Three research projects have received funding to explore how the public are engaging with heritage virtually during the pandemic and what lessons can be learnt for future digital provision in the sector.
The projects have been awarded £310,000 from Towards a National Collection (TaNC), a five-year programme that aims to establish a virtual national collection by supporting pioneering research. TaNC is funded by UK Research & Innovation and delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The three digital projects were selected as part of the programme’s Urgency Call to provide critical and time-sensitive evaluation of the digital practice undertaken by museums during Covid.
Announcing the funding boost, TaNC said that the Covid lockdowns had opened up a “vital research agenda” that would provide insight into how people have been interacting with collections online at a time when digital access is the only way that museums can engage audiences.
It said: “These TaNC Urgency projects will help provide much-needed guidance on how cultural institutions can engage with virtual users as well as being better prepared for digital access in general. Building on data collected during the first lockdown, the projects will analyse the effectiveness and reach of digital collections and advise on solutions to the digital divide between large and small collection institutions.”
Digital footprints and search pathways: working with National Collections in Scotland during Covid-19 lockdown to design future online provision
Partners: University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland and National Galleries of Scotland
Principal Investigator: Professor Gobinda Chowdhury, The University of Strathclyde
The project will undertake a longitudinal study of the digital footprints of users in two national collections – National Museums of Scotland and National Galleries of Scotland – over a 12-month period to investigate how people engaged with heritage collections during the lockdown/post-lockdown period; whether the lockdown changed digital access patterns; which collections/objects drew more users; and where users are accessing these, whether through the institutions’ websites, or through external platforms like Google Arts and Culture and YouTube.
Making it FAIR: understanding the lockdown “digital divide” and the implications for the development of UK digital infrastructures
Partners: Museum of London Archaeology, Collections Trust, Culture24, Audience Agency, Intelligent Heritage and Knowledge Integration
Principal Investigator: Professor Julian Richards, The University of York
The project will respond to challenges faced by smaller museums struggling to engage online with audiences during varying levels of lockdown, and beyond. It aims to create a community of practice that will extend beyond the immediate participants, helping small collections across the UK to build their digital capacity. The core cohort will receive training, mentoring and technical support to develop digital collections-focused content to stay connected with existing audiences, and reach new audiences.
Visitor Interaction and Machine Curation in the Virtual Liverpool Biennial
Partners: Liverpool John Moores University and the Liverpool Biennial
Principal Investigator: Dr Leonardo Impett, The University of Durham
The project seeks to understand how the public interact differently with virtual art events than they would with physical ones. It will explore how interaction might change when visitors no longer passively watch an event, but actively participate in its curation. The project will look at an experiment launched by Liverpool Biennial to curate its 2020-21 online edition with a machine learning algorithm. It will also explore what kind of public might visit such an online machine-curated exhibition.