Professionals in Focus: Hans van der Linden
Europeana Members Councillors have diverse jobs and wide experience across the heritage sector, but are united by their passion for digital cultural heritage. In our ‘Professionals in Focus’ series, we speak to our Councillors about their roles, working lives and plans for their time on the Members Council. This month, Hans van der Linden discusses taking a holistic approach to digital transformation, and his work as a Policy Advisor at the Flemish Government Department of Culture, Youth and Media.
How did you enter your profession?
After graduating from modern history and library and information sciences I sailed the muddy waters of the temporary job market for a while, and then applied for a position at the Flemish Government in order to stimulate policymaking on digital cultural heritage. It was an inspiring time in which the need to address digital issues related to cultural heritage collections and audience interaction started to slowly arise.
What are you currently working on?
At the end of 2017 the Flemish Government approved a vision note on a cultural policy in the digital era. This document proved to be a good starting point, but in order to achieve action, we need to focus on the digital transformation of the cultural sector as a holistic concept. All processes are important; an organisation is not an isolated entity but is part of an ecosystem. Institutions relate to and share processes with other institutions.
To that end, we are about to start a project which will lead to an overall strategy that sets clear goals for a cultural ecosystem: what do we want to achieve and how should it be organised? What about roles, relations and governance within that ecosystem? In September an extensive course on digital leadership kicks off where the participants need to assess their own organisation and can ‘graduate’ through proof of concepts to implementations in their working context.
Besides that, we launched an initiative to come up with a set of measures to stimulate digital transformation in the cultural sector, and put in place a small international network of digital residencies for artists and cultural heritage professionals to work on digital cultural projects. And last but not least, the Flemish Government is co-organising a two day event Media Culture Fast Forward as an inspiring meeting place for cultural institutions, innovation and technology.
What are some of the challenges in your role? What are some of your favourite elements?
The main challenge is to agree upon the nature of digital transformation. During the COVID-19 era, cultural institutions have increasingly focused on the digital issue in order to stay connected with their audiences but somehow this has shown that the digital ‘object’ is not to be seen as a substitute for physical activities. The potential of digital is on another level and it requires a new balance between the physical and digital spheres.
As the SAMR-model points out, we still are at the beginning of an evolution that should lead to rethinking culture and cultural activities. SAMR stands for Substitution - Augmentation - Modification - Redefinition, and describes the phases that changes encounter. During the last few years we have overcome the notion of digital as a threat for physical activities but we still have a long way to go. We need space for experimentation so that digital can become a vital part of cultural practices. This involves rethinking of business models.
What was your motivation for joining the Members Council?
An essential part of digital strategy is thinking in terms of ecosystems and interrelated processes between different kinds of institutions. The international playing field is important in this too and the Europeana network can help shape this landscape. It is important to define which processes benefit from being taken up on a European level. By joining the Members Council I believe I can have an impact on this.
For example, I took part in the digital transformation workshops organised by Europeana in June 2020, and enjoyed that experience. By both having attendees send in their thoughts beforehand and giving them the floor in the sessions, people were able to reflect thoroughly on the impact of the changing world on their work situation and were encouraged to detect elements of positive disruption.
What do you plan to do as a Members Councillor?
By being an active part of the Europeana Network Association movement, I want to stress the importance of a holistic approach to the digital (also in relation with the physical) and the need to rethink concepts in order to maximise the importance of culture in a changing society.