Addressing digital in a coherent way in this changed and complex landscape is a challenge shared across society and sectors. This is evidenced in the European Commission’s focus on supporting Europe’s ‘digital transformation’, as seen in its Digital Agenda and now its vision for a future Europe based on the twin pillars of a green and digital transition.
What digital transformation means and requires necessarily varies from sector to sector and their respective challenges.
In the context of this paper, we can understand digital transformation as the act of adopting digital technology or digital thinking to significantly transform an organisation’s operation, or the reframing of the organisation to be inherently digital in its purpose, or both.
As stated in the Europeana Strategy 2020-2025, for the cultural heritage sector digital transformation is therefore not just about technology and assets or how cultural heritage institutions operate - it is about how they think and about people and skills.
Consequently, key areas such as digitisation, digital preservation and digital access must be addressed in their wider context and not in isolation.
For example, digitisation of cultural heritage assets is a complex process that spans all areas of operation, from collections management to logistics, from human resources management to marketing and communications, and also requires the digitisation of institutional processes and workflows.
A coherent approach requires a fundamental understanding of the relationship we want to have with our audiences, of digital skills, and the ability to evaluate choices, including which platforms and information channels to use. It requires a new open culture of working and collaborating.
If we consider that the immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis required staff in many institutions to take on - at speed - digital responsibilities that they had never been trained for, we see the emerging need for cultural heritage institutions to be able to develop and build on that capacity. And we must acknowledge that not all institutions have been able to respond in the same way. The digital divide sits not only between large and small institutions but also within institutions and between European Member States.
Importantly, if Europe’s broader ambitions are to be met, it also means developing policy that promotes a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected online, where sovereignty of data is protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions and are able to participate more fully in its creation and use.