Decreasing risks of new media projects – a viability check for digital tools in museums

Cultural institutions experience difficulties in successfully implementing digital projects, which impedes positive impact of new media tools for museums. This often happens because museum managers do not clearly determine objectives and outcomes before the launch of their digital project.

One potential solution are evaluation checks for digital projects. Such tools have been proposed by JISC and Ithaka S+R (“Sustainability Health Check Tool for Digital Content Projects“, a guide for cultural institutions to measure and ensure sustainability of digital projects), and by Simon Tanner, (“Balanced Value Impact Model, a set of practices to measure the impact of digital resources).
Adding museum-specific aspects to these two models, I have created a “viability-check” tool for both planned and ongoing digital projects for museums. A viability check tool for museums is a list of questions and topics to be thought out and planned by a museum manager before the launch of a new project or for the review of a current project. These can be, for example, the digitalisation of a collection, the development of a new application, the creation of a new interactive exhibit, etc.

Download viability check

The “viability-check” includes the following elements:

1.         Objectives and target groups
·         goals of the project
·         internal/external audience
·         age groups
·         type of visitors
1.         Project frame and tasks
·         life cycle of the project
·         expectations in terms of complexity
·         tasks
·         milestones and time frame
2.         Resources
·         staff
·         organisational structure
·         funding
·         activities by department

Jane Alexander, Chief Information Officer for the Cleveland Museum of Art, mentioned in my interview that before launching any new digital project, museums need to:

(1) understand what they want to achieve
(2) create a team
(3) determine a workflow
(4) understand how visitors will use the created content/value.
The viability check tool follows the logic of the Kellog Foundation Logic Model, including the part of the target audience for whom the digital project will be developed. This allows museum staff to keep in mind who is going to be the “end client” (in order to adjust goals). 

Kellog Foundation Logic Model
Sharing experiences during and after the implementation of their digital initiatives also helps. A couple of corresponding platforms already exist, including the annual international conference Museums and the Web. Some examples encountered in my practice will be shared in this blog with the museum challenge label.

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