Digital Works

Episode 004 - Kati Price

March 30, 2020 Digital Works / Kati Price Season 1 Episode 4
Digital Works
Episode 004 - Kati Price
Chapters
Digital Works
Episode 004 - Kati Price
Mar 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Digital Works / Kati Price

A conversation with the Victoria & Albert Museum's Head of Digital, Kati Price.

We talk about the elements of digital success, Kati's work researching how digital teams are structured at cultural institutions, digital storytelling, Kati's career to date and much more.

You can find more information about Kati and Dafydd's research on the Museums & the Web site https://mw18.mwconf.org/paper/structuring-for-digital-success-a-global-survey-of-how-museums-and-other-cultural-organisations-resource-fund-and-structure-their-digital-teams-and-activity/

Show Notes Transcript

A conversation with the Victoria & Albert Museum's Head of Digital, Kati Price.

We talk about the elements of digital success, Kati's work researching how digital teams are structured at cultural institutions, digital storytelling, Kati's career to date and much more.

You can find more information about Kati and Dafydd's research on the Museums & the Web site https://mw18.mwconf.org/paper/structuring-for-digital-success-a-global-survey-of-how-museums-and-other-cultural-organisations-resource-fund-and-structure-their-digital-teams-and-activity/

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the digital works podcast. This podcast is about digital stuff in the cultural sector. My name's Ash and usually I would be joined by one of my lovely colleagues for a chat, but today I am in Karuna virus induced isolation so I'll keep it brief and that small bark cause one of my dogs he's trying to play with one of my other dogs . This episode features a chat with Cottey price cut his head of digital media and publishing at the Victoria and Albert museum here in London. And as well as her work at the VNA Katia is also carried out some really interesting and useful research around how digital teams and cultural organizations are structured. So we talk a bit about that research. We talk about her work at the VNA, her career to date and lots of other things. Enjoy. Okay, no clanking. Zero client , zero client . Um, hi Kati . Hello Ash. Thanks for joining us on the digital works podcast. You're very welcome. Um , I sent you a bunch of talking points so maybe if we will , we'll go through those. But Nesta rather inconsiderately released their digital culture survey last night. And I know both of us haven't had a chance to fully digest it, but we have read the executive summary so we can have some sort of top level general thoughts as well. But I think the findings of that certainly touch on some of the things that I wanted to talk to you about anyway, but maybe it's an introduction. You work at the Victoria and Albert museum. What do you do at the Victoria and Albert museum? So I head up digital media and publishing. So our mission is to bring the [inaudible] stories to life online and in print. And so I have a team that is spread across content, so that's content for online and other digital formats and to create beautiful stories in books. Uh , typically exhibition, catalog spill . So other books that we publish with third party partners. Um, and then we also create our own digital products . So we have a team that's spread across design, product and technology. And so we make the digital products that, how's that content team ? That's quite an enjoyably broad remit. It's great. I'm very lucky to have such a broad team with such broad skills. I know that's unusual where a large, relatively well funded institution. Yeah. How have you ended up where you are? Cause I think, am I right in saying you've been at the VNA for a little while and it feels like your role is matured and expanded over that time, but, but where were you before the VNA? Are you a sector veteran? Are you a newcomer to the sector ?

Speaker 2:

Hello ? I'm a relative newbie, although I've been seven years in the role, so probably less so now. Um , I began 20 years ago, so I'll do a quick summary of two decades. Um, I started , uh, after my undergraduate degree in anthropology and geography. I then did a M a in history of design and that sort of course run between the VNA and the Royal college of art. And after that I ended up working in arts marketing at a small arts marketing agency. We had brilliant , um, clients like channel four , Tate and Selfridges. After that I ended up , uh , in a PR marketing brand role at a furniture company and had a brilliant time for four years, but probably got a little bit bored of writing press releases about expensive safers and wanted to explore the more , um , interesting end of design thinking about design for social good. That took me to a role at the Sorrell foundation , um , doing some project management for a program called joined up design for schools, which saw young people become the clients in the design process, working with designers to make improvements in their schools. And then that led me to the design council, the UK national body for design where I ultimately became a head of digital. And so that would really expose me to the whole world of human centered design. And that sort of practice I guess has informed everything I've done since. Uh , I was there for seven years and when my second born was five weeks old, I saw a tweet when I was feeding him at three in the morning and it was a tweet saying that the VNA has got this amazing job going as head of digital media. And I thought, that's my dream job. And then I got , uh, a bunch of friends also texted to be the next day say, it's your dream job, who must apply. And in my sleep deprive delirium, I thought, yes, I'll apply with a five week old baby in tow. And luckily I was got, I got the job and it really was my dream job and it sort of took me round circle back to the VNA to work with a collection I love and have studied in a former life as a design history student. Wow. That's, there you go. That's two minute summary.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant to 2020 years in, in two minutes. I always like these little outliers that everyone seems to have in , you know, working in furniture seems to be yours. Um, and I , I guess, you know, you worked in digital role at the design council and then digital role at the VNA and that those digital roles has spanned a number of years. How, how do you think or has digital people, what people mean by digital? What digital encompasses evolved over the , over that time?

Speaker 2:

Well, actually digital's probably been a part of my role. Every role I've had actually. And if I think back to my role at SEP, the furniture company , um, I was looking after our first website and that was before e-commerce was a thing. Um, and actually cog app did our website, that was back in 1999 who still did lots of amazing stuff in that, in our sector. And that was the time when websites were brochure websites and it was, you know, we didn't really imagine a world where people might actually buy sofas off the internet. It was more there to be a digital equivalent of a nice brochure. And , um, things have evolved massively since then. But I think that era of brochure websites as digital just being seen as another channel, that was part of the marketing mix. Um, I think we've evolved since then and certainly in terms of the museum sector thought about digital in a much more strategic sense. Um , really understood how data works, how user experience works , um, how online brand works , um, how content , uh , exists in very different forms on the internet and through digital means. And I think we've pulled those all together to create the kind of products and services that we now create for the, for the museum sector in the cultural sector more broadly. So it's , it's changed massively. Um, and in terms of the skills that it draws on, you've got a very, very distinct sets of skills within our sector now. And as I said earlier, I'm lucky to have those represented on my, my team.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Maybe let's, let's look at the digital, at the VNA. How, how does that work? How does digital stuff get done? How does your team sort of function in terms of how they engage with colleagues, with other departments? How did digital initiatives come about? Are you very much driving that agenda or are you there to help facilitate things that people come to you with or is it a bit of both? I would imagine,

Speaker 2:

I think it's an interesting role that you play working within digital in a museum because on the one hand you are facing a veritable hose pipe of requests to do digital things and to use digital means to deliver on some of the activities and parts of the museum offer. But at the other hand, we don't want to just be seen as a service team. We also want to be in the strategic driving seat. And I think having to balance those two different aspects of the sort of demand and supply I guess , um , and make sure we were in the driving seat when it comes to strategic decisions is always something that is something of a balancing act at the VNA . We, I guess since I've been there, made a big point of instilling more of a product culture and we use agile as a methodology or as close to agile as is possible in our sector. Um, and that entails really visualizing our roadmap, making sure we communicate what we're doing , um, getting buy in from the entire organization, that we're prioritizing the right things, having a clear set of criteria, but making sure we're communicating about what we're prioritizing, why and when. And then thinking more around individual products, making sure we have product owners a clear sense of a vision for that product, a budget for that product. And again, a set of criteria. Prioritize the right things for those individual products. So some products we own ourselves , um, the website being the key product and it having smaller digital products within it, for example, of what's on service or what's currently called search the collections. But there are other digital products that are owned elsewhere in the organization. So ultimately we are essential team, but we're sort of moving more towards a hub and spoke model where we support and engage with other teams who are running their own digital products and services to , for example, the collections management team. That's a core engine of what the museum does for us. It produces the data. We then use to create digital experiences online, but there's probably not one department we don't touch within the museum. And so it's, it's really moved to be a much more strategic function with the VNA than when I first started where it was seen. We as a team were seeing much more as a a website team and thinking much more in much more nuanced and strategic terms about what digital is and can do within the museum

Speaker 1:

in terms of it . Cause I think that that that is the, the challenges and especially if your a limited in terms of bandwidth, how do you do the operational assisting with service delivery, doing service delivery, but also be part of the strategic vision conversation and at the VNA, you know you said that digital being a part of those more strategic thinking has, is something that's changed over the time that you've been there. Digital was a part of that conversation. Is that something that you and your team were invited in or did you have to get your shelf elbows out and, and make the case and force your way in? I'm just, I'm , I'm always interested in is to how digital rises up that you know, that voluminous list of priorities.

Speaker 2:

I think having sharp elbows in our sector helps. Getting digital stuff done does require a whole bunch of skills , not least. The soft skills that are around influencing and persuading and trying to get a seat at the top table is something that relies on those soft skills. A lot of charm, bribery if needs be a , but I think we've probably been moved upstream in lots of the museum processes at one point when I arrived, digital was an afterthought and so I did a lot of work to understand the different processes that play within the museum and try and get digital thought about at a much earlier stage. And that's typically around content commissioning and design. Commissioning is two crucial moments in any sort of exhibition or other process within the museum. So to take design commissioning, it's interesting now in a calf to publishing as well as digital publishing is always upstream. We think about making books before we even start on the exhibition design process, let alone thinking about a marketing campaign. But trying to get us to think much more holistically about design commissioning so that all the different touch points that a , uh, a visitor will have with an an exhibition for example, that they're much more consistent whether they take the form of a, a book and a book cover or a poster on the tube or a digital advert or digital content on our website, making sure that there's a sort of narrative and visual thread that connects all those things. So that's one process that I think we've done a lot of work to um , make much more efficient in terms of what is inevitably a , a quite a , um , dispersed commissioning structure. And then around content commissioning, thinking more around story and thinking about the audience first and what the story is and then thinking about how to package that up. Whether that takes a digital form online, a digital form in a gallery or in an exhibition or within a book or a publication. So trying to work a lot more in processes and understanding where digital can play a more, a bigger role at an earlier stage has been critical to getting stuff done. Everything

Speaker 1:

you've described there requires quite a , a shift in in mindset, a shift in thinking how, how have you found the process in moving to a model which is inherently more iterative, getting people comfortable with the idea that it might not be perfect first time and it's going to be improved upon. Getting people thinking more holistically about service design about this or that arc of a , of a visitor's various touch points with an organization and what they're trying to achieve and what you're trying to achieve at each of those moments. Because I think that it feels like the the institutions and the organizations where digital is becoming more successfully embedded across the breadth of everything they do is where that shift in thinking has happened or is underway. But I'm interested, I guess I'm interested in the texts , techniques and tools that people have arrived at to help them drive that change. Because it is difficult if you're talking to an exhibitions team or a publishing team who are, who are far more used to uncomfortable with a historically more sort of analog, linear process. And essentially you're coming at the throat throwing everything off in the air. That can be quite confronting I imagine for colleagues. And so there's a bit of handholding and a bit, I guess, what , what are the techniques that you've used to take people on that journey?

Speaker 2:

I think there are processes that are long established within a museum that need to follow a certain course. And so , uh , we see, for example, capital build projects, taking a waterfall approach, I means you do one thing and then you do the next thing and you've got a series of dependencies and milestones and that makes absolute sense. You're not going to put the windows in before you create a , um , in digital terms. It's, it's the opposite way round . Uh , you start thinking about, you know, what would be a good way for people to view a scene and then you might come up with a window , a solution, you might come up with a completely different solution. So trying to um , show the benefit of reframing the challenge and uh, starting small I think for, for us in digital rather than saying we follow a process that's called agile and it works in a very different, very ITER iterative way. I can't say that word iterative way , um , just showing what can be done , um, and starting small and trying to demonstrate impact. So when we re founded our entire digital estate , um , online estate, starting with the website, we actually launched , uh , an MVP, a minimum viable product that took the premise that most people were on our website to plan a visit. And if we were going to just focus on that one need, we could turn more visitors from the online environment into physical visits through the front door. But we started not by changing all our technology, changing our user experience and updating our content. Instead we just showed what could be done with the existing website, changed the look and feel, improve the balance between images and text and put in a lot more focus on conversions and understanding what that website could do. Not only interning more visits to the increasing the visits to the museum, but also thinking about small calls to action, like driving email signups for example, or driving more traffic to the ticket , what was then a separate ticketing website. So by showing stats of the improvements that could be made by showing a much better user experience, people started to buy into the idea of what could be done. And that's one one way I got a much bigger piece of investment to transform the entire digital estate. So I think starting small has been a critical way in getting people to buy in because they see something early and they can see how it evolves and they can start seeing the benefit of a more iterative process.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and it does feel like sometimes people get sort of frozen. They , they, they see as you know, the website needs improving. So therefore we need a new website and what we're going to do is we're not gonna , we've just keep the old one running until we've got all the money and appointed someone and blocked out a year or a year and a half to do a new website and then we'll go away and do any website. And actually what you've described is this interim period where you're, you're looking to, you know, there are obviously going to be things you can change and improve with the current experience before you arrive at something that's completely new and it feels like that that is a really effective way of reducing the risk, reducing the turbulence for people.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And making that process really transparent and them to be part of it. I think one critical thing that we did, which is part of agile methodology is having a showcase or a demo at the end of each sprint where people could come and see, engage with what we've done and delivered it. They can critique it, they can help shape what happens next. And I think having a much more transparent process, inviting everyone into that process has meant there was a lot more buy in and trust. And I think trust was a huge issue when I first arrived at the VNA. And um, those were techniques that help build that trust so that now it's much more easier to get stuff done because there is that fundamental trust and bind buy in into what the team does.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant. So you and deffer James from the national museum. Whales have been doing some research over the last couple of years now or looking at digital teams, digital resources, digital structures in museums and cultural institutions. I mean I know this is, this is a much fuller formal piece of research that has a whole presentation around it, but if you could summarize some of the findings and some of the lessons, what , what would those be? Cause it feels like you've, this is now a really robust piece of research. It isn't just an anecdotal thing from other museums. You know, in Kensington there's, there's 50 plus institutions that have responded to your, your survey that you've been looking at this for a number of years now. What, what are, what are the insights? What are the lessons?

Speaker 2:

Well, it began not with the intention of becoming a major two year research program, to be honest. It was just me and Duff being really nerdy about organic grams and being fascinated when we'd got ahold of other people's organic grams to see how people structure their digital teams. And we thought, well, maybe there's something in this. Maybe we could put a call out to the sector. Um, and not just the museum sector, but the sort of broader cultural sector to say how , how do you do this stuff? And , um, we were overwhelmed with the response. We got 60 responses to our first piece of research, which was really looking at the structure of digital teams. But of course you can't look at structure without looking at skills and funding, resources, et cetera. So it suddenly became much bigger than we'd ever anticipated. And we ended up doing a second phase of research looking more , um, measuring impact, how people define digital success. So the first piece of work really looked at , um, how people structure their teams. But I think both pieces have shown us that there are three key problems. Um, and this isn't exclusive to our research. As you said at the beginning. Um , Nesta have published their latest round of research looking at our sector. There's um, various projects and initiatives going on within the sector that are all saying the same thing. Some of them run by proper academics unlike me and Duff who are doing this in our spare time for fun. Um, but the three things that we found where there's a skills problem, a measurement problem and a commitment problem and say to start with a skills problem. Um, we , we said to the sector, what are the most important skills for your teams? Um, either digital teams actually or anyone doing digital within the organization. And people said to us that they were tech leadership, they were content management and editorial skills. Thirdly, data management and analytic skills. And then also social media. And product management. We said, okay, those are the most important. What about the ones that are most lacking? And they said most lacking is digital , uh, data management and analysis skills, web app and development and tech leadership skills. So that immediately sets them alarm bells ringing, thinking, hang on on the one hand where regarding these as the most important skills, but they're also the most lacking in our teams . So what the hell is going on here? Um, and we are hunches. It's to do with pay . And so we asked people, are you adequately remunerated for what you do? And the overwhelming response was, no, we're not. Um, and it speaks to a bigger skills and literacy problem within the sector and that's being tackled by initiatives like the one by one program, but also the NL H F a the artist formerly known as the HLF put out a call out recently to , uh, invest in , uh, the digital leadership skills for senior leaderships in order in organizations like ours. And it's really, really important that we don't just think about skills that the sort of team level that we were actually thinking in terms of the exact leadership teams as well. So that was the first day area . And then the second area is around measurement . So we ask people, do you measure the impact of your work? And nearly 60% of people said yes. Uh , but 42% of people said no. And again, we thought, what the hell is going on here? Why are you doing this stuff if you're not bothering to measure what you do and whether it's even effective. And so people said to us, the problem with that was that there was a lack of time, which we would really question because we've all got lots of things we can do. There's, I talked earlier about hose pipe. I think we're also all facing at hose pipe of all the things we could do and we have to prioritize. So why aren't we making time for this stuff? Um, but skills came up again that we don't necessarily have the skills to measure the impact of the work we're doing. And that speaks to a lack of data analysis skills. Um , but then also people cited a lack of interest, which is again was really worrying whether that's within their teams or more broadly that people aren't really interested in digital impact. Again, quite concerning. So then we said, look , what are you, what are the things you are measuring? What were any way you are measuring of the 58% that are bothering, what are you measuring? And people said they were measuring reach, engagement and volume. And we said, well what , what's the most important? And they said, well, volume of reach aren't really very important. So again, we find this contradiction where the things were most valuing the things we're measuring aren't the things we're most valuing. So we've constantly finding these contradictions in what everyone's responding to and we totally understand where they're coming from because I think it's often funders and other external people who are expecting us to be reporting on investments made. And that's absolutely right that they should be doing that. But there are often these vanity vanity metrics reach and volume the aren't necessarily that meaningful. And it's things like engagement where we think that there's most meaning and where there's most finally , but stuff like conversion and reputation, they're really hard to measure compared to volume. It's easy to get into Google analytics and understand your volume, isn't it? So then we looked at the third area, I guess is this a commitment problem? And this is much more about the dynamic between cultural institutions and digital. And this is where we're finding that people's budgets aren't really in keeping with the ambitions of the institution. So on the one hand we're saying we value it, but on the other we're not really investing enough. And so that was actually 72% of people said we don't have enough money to actually achieve what we're supposed to achieve. And I think we're still, we still noticed, and it came out loud and clear in the research we've done that we still see people trying to invest in the blame, the sort of, you know , fancy, shiny projects that we all talk about that don't necessarily deliver real value. But they get some great PR and online coverage and they keep funders happy. But they don't necessarily deliver on strategic core objectives. And it's that, that we found was slightly lacking, that people weren't necessarily aligning their digital mission with the overall strategic mission. They didn't necessarily have a vision or a mission for digital. Um, that was if it was articulated, it wasn't necessarily aligned with what the organization's trying to do. So there were these three, the three core areas that we found that are big problems and um , we've, we've offered some some advice and insights into how we might tackle those. Um, and I think the sort of broader calls to action, like, you know, being brave, you know , try and find new things , uh , to , to experiment with, but at the same time make sure you're investing in, you know, the core business businesses usual , but being prepared to pivot when things aren't working out, which often they won't do, don't , don't be afraid of just stopping what you're doing. And that might be stopping a project. It might be restructuring a team for example, but also being, you really think about what is genuinely unique about your organization and how digital can help match , um , you know, that USP I guess. Um, but there are , there are other programs I mentioned one of them at the moment. Um, there's research programs that one could get involved in. Um, but really taking time to invest in skills in the organization. We'll see a much better return on investment of your digital budget. And

Speaker 1:

were there any sort of common, what was my question? Or rather what were the common things between the organizations that either reported digital success or the , there's a general perception around that doing digital well, is it around they've got certain types of roles in the institution? Is it around they are spending more money on it or is it that sort of cultural behavioral thing that's slightly less easier to quantify?

Speaker 2:

I don't think we got to the level of detail of understanding that relationship between team structures and success yet. It's why this is an ongoing piece of research and it's already taken us two years to get to this point. I think size isn't everything. That was something that became really clear that we had responses from institutions of all sizes, from uh , digital woman bands to big teams of 50 people. And what success looks like is obviously defined by that institution. Um, there is no one size fits all, but I think those, that um, those, the smaller institutions had content at their core, their heart , digital teams or content teams and design and development isn't necessarily always in house and nor need it be . But what you do need to have is really good skills in house to do good product management, to understand what digital products you should be building, which he should be killing and making sure there's the investment in those products and having the skills to be able to make the case for that. But as I said, our research also speaks to the fact that people aren't investing enough, but those that are doing well have a clear sense of a product culture and a very refined understanding of storytelling. And what digital can do in terms of getting their stories out to the world at large.

Speaker 1:

It feels that that point around content is really key and I don't know whether it's just my perception, but it feels like on the whole sweeping generalization, the museum sector feels like it's making advances on that strand of activity at a slightly better rate or in a slightly more meaningful way than the performing arts sector. Broadly as you've said, the development resource and running in house development teams is difficult and design resource and it feels like those are the things that can most easily be supported by external resource. But unless you internally understand a, the story you're trying to tell and B , how you might tell it, it feels like you're never going to be able to fully sort of grab hold of digital or make it more than just a marketing thing and actually get it to impact or extend the sort of the core mission stuff.

Speaker 2:

But this is where I think museums are at a distinct advantage. We have collections and say you'll find that museums and galleries have, are doing a slightly different thing than the performing arts in that part of our public purpose is to provide access to our collections. And those provide a really brilliant starting point for us to start telling those stories in stories that are uniquely ours in a way that performing arts is perhaps less so. And that doesn't mean it's an easy job. You know, the fee and a, we've got 2.3 million objects in archives and represent 5,000 years of human history. So it's quite a potential. I, it's an amazing source, a source book for starting those stories, but it's also overwhelming sometimes where do we even begin? But I think that's ultimately where we are at a slight advantage over over the performing arts. So that's not to say we don't use the same techniques , um, and have the same concerns and constraints and opportunities, but I think it makes, it throws a slightly different lens on what we're doing having collections as a starting point.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And it feels like the museums have always been, as you say, telling, telling the story of the objects, whereas perhaps the performing arts, the thing is the story and it's, it's about reconfiguring how that's thought about and delivered, which is, which is a very, actually is a very different challenge I think. So yes. I don't have any sort of issues for it. Um, and I mean , you know, you said that your, your role at the VNA and role at the design had , in fact all , all the roles that you've held throughout your career have been digital roles in, in all what had an aspect of digital in them. Um , what is, and again, I'm stealing this question from , from Rob Costen . Um, what is the, the thing that you find yourself repeating all the time? What is the thing that you find yourself coming back to time and again, when you're having conversations about, about digital projects or projects with the digital element? When I spoke to Louise Cohen from the Royal Academy of art, she said the things she always comes back to is show, not tell what, are there any sort of Cottey price maxims that everyone at the VNA is told on a regular basis?

Speaker 2:

I think I'm probably saying what lots of people in our sector are saying. I don't think they're unique to me, but that's for whom, why we who we're doing this for. And then to ask why. So I don't think it's one question. It's those two things. And I think those actually form the basis of what we use in adult development of a user story. It's a really useful technique to frame a need, especially from a user requirement to say as an X, I need Y to achieve Zed. So you get a sense of the, the, the who and the why and the impact that's supposed to have. So I think we try and do a lot of work to reframe requests around user stories. Um, and that's helped a lot. But I think ultimately we do all see people starting with technology and I think it was Cedric price who said if technology is the answer, what's the question? So I think a lot of , um, certainly that thread that you're speaking about that Rob started was around reframing questions and we can do that in lots of different ways and there are lots of different, yeah, there are lots of different ways of doing that.

Speaker 1:

And if we start to cast, cast our mind forward , uh , you know, even just over the next sort of 12 and 18 months, what are the things that you and your team are working on at the VNA or what are the sort of technological developments that you've seen that you want to have a play with? You know, what is exciting you at the moment?

Speaker 2:

Um, so my team are working on revamping search, the collections. So we've actually got two places online where you can engage with our collections. One is search the collections, which is effectively the front end of our collections database, a collections management system. And that hasn't been looked at since 2009. So it's probably about time we still could look at it. Um, and then we're trying to bring together the stories that are contained within the main website in an area called from the collections to bring together both the knowledge, the stories and the data we hold about those objects to respond to a couple of different modes that people are in. So not just catering for those who know what to put in a search box or those who just want to have a thematic rummage through our collections. And actually , um , revamping that from a user experience perspective, from a content perspective and also the sort of underlying technology. So it's like a proper big meaty project that we're all enjoying getting stuck into and really understanding more about how people engage with our collections. We've done a huge amount of user research as part of our discovery phase to really understand the different modes that people are in. And what's exciting about that project is not just the act of doing it, but also understanding its relationship to what's happening on the ground. At the VNA where we're opening up two new sites in the Olympic park. One of them's a new museum at the waterfront and Stratford, and the second is a collections research center up in Hackney wick. The other side of the park and the collections research center will have 250,000 objects and it's going to be a veritable store house of amazing stuff. And we're looking at ways for digital to enhance that experience. But ultimately what we're doing in the collections research center is , um , is exactly what we're trying to do online in terms of revolutionizing access to our collections. So seeing those two projects is counterpoints and counterparts to one another is really exciting to understand where there are similarities between the two and that our digital mission is to do exactly what we're trying to do on the ground over at Hackney wick is really exciting. I think more broadly than that. Um, I'm really excited about immersive technologies as we all are. I think it's chance for us to think about , um , different aspects of , um, sensory discovery around collections and engagement with collections. I'm particularly interested in sound. Um, but there are all kinds of technologies that are emerging that I think will open up new ways for us to help tell those stories about our objects in our collections

Speaker 1:

and everything. I might be, I might be projecting a very positive uh, understanding of everything that you said, but it feels like the VNA has undergone or is undergoing a shift to becoming a user centered organization. You know, and actually for the user, whoever the user is in the scenario describing their needs and their motivations being very much, if not the starting point, then very much a key part of all of your thinking. And , and secondly it feels like digital is becoming rather than an Avenue to someone making a physical visit. It feels like there is an equivalence emerging and that someone could only have it a relationship with the digital aspects of the VNA. And that is just as valid as a physical experience is. Would that be a fair reading or am I having a dramatically glass half full take on everything we've said?

Speaker 2:

No, I think that is a , an accurate reading. And I think one thing I'm always at pains to point out is that most people's interaction with the VNA is a digital one. It happens online. Um, you know, if you take our website alone, that's got four times as many people engaging with our stories online as we ever do. Getting through the building. Uh, that is obviously the nature of that interaction is very different. We're talking about hours worth of visits in person versus, you know, minutes many minutes online. Um, but I think we're keen to also point out that we're not trying to recreate blindly recreate exhibitions that happen on the ground and somehow create them as online exhibitions. We're trying to do something quite different in terms of storytelling online. And I think there is an appetite for doing that, approaching that in new way . So yes, I'd like to think you're reading it of it is accurate.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant. And that, that last point that you made there, and it feels like the most frustrating digital projects that I see are where an attempt has been made to create a digital facsimile of a fiscal experience. And I spoke in the, in the first episode about how I was annoyed by a digital gallery that appeared online that you could walk around and walk up to paintings and then and do, do you, even though the VNA has been on this journey and you've sort of changed the culture and the discourse around digital, do you still find that when people are thinking about how a project may have a digital element, it's almost easiest to say, Oh well we'll, we'll take what we've done in the real world in inverted commerce and we'll create it online. Is that still a conversation that you're having, a perception that you're needing to push back against because it feels like, I'm certainly aware of colleagues working in museums, galleries, performing arts organizations where people come to them and their colleagues are excited or we can make this digital, we can film the thing, you know, and actually that's not real . You're just capturing the physical, the physical experience. And then that's not really thinking about digital, you know, despite the journey that the VA's been on, is that still a mindset that you're having to come up against?

Speaker 2:

Yes. Course. I mean, people talk

Speaker 1:

about what they're familiar with and it's much easier to talk about the concept of an exhibition and what that, how that might manifest itself online. And you're using the concept of an exhibition as a reference point. I think that's perfectly normal and reasonable. So yes, we do still have those conversations. I think we try and flip it around to understanding what digital can do best. So instead of digital becoming a dumping ground for everything that didn't fit on the exhibition walls, instead thinking about what digital does best. So for example, thinking about , um, incredible detail that we can provide online in a way that is harder to do in, in the flesh. Um, or thinking about how we use digital technologies to provide a layering of experience. So we've been doing lots of work recently using triple IMF and that's been really interesting to , um , use this framework, which is ultimately an image framework that can help us reveal, for example, use the law , the idea of layers to show creative process. So we've taken a Constable finished Constable painting from Yale center for British art and uh , using triple used , put that as the top layer, but then shown the preparatory sketches that are in our collection underneath it. So you can actually see the evolution of constables processes. He's painting Hadley castle from the pencil sketch to the finished oil painting. And what really excites me is the idea that we can use things like the triple life framework to start telling stories that span other collections. So we're not just thinking in an insular way about our own stories, but about bigger stories that exist out with our physical institutions that can be told on across the internet that start pulling on other people's collections. That's a really exciting area to start thinking about. So, so coming back to the, your, how you're spending your free time doing this , uh , intense research project to about the worldwide cultural approach to digital. What do you think the sector should be focusing on? You know, we're all aware that there's issues around funding, there's issues around skills, there's issues around how people are thinking about and delivering content, how people are thinking about and delivering different types of experience in relation to new technology. Um, how people engage in R and D activities, how people engage with , um, sort of partnerships with technology providers. Where do you think the priorities should be? Cause you know, even your, your own research has sort of identified a number of areas. If w if you know, gun to your head, we had to focus initially at least on on one area or one , um, particular priority from your perspective and the thinking that you've done, the conversations that you've had, what should that be?

Speaker 2:

I really hate to say it because you've just talked about R and D and that's a whole other thread we could explore. But , um , I actually think , um, if push comes to shove is it's about doing the basics properly. It's about investing in core systems and infrastructure and when the touristy bad at doing that and digital teams often suffer the brunt of legacy dealing with legacy systems and legacy data and just having a scenario where we're all investing properly in core systems like CRM systems and ticketing systems and digital infrastructure. That's actually what we should really should be focusing on. And wrapping that , uh, sorry, wrapping around that a , a product culture where people see those individual systems as products that need their own roadmaps and understand the dependencies on other parts of the infrastructure. It's a really boring answer, but I think that's probably where the priority should lie. But secondarily, if I could sneak in to carve out time to do some R and D now . It's interesting, I think with the, you touched on at the beginning that the Nesta report, which suggested that senior leadership who were less knowledgeable about the role of digital, especially in the context of R and D and that that had dropped significantly since they first started the survey back in 2013. Um, R and D I think is a really interesting area and I think there's two ways it happens within our sector ones , um, through sort of research, through funding from the funding streams, like the HRC. The other one is through , um, working with , uh , tech companies. And I think both of those posts , uh, issues, potential challenges as well as opportunities. But I think ultimately carving out time to be able to be a bit more experimental, whether or not that's formalizes in R and D program is so important. And so for my team, we try and make sure we protect Friday afternoons to , um, to be more creative. A bit like Google time, but a bit less time than that. Um, to really think about how we can do a bit of multidisciplinary thinking, getting people pairing up across the team to start thinking about new problems in new ways. And I think that that is , uh, my role as a leader in that scenario is to protect that time to make it sacrosanct so that people do feel free from the sort of businesses , uh , views, businesses usual of wrangling with all those legacy systems I talked about to be able to think more creatively but beyond that, think about those opportunities that there are for R and D through either of those streams.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And if it feels like all the, all the conversations that I'm having through the doing this podcast seem to be arriving at the idea of curiosity and the idea of exploring new I you product services areas of thinking is so important and it feels like also that's the thing that gets crushed by the day to day people feeling like they have to tick every digital box. And actually it feels like, you know, regardless of the size of your organization, there is an important conversation that needs to be had about what we're not going to do so that we can create space. Even if there is a only inverted commas Friday afternoons so that you can be keeping half an eye on what's coming down the coming down the stream, what might become become a priority, how your organization could engage with X technology or Y service rather than trying to ensure you're on every platform, ensure your producing content in every different form, which just that seems to , that mindset seems to be the thing that's slowly burning people out. That's pulling people apart. That's meaning they don't have the time and the money to spend on R and D and experimentation.

Speaker 2:

There are two things there. One, one is around skills and I think we've talked about skills in terms of hard digital skills and where they might be lacking around data management and analysis and around tech leadership. But actually I think it's also about soft skills and what skills we're recruiting for in digital teams. Um, I made sure I ask questions as part of a recruitment process that really probe into how curious people are, how tenacious they are. Um, and that's, those are the sorts of soft skills that I think are really crucial and fundamental to have in a digital team and to keep nurturing those skills because it's through people being , uh , free to experiment. But having those sort of core skills of being curious and having good sort of relationship management skills that you get really exciting things coming out of that that makes, I think the second thing is about saying no. And when we were talking about the process a bit earlier, I think a key part of what I've learnt , I guess along the way is how to say no. And I hope nicely and sometimes not so much. Um, but given the , we've got the so much work potentially coming out as there are so many things we could be doing. How are we clear about what we are doing so that if we have to say no, it's clear what we are privileging above somebody's idea that they've come to us. And so making that transparent gives us a way to say no because if we take on their project, it means something else has to drop off the roadmap. And once that is visualized and well-communicated people are much more comfortable with you saying no.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant. And a final question, which you may , may or may or may not want to answer, but on the whole having, having been at the VNA for seven years, I haven't done this piece of research, having seen how thinking around digital has evolved over that time, are you optimistic about how the sector is addressing this significant shift in how people are behaving, how people are accessing information and experiences and interacting with the world? Do you think that on the whole we are rising to the challenge or do you think actually there needs to be a bit more urgency in how we're changing what we do? Because it feels like we can't just carry on doing things the way we've always done them because the going to leave us behind. Um, yeah. You and you're an optimist. When you, when you talk about digital in the cultural sector?

Speaker 2:

Um, I think reading the Nesta report made me feel quite gloomy, but I think it feels more like a momentary wobble. Um, I think it's inevitable. We're not going to just pursue this trajectory upwards , uh , where it's all plain sailing where everyone embraces digital and gets brilliant results from it. I don't think that's the way it works. We're going to have a slightly bumpy ride to get there. So I think overall I'm optimistic, but it does concern me. Uh , the, you know, senior leadership aren't really grasping digital and what it means in the need to invest in it properly. Um, it worries me that people aren't really measuring the impact of what they do because I think we have a responsibility in making clear the impact our work is having or not and being utterly transparent about that. So I think it's up to us to make it better, but I think the overall direction is a positive one. Brilliant. Kati , thank you very much. You're very welcome.

Speaker 1:

So thank you to T for taking the time to come and chat to me. As you can probably tell that conversation was recorded a few weeks ago at the beginning of February , uh , before the current crisis in developed as all . Um, but I think there's a lot that Katya had to say about digital teams, digital success, digital thinking, the still going to be applicable to many of you listening today. Before I go, I just wanted to mention that we've been trying to work out how best we can rethink the niche next digital works event so that it can be an online only thing. We've come up with something of a webinar format. So registrations for digital works 10, which we'll be looking at digital storytelling and now open a places a free, really want as many people as possible to get booked on. We've got some really great speakers, including Matlock from story things. Had a headman from your museum needs a podcast , uh , Anna [inaudible] who set up this same art school and David Zabel who was involved in the inception of NT live. So hopefully there's a really good broad range of experience. They're coming from different forms, different scales of organization, different types of organization. Uh, so that'll be taking place on the 17th of April and details. And you can register via the digital works page on our website, which is [inaudible] dot com forward slash digital hyphen works. And if you want to ask us anything on Twitter, we're at digital underscore works underscore, and I am on at pick little things. Um, the next episode I think is likely to be my interview with one furthers Chris unit. And then following that will be my conversation with the Royal Academy of arts, Louise Cohen . So until next time, take care. Cheers. Bye.