Agents of Cultural Change

by Angelina Russo*
(Visiting Blogger)

Who or what are the agents of cultural change for the cultural institution sector?

Over the past 20 years, the communication of cultural materials has undergone a number of transformations:
– early shifts from single institution, building-bound collections to first generation online cultural networks: CHIN, CAN, The European Library
– recognition of the need to link content to communities through compelling stories; the development of second generation cultural networks which incorporate user innovation. Culture Victoria, NMOLP
– third generation: shift from top-down cultural networks to bottom-up value networks which use open innovation models to embed audience experience in the interpretation process. Picture Australia – Click’n’Flick, Flickr Commons.

Two definitions enable us to make this case:
user innovation is primarily used in the early idea-generating phases of new communication projects. Communities are asked to engage in a co-creative process to create new knowledge (eg: digital stories) which the organisation then disseminates through their own processes and internal innovation capabilities. Good examples of this include the Culture Victoria portal, which includes a number of commissioned digital stories and the National Museum Online Learning Project which incorporates commissioned audio and video to inspire audiences to create new content for their personal site.

Open innovation occurs when institutions engage in a co-creative process with communities and the new knowledge is then able to be used by both parties to create new business opportunites. For instance, Picture Australia’s Click’n’Flick is both an example of user innovation (communities engage in a co-creative process which creates new knowledge for Picture Australia archive) and an example of open innovation – Flickr contributors have access to their creative content, can continue to promote themselves and create new business opportunities outside of, and potentially strengthend by, the partnership with the National Library. Even though the Picture Australia program has been around for a while now, open innovation in cultural institutions is still quite rare in museums.

Collections, the mainstay of cultural institutions, are contextualised through their association and provenance with communities. Yet collections + communities is not enough. For audiences to ‘make meaning’ of cultural content, the sector uses interpretative techniques such as exhibitions, public programs, educational and outreach programs. The rise of online activity has brought with it the opportunity to create digital content which links collections and communities though compelling stories told by/and or for audience members.

First generation online cultural networks such as Canadian Heritage Information Network, Collections Australia Network demonstrated how institutions could partner to deliver their content online. These networks aggregated content from a number of organisations and made it available in one simple portal. Second generation cultural networks recognised the need to link content to communities through compelling stories which add audience experience to the process of interpretation. Third generation cultural networks take advantage of social networking technologies to create new value networks based on open innovation models which enable audience experience and creativity to be integral to the understanding of cultural materials both within and outside of the institution.

A great deal of resource has been put into the development of online cultural networks: Victorian Cultural Network, National Museums Online Learning Project UK, the Europeana project are examples of federated search initiatives which have been developed to connect audiocultural content through cultural portals. Transformations in cultural communication are characterised by a shift towards open innovation and new partnerships outside of institutions to create and distribute new knowledge.

Some questions which arise:
– Entrenched practices and assumptions – who has the right to do what with the collection? What is it there for?
1 – What transformations in cultural communication could be seen as agents for cultural change?
2 – How might we encourage experts to engage in dialogue with audiences?
3 – In what ways can we connect audiences in public spaces?
4 – How might mobile technologies be used to enhance experience?
5 – Can social networking raise awareness of ethnic community issues?
6 – What are your thoughts on public companies using social networking to connect audiences to broader social issues?

*Angelina Russo is an Associate Professor at the Swinburne University. Angelina researches the connections between museum communication processes, multimedia design and digital content creation. She is Chief Investigator on the ARC Linkage research project Engaging with Social Media in Museums which brings together three Australian museums and the Smithsonian Institution to explore the impact of social media on museum learning and communication. Between 2005 and 2008 she led the ARC Linkage (relinquished to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation) research project New Literacy, New Audiences which examined the development of user-generated content in collaboration with six major Australian cultural institutions.