Digital Prospects for Inclusive Civic Historic Museums

Project Details


The Digital Prospects for Inclusive Historic Museums programme aims to improve the levels of digital activity undertaken in museums to widen and deepen audiences and fulfill their social and economic mission. 

It will develop knowledge of how digital interfaces (understood as digitised collections, digitised interpretation material and communication through digital platforms) can enhance relationships between civic historic museums and their audiences. It posits that museums' digital programming is an aspect of responsibility or care for the community in which it operates (Fisher and Tronto, 1990), and aims to identify the ways in which approaching digital initiatives from this perspective alters both museums' and audiences' engagement with digital practices. 

The project undertakes research in museums that are seeking to meet the challenge of the growing pastoral and well-being needs of the communities that they serve by enabling physical, social and emotional inclusiveness. 

As Taylor and Gibson (2017) observe, although digital initiatives are associated with democratising and inclusive practices, digitisation of heritage can easily replicate the power dynamics that privilege the agenda of the institution over the needs of the visitor. The DigiPiCH project will develop and test digital offers that aim to meet the integrated physical, social and emotional needs of museum visitors. 

The project focuses the research questions by considering digital work in civic institutions which operate in historic buildings. Historic museum architecture tends to amplify barriers to engagement both physically and culturally. 
Historic buildings are less likely to have been constructed or conserved to meet current standards for physical access, and may be associated culturally with social exclusionary cultural formations, including colonialism and racism. 

The project therefore aims to initiate a discussion about the distinctive challenges, and contributions, that historic civic museums can make in fostering healthy communities through digital provision. Finally, the project aims to mobilize research and evaluation methodologies that are appropriate for investigating, describing and evaluating the caring aspects of digital museum activity. 

Quantitative measures of evaluation that are common in the sector (KPIs for visits or uses) will not articulate the ways in which relationships of care evolve and are practiced. Some activities in the project will ask how such practices can be best captured and presented as research. 

All Party Parliamentary Committee, Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Well-Being (2017) Bernice Fisher and Joan Tronto, ‘Towards a feminist theory of care’, 1990 Joel Taylor & Laura Kate Gibson (2017) Digitisation, digital interaction and social media: embedded barriers to democratic heritage, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23:5, 408-420, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2016.1171245

Layman's description

'Digital Prospects for Inclusive Historic Museums' builds networks of expertise between small museums that are thinking in big, influential ways about community participation in museum spaces and how it is facilitated through digitisation of their collections, their interpretation materials and display.

It takes place across three organisations, two in England and one in the United States, all of which are working in historic buildings with local communities. Each institution has foregrounded its community relationships in its daily work, and this project supports these organisations as they explore new initiatives to evolve their digital interactions in this context.

The projects will explore how digital activities can extend beyond the usual aims of increasing access, or democratising knowledge, to embed reciprocity and respect for the physical, cultural and emotional engagement that exists between museums and their audiences.

In one setting, an artist will create an artwork which will allow audiences to interact with digital recordings to co-produce a new body of material that explores digital and material space, place and belonging. Another partner is creating an exhibition which maximizes interactions with disabled visitors and enables them to generate new material for the collection through digital recording tools.

In another setting, the project will support the development of content to encourage engagement with the creative and calming properties of a museum garden.

Each of these projects will advance our understanding of how digital materials can be used to support caring and respectful relationships between museums and their audiences. These are aspects of digital interactions that are not easy to measure using recognised processes of evaluation such as counting users or 'likes' or visits, so the project will also include some work to develop description and evaluation of the digital materials that are produced.
Effective start/end date10/02/2031/12/20


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


  • PRP X1 19/20


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