challenges for museums in Northern Ireland over the next 10 years?

    7) Can you give an example of an international museum that the museum sector in Northern Ireland should look to for best practice guidance on digital museum standards?

    8) What are the main barriers which prevent your museum from creating digital practice which is off the same standard as the museum you listed above?

    9) What conditions would facilitate digital research, development and innovation in the museum sector in Northern Ireland? e.g. Funding, skills, access to international best practice- Please discuss

    10) How do you keep up to date with emerging digital museum practices? (e.g. training courses, reading professional journals, social media, attending conferences, professional networks)

    11) Who do you feel is responsible for increasing understanding of digital practice in your museum? (e.g. senior management, middle management, entry level staff)

    I’m really looking forward to following your MCN session on twitter, it will be interesting to put the responses I get from museums in Northern Ireland into a broader international context, and to look at the differences/ similarities to the answers you get to your questions.


    1. You raise a good point I’d forgotten; capturing the discussion as it happens. I’ll be concentrating on keeping the session moving, and that’s about the limit of my ability. Anybody planning on attending who’d be willing to live-tweet the conversation? This will also be one of the sessions being streamed, so there’ll be a record for posterity.


  4. You’re going to need a longer session!

    I’ve thought of another one – true confession time: have you ever fallen prey to ‘director’s dinner party disease’, where you start a project at your museum because another senior figure said ‘oh, everyone’s doing these apps/sites/projects’? (I’m not actually expecting an answer, but it would be great to know what they’d learnt from that if they had)


  5. So bummed I can’t be there but if I was, I’d ask, “what are you doing to prepare for what comes after ‘digital’?”. And relate that to decisions being made about what to insource and what to outsource, and structural change.


  6. Fingers crossed you get a volunteer to tweet / or blog the session – sounds like lots of us wish we could attend – good luck with it!


  7. Two from me:
    * how they are looking at changing work practices, job descriptions and recruitment policies to incorporate digital
    * how are they managing mobile strategy – do they have one and how are they incorporating mobile into the ways we work (for example, are purchasing policies changing so that all staff are equipped for the mobile/tablet revolution)


  8. From an broad institutional perspective I would be interested to hear about how they would balance financial constraints with digital aspirations (following on from Cath Styles’ question). What would be their digital priorities? What do they consider too greater financial risk? What would you sacrifice to make digital aspirations a reality?


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