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Digital strategy 2018–2021

Harness the potential of digital


Digital environment

Museums operate at their touch points with their audiences. Digital is increasingly a component of all visits and a visit in its own right. Digital is changing audiences’ behaviour and reshaping their museum experience:

  • Audiences’ experience of digital is increasingly seamless and breathtaking, and their expectations of digital in museums is accordingly high
  • The lifecycle of digital is reducing, and technologies feel dated to audiences, ever more rapidly creating an increasing risk for museums’ digital outputs
  • The web provides audiences with near unlimited access to information, and because they are trusted authorities, there is an opportunity for museums to add value around their subject areas
  • Audiences are continually connected, and museums can deliver content to visitors in new contexts
  • Social media and digital authoring tools are transforming audiences from consumers to creators and distributors of content, and museums can provide digital resources for audiences can use and build on
  • Digital networks link people with shared interests, and museums can connect with audiences and enable them to participate in new ways

Digital is forever a work in progress, and the continually evolving digital environment affords museums ever new ways to deliver their missions and our new strategy seeks to realise this potential.

Inspiring Futures: Strategic Priorities 2017–30

In 2017, SMG adopted a Group-wide strategy. The Group vision is: “A society that celebrates science, technology and engineering and their impact on our lives, now and in the future.” The Group mission is to “inspire futures” by:

  • Creative exploration of science, technical innovation and industry, and how they made and sustain modern society
  • Building a scientifically literate society, using the history, present and future of science, technology, medicine, transport and media to grow science capital
  • Inspiring the next generations of scientists, inventors and engineers

To achieve this, seven priorities are identified:

  1. Grow science capital in individuals and society
  2. Grow our audiences and exceed their expectations
  3. Sustain and grow our world-class collection
  4. Extend international reach
  5. Transform our estate
  6. Harness the potential of digital
  7. Increase income

Digital principles

The next phase of the Group’s digital strategy will be guided by the following principles:

  • Audience centred and guided by audience insight to ensure greatest impact
  • Proactively enhanced, sustainable and scalable to ensure quality
  • Entrepreneurial and innovative to provide audiences unique experiences
  • Accessible, open and reusable to empower all audiences
  • Work in partnership to extend our capabilities and the affordability of our ambitions
  • Embedded across the organisation to build long-term capability

Objectives 2018–21

The objectives for the 2018–21 digital ambitions fall into three areas:

  1. Enhance audience experience
  2. Increase audience reach
  3. Enable audience participation

1. Enhance audience experience

Museums engage audiences through objects and stories. Historically, these experiences have been constrained by the space and formats of print media and museum galleries. In the digital age, these experiences are multimedia and interactive. Through digital, SMG will connect audiences to the collections and keep pace with audience expectations. SMG will achieve this by ensuring the effective use of digital media across the audience experience.

Digital is a proven and effective tool in deepening audience engagement with collections and displays. Within these displays, the things digital does well—but critically when integrated into the overall experience—are to:

  • Bring objects to life, show them in operation and present the invisible
  • Explain their significance, context and deeper insights
  • Engage audiences in the people-centred stories that the objects tell
  • Give visitors agency over their experience through the game play and interactivity which they expect from the museums

Effective implementation of digital within the museum entails a combination of:

  • Content that fulfils visitor needs and interests
  • Compelling design and interactivity (established through prototyping and user testing)
  • Sustainable and robust technology

The Science Museum will seek to develop a suite of centrepiece digital experiences that explore the big ideas and concepts of science and seek to grow science capital in visitors. These experiences will be:

  • Large-scale, immersive and breathtaking
  • Address multiple senses (audio, moving image, touch, etc.) and be interactive
  • Provide audiences experiences that they can have nowhere else
  • Offer content suitable for all ages
  • Be grounded in user research

In spring 2017, the Science Museum Group launched its Digital Lab initiative to respond to the rapidly evolving digital landscape through a suite of initiatives with a short lifetime. The lab held hack days, undertook 3D digitisation of objects in the Mathematics gallery, created a suite of 3D object learning resources for teachers, and produced the Group’s first VR experience.

Areas under early development for the next phase of the Digital Lab are

  • 3D scanning of large objects
  • Use of image recognition to tag collection objects with keywords to aid discovery
  • Topic modelling via text analysis to improve online content search
  • Prototype digital experiences to animate the historic sites at Locomotion and the Science and Industry Museum

2. Increase audience reach

Museums are places. Historically, these places have been defined by buildings. In the digital age, museums are global places, accessible to all. Through digital channels, we have many ways in which to connect with audiences, deepen engagement and generate the income.

Our web estate will play a significant and distinct role in the way we can engage with a broader audience—particularly internationally, where the web visit is the end in itself.

Building on the relaunch of the museum’s websites, SMG will to build and grow its digital audience.  SMG will achieve this by becoming a significant online publisher of STEM content and by building a go-to destination for our subject areas. Through production of digital content that aligns with audience needs, SMG will deepen audience engagement and amplify the Group’s work to an international audience.

The new web estate has made a step change in the ability of the museums to promote a visit through increased flexibility and greater opportunity for use of rich media. Once this work is complete, the focus will change to improving the promotion of a museum visit, refreshing the commercial offer, and optimisation of user journeys.

SMG will seek to realise the significant opportunity to support the museum’s fundraising through digital, including: online donations, contactless payment donations, crowdfunding, enhanced digital content to support fundraising efforts, and integrating donations into the wider digital visitor journey.

Finally, Space Descent VR has shown that there is audience appetite for high-quality digital experiences, and the success of this project will be built on in the coming years.

The Group’s online collection website launched in early 2017 and the focus now shifts to digitisation to populate the website.

2.3.1 Objects

At the core of our digitisation ambition is the move of the Group’s collection from Blythe House in west London to the National Collection Centre in Wiltshire. As part of the process of moving, SMG will digitise at least 75% of the objects being moved from Blythe House.

Alongside the digitisation, a suite of initiatives will be published in 2018–21 that will bring the collection to new audiences and engage them more deeply. Key objects will be given an enhanced treatment, including 3D scanning, short-form videos, films of the objects operating, narrative essays, and learning resources to deepen engagement with the star objects in the collection.

2.3.2 New forms of imaging

New forms of imaging enable the presentation of objects online as 3D models, which can bring audiences closer than ever to the objects digitally and enables exploration not possible even in the gallery. A handful of objects have been 3D scanned as part of the Digital Lab’s first year funding, and several forthcoming galleries will also undertake 3D scanning of key objects.

2.3.3 Archives

The archives are largely 2D and include papers, documents, bound volumes and photographs. At present there are 3,000 items from the archive collection online, including the Charles Babbage papers. These represent a tiny proportion of the estimated 7 million items within the archives. In the coming years, a plan and programme for large-scale digitisation of this material will be developed.

2.3.4 Rich media (audio, video and oral histories)

It is common for masterplan galleries to include oral history projects and these recordings (both audio and video) are accessioned to the Group’s archive. The publication of oral history recordings will be added to the Collection Online website and the infrastructure will form the foundations for publication of digitised rich media collections.

3. Enable audience participation

Museums present objects. Historically, these objects have been presented largely in a one-way, broadcast mode. In the digital age, the presentation of these objects is two-way, interactive and participatory. Through digital SMG will enable audiences to learn in an active, interactive way; build on our content and intellectual output; engage audiences in a dialogue around STEM and the collections; and invite audience contribution to the museums’ work.

Gameplay is a proven way to engage both adults and children audiences with science. The Science Museum’s games have been an unprecedented success, notably Launchball, Rugged Rovers, Transmission and Total Darkness. In the coming years, SMG will seek to build on this success with new games for both children and adults.

Building on the Group’s use of Creative Commons licences (allowing non-commercial reuse), an open-by-default approach will be taken to increase the use and distribution of the Group’s digital content. The Group will:

  • Implement the Creative Commons licence wherever possible for collection images as they are digitised
  • Build on the success of the collections open data initiative to seek further datasets that can be released into the public domain (Creative Commons Zero)
  • Build on the open source collection website code by open sourcing software where possible (MIT Licence)

Cataloguing and research around the collection is limited by the capacity of curatorial and other staff. However, there is specialist expertise and interest in the collections beyond the museum which could be brought to bear to improve the catalogue, online discovery and subsequent research.

SMG will seek to launch a set of crowdsourcing projects that empower audiences to contribute to the museum’s work, engage them deeply with the collections, and enable them to share their expertise.