The Museum Technology Charter

A visitor engages with technology and the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art

By Koven Smith

The nature of how museums use technology and digital tools has changed significantly in the last ten years. Perhaps even more critically, the expectations of what museums should be able to produce using digital tools have increased significantly in the last decade. Given this, what is a museum of the 21st Century expected to do in order to deliver on these increased expectations? What is required for a museum to be digitally literate, and what are the appropriate means for achieving this literacy? These questions are particularly acute for smaller museums, who often lack the resources to investigate these questions, or even to assess their own digital literacy. Sector-wide publications like the Horizon Report: Museum Edition once provided peer-reviewed resources (and a critical lifeline) to these museums. These publications no longer exist, but the need they satisfied still remains.

In seeking to address this sector-wide need, the Museum Computer Network is developing a prototype online publication called The Museum Technology Charter, which will be unveiled at MCN 2019 in San Diego. The Charter will be a handbook for museums seeking to develop their own technology and digital capacities in effective and ethical ways. As the end result of six months of deliberation and discussion among leading thinkers in museum technology, the Museum Technology Charter will serve as a sector-wide benchmark against which a museum’s own digital efforts might be evaluated.

The Museum  Technology Charter will be an online publication consisting of four primary components:

  • The Technology “Stack”: The first component of the Charter will be a comprehensive list of technology elements that project participants consider to be sufficient (and in some cases critical) for the normal operation of a museum. These elements will be inclusive of more obvious considerations (websites, mobile apps) to the less obvious (time-based media acquisition strategies), to the future-focused (AR/VR implementations).
  • Values and methodologies: There are multiple ways to implement a given element in the technology stack, some of which are consistent with museum values and some of which aren’t. The goal of this component of the Charter will therefore be to identify values that are non-negotiable (such as accessibility) and those that might be ideal and reflective of a more digitally mature organization, but not necessarily critical  (such as open licensing of digital collections).
  • Maturity matrix: Once the technology stack elements and values have been identified, these two components will be combined into a matrix that will allow a museum to self-assess its own “technological readiness.” This matrix will, in effect, have capabilities on the x-axis and values on the y-axis, allowing a museum to take both elements into account when assessing its own maturity.
  • Skills identification: The final component of the report will be to identify skills that are necessary for moving between capability areas of the Maturity Matrix. This will help museums to better understand what training might be required or what roles may need to be hired in order to improve their overall technological maturity.

With these four components identified, the hope is that The Museum Technology Charter will provide a comprehensive accounting of the state of museum technology and digital efforts circa 2019. Stay tuned for more updates as this project evolves leading up to MCN 2019.

The Museum Technology Charter is made possible with the support of MCN (Museum Computer Network) acting as fiscal sponsor.

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