Arts Council England will employ nine people to each look after a region of England and provide advice and tailored digital support to organisations across the country.

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Attempts to improve digital capacities in the cultural sector are being given a boost through a new initiative that aims to develop the digital maturity of arts organisations across England.

£1.1m will be invested by Arts Council England (ACE) over two years to establish a network of nine “expert tech champions”, one in each of its regional offices, who will respond to enquiries from arts organisations and direct them towards relevant training opportunities.

ACE hopes that their support will improve organisations’ creative thinking and business practices, helping them grow their audiences and become more sustainable.

Francis Runacres, ACE’s Executive Director of Enterprise and Innovation, wrote in a blog that he hoped the programme would “will free up talented staff in those organisations to create even more great work”.

Digital Cultural Network

Collectively known as the Digital Culture Network, the experts will provide “practical, on-the-ground help for organisations to get their systems and processes fit for the 21st Century.”

Their work will focus on:

  • Giving advice and support in key areas such as data and analytics, content strategy, digital marketing, CRM, e-commerce and business systems
  • Signposting training, development and funding opportunities
  • Brokering partnerships and opportunities with tech companies

The tech champions will be expected to be experts in one of several disciplines, including data, digital marketing, systems and digital strategy. They will conduct on-site visits to arts organisations to build up a picture of the digital maturity of their region and relay the specific needs and ambitions of each organisation to ACE.

They will also respond to enquiries with advice or links to further relevant training, although it is not clear whether this service will be restricted to ACE’s regularly funded organisations.

The network is due to be in place by Spring 2019, and the individuals will be appointed on two-year contracts, with the possibility of a year’s extension.

“It’s the first time we’ve made expert resource of this kind available to organisations - our aim is that the tech champions will provide expert knowledge, support and guidance that organisations might not otherwise have found by themselves,” Runacres explained.

“It’s a new way of working for us, but I think it’s going to have a big impact for organisations across the country.”

Other commitments

The initiative has come about in response to the DCMS Culture is Digital report, published earlier this year. This was informed by a series of online conversations about how arts organisations are deterred from using digital technology by poor infrastructure, a lack of skills and resources, and the pace of change in the tech industry.

As well as recommending the creation of the network, the report committed ACE to launching a series of other initiatives including a Digital Maturity Index, to quantify how much support arts organisations need; a Digital Culture Code, to set out digital guidelines  for cultural organisations; and a new project with Google to help organisations “improve their online presence, reach new audiences and create exciting digital experiences”.

An ACE spokesperson said details about the project with Google will be announced next year, and that it is working in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund on both the index and the code.

“These will be delivered together as an interactive online tool that enables organisations to understand the principles of achieving digital maturity, benchmark their current practice and identify areas for development,” ACE told AP. “The Code will provide the principles of achieving digital maturity in an organisation (the what and the why) and the Index provides a self-assessment tool and way to measure progress against a principle (the how).”

The report also urged the National Gallery to create an ‘Innovation Lab’ and help cultural organisations use technology to enhance visitor experiences, and the Royal Opera House to create an ‘Audience Lab’ to help organisations create new digital content with emerging technologies.

The gallery told AP more information would be provided about its project next year.The Royal Opera House’s Audience Lab has been up and running for some time.

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