Current Technological Capabilities in Arts & Culture & the Australian State of Play | FACT23
So, Indigo Holcomb-James is going to kick us off today. Until recently, Indigo was a research fellow at the RMIT University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence and Automated Decision Making in Society, based in the School of Media and Communications. Indigo researches digital inclusion and participation, with a focus on the digital transformation of cultural and creative institutions and industries. We are also very excited because Indigo has just joined ACMI, it's her second day, as strategic research lead, which is fabulous. And she's also co-host with me for the next two days of the symposium.
Over the two years of the CEO digital mentoring delivery, program delivery, Indigo has been conducting research designed to document program delivery and identify learnings for the sector. Please join me in welcoming Indigo to the stage. Hi.
Thanks so much, Lucy, and to the ACMI team for the really warm welcome to the role. I'm so excited to be here at ACMI and to be here with all of you. I don't think I've ever started a new job with quite such fanfare, but it's really exciting to be here. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands and waterways of Greater Melbourne, the people of the Kulin nations. We're meeting here today on the lands of the Wurundjeri people, and I pay my respects to elders both past and present, and thanks to Perry for the beautiful welcome this morning.
The launch of the national cultural policy just a couple of weeks ago is, I think, cause for hope for a number of reasons that I'm sure we're going to get into over the next two days. But its explicit positioning of First Nations peoples and culture first is especially critical. As creative practitioners and arts workers, we occupy a uniquely privileged position in terms of truth telling.
It's vital that we take this role seriously and make room for the tough conversations that need to be had. I think it's really heartening that space is being made for this. So we have come together for the next two days to discuss and explore the future of arts, culture and technology in Australia. These are big questions. But we're interested in futures as more than potentials. We're interested in futures as actions, as next steps.
And so we also have an eye to the mindsets, capabilities and skills that we need to reach those futures. To do this work, to move beyond futures as possibilities and towards futures as actions, we need to understand the present. And while digital devices, technologies and platforms are continually transforming and reshaping how cultural content is created, distributed and consumed, arts and cultural organisations themselves have to date been slow in their digital transformation. Although the COVID-19 pandemic and associated pivots that we've all been doing have hastened these processes of transformation, these haven't been evenly felt. And research and experience tells us that barriers to digital transformation fall along existing sectoral divisions.
Regional and remote organisations, smaller and community oriented spaces are especially digitally disadvantaged when compared to their metropolitan, major and state and national counterparts. The unevenness of technological capabilities means the potential futures of arts and culture in Australia that we've come together to discuss are also uneven. These divisions have the potential to limit the diversity of cultural expression that is commissioned, exhibited and consumed. They also have the potential to undercut increasingly sophisticated audience expectations. What happens to local arts and culture scenes in regional and remote locations when large metropolitan organisations can deliver immersive, there's our first bingo, innovative and inspiring digital experiences? If the capabilities to undergo digital transformation aren't in place, what happens to cultural organisations unable to meet increasingly digitally oriented cultural policy mandates? What happens to funding requirements? And what happens if arts and cultural organisations aren't able to keep pace with developments in creative practice? But despite these risks, digital transformation and technologies offer us tremendous opportunity. Enhanced mechanisms for creation, distribution and consumption pose possibilities for us to widen the scope not only of access but also of participation.
So it's really critical that we support arts and cultural organisations to carefully adopt, adapt and mitigate the risks and opportunities these technologies present and we need to work through figuring out that uneven bit. ACMI's CEO Digital Mentoring Program offers a possible avenue for providing this kind of support. In a moment, I'm going to invite Seb Chan, ACMI CEO and Director and Programme Founder, to join me on stage to discuss the program's development and delivery, the research we conducted alongside it and the recommendations that follow on from that. We're really hopeful that these findings resonate and that these recommendations offer a starting point for our conversations over the next few days. There is work to be done and it starts here with us. There is enormous potential in the networks and connections that are already in this room and even more that can be made over the next two days and we hope that you're able to take advantage of the potential for action that is here with us today.
But before we get to that, we need to understand the present a bit more and to do that, we're going to take a step back to set the scene on the Australian state of play. So for the last eight years or so, my research has focused on questions of digital inequality and transformation. One of the projects that I've been especially lucky to work on is the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, it's led by distinguished Professor Julian Thomas out of RMIT University and Professor Anthony McCosker at the Swinburne University of Technology and it's delivered in conjunction with Telstra. The ADII measures digital inclusion levels across the country and over time. It's been running since 2016 and it's the only kind of measure like this in the country.
The ADII defines digital inclusion as the capacity to access, afford and have the digital ability to use online technologies effectively. In making this argument, the index is building on about three decades worth of research into questions of digital divides. These are the gaps between the haves and the have nots. Early research into digital divides focused on issues of connectivity of access. This work has become increasingly nuanced over time though, encompassing questions of skills or literacies and considering the impacts of the costs associated with accessing and using digital infrastructures.
Building on this framework, the index tells us that working towards digital inclusion is not so simple as providing access or reducing the cost of internet subscriptions and devices, but rather requires that we look at access, affordability and digital ability at the same time and pay close attention to the dynamic interactions between these three pillars. Now the index measures the digital inclusion of individuals, not of cultural organisations. But I think it remains valuable for our purposes today because the most recent ADII data released in 2021 highlights the ways in which digital inequality persists across geography and social groups. 28% of the Australian adult population is considered digitally excluded.
11% of that cohort are considered highly digitally excluded. This digital exclusion falls along clear lines. Regional and remote areas of the country remain disproportionately digitally excluded when compared to metropolitan locations.
In terms of social groups, digital inequality conforms to social inequality. You are more likely to be digitally excluded if you are, for instance, lower income, have lower levels of education, are First Nations, are older or live in public housing. And this disadvantage compounds.
The more intersections that you experience, the greater the likelihood that you experience digital inequality. And something that I think is particularly striking is that 14% of the Australian population would need to pay more than 10% of their household income to access reliable and quality connectivity. This isn't to say necessarily that they are paying this much, but it is to say that if they are paying less than that, it's because they're seeking lower quality and less reliable connectivity options than the index tells us is necessary for digital inclusion. These figures are not insignificant and they matter for the conversations that we're having here.
They're critical for our understanding of our audiences, impacting who is able to access and engage with digital cultural content and who cannot, or of course, who is paying disproportionately more than others to access and engage with that cultural content. These figures matter for our understanding of which artists and creators are able to work digitally and which can't. These figures are also critical for our understanding of our organisations and our sector. Levels of individual digital inclusion impact the technological capabilities of cultural workers and creative practitioners. From this understanding extends a further question that's regarding the technological capabilities of arts and cultural organisations themselves. And it's this that's formed the focus of my own research of the last few years across a whole bunch of different projects.
These projects have involved collaborations with more than 100 cultural institutions across Australia, ranging from First Nations, art centres in remote central Australia, regional community museums, artist run initiatives, public galleries, state and national institutions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. There's been a few. But taken collectively, these projects try to provide a critical counterpoint to often dominant narratives of easy digital transformation through identifying and understanding the barriers that arts and cultural organisations are confronting in this work.
These projects consider the technological capabilities of cultural organisations, both within individual cultural orgs and across the sector at large. And I think it's really critical that our conversations over the next few days are grounded in this reality of this Australian state of play. This unevenness, of course, was true before COVID, but the pandemic drew these divides into much sharper focus and had significant consequences, determining who could and could not do the digital work that was required by lockdowns.
As this research participant explained, their non-metropolitan public art gallery didn't have the staffing capacity, digital knowledge, equipment or budget to adapt to online program delivery that other arts and cultural organisations did. Thinking back to the ADII stuff that we've just discussed, we can think about this unevenness through questions of access, resourcing and skills. In terms of access for cultural organisations, we need to think about connectivity, but we also need to think about the quality of that connectivity. So in 2017, I worked with remote First Nations art centres in central Australia, and this work really highlighted the impact of unavailable or insufficient access on the operation of cultural orgs.
Art Centre 3, for instance, on the top there, was connected to 3G coverage, but the community lost power on a regular basis, which knocked out their internet connection maybe four to five times a week. Art Centre 8, on the other hand, had access to satellite connectivity, which was more reliable than the 3G coverage, but it limited their download limit to just five gigs a month, making simple tasks like website updates really, really difficult. And it's worth noting that this research was conducted in 2017, right, like six years ago, and remote connectivity options in this country have improved, but the internet services available to remote areas of the country, and particularly to remote First Nations areas of the country, remain deeply inferior to the options that are available to us here in metropolitan Melbourne, and that inferiority is in terms of speed, data availability, and reliability, and that really matters. Access issues also confront non-remote organisations, such as galleries where Wi-Fi and mobile coverage doesn't reach through sandstone walls, limiting where and what type of digital connectivity can be used. Retrofitting these old buildings, of course, is an extremely expensive undertaking that few institutions are able to undertake. We also need to think about devices when we're thinking about access.
So during the first lockdowns of 2020, staff of the Metropolitan University Gallery really swiftly started learning 3D modelling software that were planning on transitioning an upcoming physical exhibition to a virtual counterpart. But they got about halfway through the process and quickly realised that they wouldn't be able to do this work because they didn't have a 3D camera. Gaining access to this device was challenging at the time due to supply issues. We all remember trying to get microphones, things like that, in the early months of 2020, but it was also challenging in terms of costs. The gallery simply did not have the spare resourcing to be able to purchase these necessary devices. But when we're thinking about resourcing, a critical component of digital inequality, we also need to be thinking about not just the costs of devices and connections, but the resourcing costs of digitally skilled staff.
We need to consider not just access costs, but those required to resource use. During COVID lockdowns, organisations funded digital activities through repurposed budgets, and I'm sure that this will be familiar to many people in the room with us today. But with organisational doors reopening and physical audiences returning, this is no longer a viable approach. As this research participant explained, even without the added expectation of digital delivery, their gallery was already stretched.
The expectation that they deliver more without a commensurate increase in resourcing was of great concern to them. Finally, we need to think about skills and capabilities. And these are unevenly distributed, much like access and resourcing across the sector. Their regional and smaller organisations might have just one or two staff who are equipped with the skills to do this work. This is in contrast to metropolitan and larger organisations that might have existing teams of people who are equipped and tasked with specifically doing this kind of work.
It's also worth mentioning here that digital capabilities in organisations typically compound. So in orgs that have teams and have been able to demonstrate value and the worthiness of that kind of team, they're able to get more people in to do that work. Organisations who aren't able to do that kind of struggle along with the same level of resourcing as they had at the beginning. These patterns had really significant impacts during COVID. In this organisation, for example, there was just one staff member who worked on digital initiatives for the organisation and they became the pivot point for all communication with the organisation's audience. As they explained, there is only so much they can do and there are only so many skills I have.
So we see technological capabilities are differentiated by organisational size and location across the sector. But they're also unevenly available within individual organisations. As this research participant told me, their organisation's registration, curatorial and conservator teams were not digitally equipped in the early lockdowns.
This example I think highlights the ways in which for some organisations digital skills get siloed in particular pockets and not in others. These dynamics extend into organisational leadership where senior arts and cultural leaders are struggling to understand and effectively resource the work that digital transformation requires. This is getting us into dangerous territory because without arts and cultural leaders being adequately equipped to do this management, little else of the barriers just described as solvable within the organisation. Access and resourcing can't be provided if organisational leaders don't understand the importance of it.
And as Barnes and colleagues wrote in 2018, the non-recognition of the importance of digital skills and literacy at senior management level is especially problematic. It leads to a lack of support for digital generally and impedes resource commitment and necessary financial investments. And as Ford and Manvuala note, there are increasing demands on today's cultural leaders to understand, leverage and make use of the increased investment in technology that we've seen since post-pandemic pivots. So these dynamics of unevenly distributed experiences of access, resourcing and skills are the current Australian state of play.
And these dynamics are what the CEO Digital Mentoring Programme both responded to and aimed to intervene in. Regional and remote, smaller and community oriented orgs are especially digitally disadvantaged when compared to their metropolitan, major and state and national counterparts. And senior arts and cultural leaders are grappling with rapidly changing technological contexts and digital developments that require urgent attention. So having said the same, I'm going to invite Seb up to join me. We're going to talk about the programme and our findings.
Please join me in welcoming Seb to the stage. Thanks and hi everybody. So this is very unrehearsed, isn't it? It's very casual. That's super casual.
Cool. Okay. So I thought Seb you might want to start us off by telling us about the CEO Digital Mentoring Programme. What is it and why was it developed? So the programme started in 2021 and really came out of a conversation that I was having with people at the Ian de Potter Foundation and they were looking at asking why at that early stage of the pandemic so many organisations were asking for what seemed like incredibly basic requests for financing and thinking about the other initiatives that have been involved in other parts of the world, some of whom you'll hear from in other parts of the programme here. There was a real sense that in fact there was an opportunity for the CEO level to have a place to share and be mentored around why technological change was no longer an optional thing but a necessary thing and needed to readdress some of the way investment both in terms of capital investment but also in staffing and resourcing and time needed to be reallocated to that and that really needed decision making from the top and there was a real gap there.
I think the 2010s were also a huge period of technological boom. Venture capital fuelled by low interest rates was flooding into the tech sector. When I was working in New York it was very easy comparatively to now for the tech sector to want to push money into arts and culture and that of course has all changed in the 2020s as of course the interest rates have gone up and the capital that went into technology and venture capital has moved to other safer lower risk fields at the very time the sector needs it most of all. Can you talk a little bit more about other options for developing these capabilities? Is there a comparable other place that people can go? I think there's been a lot of programs and the Australia Council has done a few of these which have been bottom up or middle up initiatives. I remember back to the late 2000s and the Australia Council's gig residents program that sent technology people including some of the people in this room to be paired with arts organisations and work often as their web developer for three months and do the basic stuff but really that I think hits that limit. If the CEO sees it as a thing to be solved and there is an end point of a solution then we don't get anywhere really because we are in a period where technology and digital networks are just baked into our lives, our society, our social politics, the way we communicate and the way artists and creators are also moving too.
So what I've also seen is the lack of an investment in the infrastructural change we need is also going to mean that the institutions we have now will be unable to present or co-develop the works of the future and what we think of now, and we're sitting in a big cinema here, what we think of now as cutting edge are actually decade limited facilities that don't support the creative practices that are emerging now. What is a cinema for new forms of practice that aren't a bunch of people staring at a 4K laser projected screen which I have to say is incredibly expensive as well. But it looks great. It looks fantastic.
Yeah and I think we should get into the relationship between this kind of work and creative practice shortly, but I wanted to get you to talk a little bit about who the program was targeting and why it was important that it engaged beyond galleries and museums. Yeah, so that was one of the things that we were talking about with Potter was this sort of sense that it would be quite straightforward to run and mirror some of the other programs in other parts of the world that have worked with particularly the museums and gallery space because museums and galleries have that preservation purpose and there's been a lot of work and you'll hear from Jane Finnis next who's been doing work in that space for 20 plus years. But what I was interested in drawing some experiences I'd had with the Arts Marketing Association in the UK that was doing a mentoring program within digital that was pairing people across domains. So when I was participating in that I was doing some things with the royal palaces and in that was one of the people I was mentoring there. We were talking about how to mount a 360 VR camera on the middle piece in a jousting arena so you could have a VR experience of two knights coming towards you and it was actually really cool, right, but they hadn't thought of how they might apply that within their space and I learned a lot from them around this sort of how to do like palacy stuff in digital spaces.
Very important skills to have. So anyway, very important skills. So jousting, I'm into jousting now actually, but anyway, whatever. But no, this sort of thing of like the cross kind of disciplinary piece felt to me super important and I thought that we could convene a bunch of really exciting people from around Australia who had experience in different kind of domains and were working at a senior level in different arts organisations to be mentors and they would get more out of the program as a mentor by being paired with someone who wasn't in their own domain. Which I think worked well and you've done the research and did it work well? I mean it's one of those things, it was sort of like, did it work? I think the interesting thing was that it worked differently for every different pair and differently to different degrees as well and we'll get into the findings more properly shortly but I wanted to talk a little bit further, sorry to harp on about this Seb, but can we talk logistically about the program? So we had mentees paired with mentors who weren't from the same area of the cultural sector.
Sure. So it was really about making a commitment of time, so in the first session, the first round it was a series of two hour sessions that ran across Zoom, in the second it was 90 minute sessions and it was really about giving, it didn't have a syllabus but it was about allowing the CEO and the mentor to work with each other to explore the sort of challenges that may not be as easy to discuss in a program with a strict curriculum and I think that at that senior level is what's important because I think I'm kind of like the digital literacy programs which have quite a staged approach, senior leaders have to fight fires often and they don't get that chance to think the longer term piece and that longer term piece often requires them to ask questions that they've hired experts for but they're actually questions that have quite important ethical and philosophical and strategic elements to them and if you think about technology and you're not thinking about politics, ethics, economics, you're missing the critical literacies that at the decision making end of an organisation you actually need to do well and it's that I guess socioeconomic piece that cultural leaders, any leaders don't have time for and speaking as someone who's new into the role just under six months in, I've never had such an evaporation of time in my life before except perhaps when my kids were little babies but there was a kind of like, you know, it's kind of that kind of piece that at the time you need the space to think about the implications of things, you have the least time to think about it and in fact when we're talking about infrastructural decisions, we're talking about potentially millions and millions of dollars across a sector and across a sector that needs to be incentivised to work together and to not try to be just their sole brand, I think that that's a really important piece too and it's that piece that was also part of the design of this program, particularly in the second phase was really that focus once we moved from six to then another 15, it was that piece of trying to build a coalition and that's kind of what we're seeing in this room is people from different parts of the arts and cultural space who I would like to see working together to lobby local, state and federal governments to make the investments that we need like the National Broadband Network that was never completed, we need that kind of scale to move Australia into a position where we can lead and present the kinds of works that we should be and we'll hear from Jane shortly and I think what's been interesting in the UK too is the way the university sector in the UK hasn't been as denuded as in Australia and I think the infrastructural piece of connecting arts to culture back up to those resources within the community is also part of a wider scale change that we're seeing some appetite for I think now both in the Victorian space here with our very progressive Labor government and now at the federal level too with the national cultural policy there is a moment here where we can make a step change, that moment will not last. It's also at a moment when we're coming with obviously there will be AI discussions in this room and all these other things that are changing incredibly quickly and I was just reading a thing the other day which I shared with some of my teams that every Google search costs Google $1.06 but there's 320,000 of those happening each second but for each search it generates 1.61 cents of revenue for them. Now chat AI increases the costs because of the computational costs of doing that with AI and it reduces their profit margins and I think we don't think about those things within our sector but the infrastructures that we increasingly rely on require literacies to rethink the way we think about production, the way we think about the resources that artists and creators need to finance their kind of work and the infrastructures that they rely on that have a real economic cost but also and a climate and material cost too.
Excellent. Now Seb's really helpfully foreshadowing a bunch of stuff that we're going to get into shortly so we'll hold off on that idea first but we did want to just say that the program linking off that was not about teaching CEOs digital skills or about how to code necessarily but about how to think about these things. It was about not being hands on skills digital development right, it was about developing awareness that digital is more than being online and as our colleague here, Wynt Smith who I think is in the room here or will be, yay, hey and is speaking with us tomorrow as well it's about the contemporary network technologically mediated world of the Anthropocene. It's about being contemporary and building into the future and I think also to link to the next talk that we're going to have, the program is really building off work by Jane Finnis from Culture24 and Anra Kennedy who argued that leadership within the galleries, libraries and archives and museum sector needs to be thinking instead about technology and how to use it about how we value it, how we manage it, how we think and create with it. So ultimately the program was working to do this stuff which is like big, it was ambitious, it's doing a whole bunch of things.
Better long term technology choices, understanding rapidly and continually changing digital environments, selecting and working with technology providers but I think this last point is kind of the most interesting bit, the collaborating with and developing artists and creative practitioners who are also working with these technologies and this period of exponential change. Seb, can you expand on that point a bit? Yeah I think that last point was absolutely key because here I've been working here since the end of 2015 and I would often hear in meetings here but also with collaborators in Melbourne that artists will solve this, artists are at the edge of change in all of this. Artists are also incredibly poorly paid, incredibly poorly resourced and to put that cultural burden on an artist to help us solve the future seems ridiculous to me and so I really did think that institutions needed to have their own skin in the game more and that stretched to some of the organisations and some of the mentors as well who were working in places that were presenting venues and that even as a presenting a venue there were infrastructural and strategic ways you could progress that could make it easier for artists to explore the future at lower personal costs and to socialise the gains. It's really that piece of collective change that I'm very interested in building the infrastructures for and that's sort of taking away, the soft infrastructures for it, sort of taking it away from this sense of the institution as being in the gallery space a white cube or the theatre venue being the presenting partner. It is actually that they bring specificities to what is possible with them and I think that's very exciting and it also takes us out of that neo kind of liberal 40 years we've been in where artists individual artist careers and things have been what has been very celebrated and this is actually moving towards an infrastructural change in the way institutions work to better support collective practice and to make collective practice the primary means of future creativity. That has its own politics and it's one of the ones I think is really interesting you know my kids have gone through schooling one of them has just finished schooling most of their work at school was in groups and I know most of work at universities now is also in groups so we have generations coming through who are learning to work better with each other and that I think institutions there's an opportunity now for that infrastructural shift to occur to go with the flow of that and we'll see that in education as well I think too.
Awesome we should talk a little bit about the research that sat alongside the program so alongside the two years there was a parallel program of research going on and it was kind of exploratory it was technically an evaluation but it was not an evaluation in its traditional sense in terms of identifying clear markers at the beginning and measuring against that. We were interested in thinking instead about how we might identify and understand kind of intangible or nascent outcomes right and positioning them as being valuable outcomes of the program in and of themselves so we focused on qualitative methods because we also wanted to acknowledge that there are slippages between what happens and what is experienced in a program versus what's observable so what's experienced by the participant versus what's knowable by me as the external researcher and so for example changes in thinking are nascent and experienced rather than observed and actioned but changes in thinking can provide really critical evidence of things happening of things about to happen of things that might happen and assessing the program only on tangible or actual things felt like a bit of a disservice we're still pretty early in like the 2022 program participants wrapped up about two months ago yeah and organisations move slowly expecting actuated change to have happened in that period of time felt unfair to the to the program and we also wanted the research to extend outside the program and to reflect on what it is to run a cultural organisation in 2023 and to consider the supports outside of a mentoring program that might be needed to continue to support this work in a rapidly changing environment so a lot of the research questions and surveys and diaries that our participants were extremely generous in taking part in asked about what is this like for you at the moment how is this working what are the barriers that you're experiencing and what would make this easier so that's what we kind of did and we're going to spend the rest of our time talking about the program delivery research findings and recommendations and I should note that in 2022 I was joined by two research assistants on these projects Stephanie Livingston and Eloise Florence who were amazing and big thanks to them so in terms of findings and program logics and things like that we had two program rounds over two years 2021 the COVID year we didn't entirely anticipate that the COVID lockdowns would continue and that the pandemic would kind of just extend forever and 2022 which we've been calling the everything everywhere all at once year where COVID lockdowns were lifted but audiences and workforces were still getting sick everyone was tired and it was all just a bit much and over the two years the program has mentored 26 leaders of 22 organisations and built relationships and introductions with 16 digital expert pets who themselves are affiliated with multiple additional cultural organisations further expanding the organisation's network and the program also ran a whole bunch of workshops so in 2021, 22 and 23 which further increased the program's network introducing an additional 14 experts to the cohort 10 of whom were from overseas and extending the program's reach beyond Australia. So I wondered if you could just briefly comment on why the network building piece was so important here? I think that was actually the most important piece I think really the networking piece is again coming out of this period it was trying to suggest through the design of the program that this cannot be done by ourselves we need to do this together and I think that that's come through and it was also about trying to reconnect Australia with some of the great ideas from around the rest of the world we were very isolated and certainly in this city I got the sense that isolation changed our mindset about looking outwards which needs to be quickly reversed and I can say that it is reversing which is good. Awesome. So let's get into the findings reflecting what we've already discussed this morning participants in both cohorts continually highlighted the need for greater support to develop digital capability at their leadership level as the quote from Barnes already told us that presence or lack of capability at this level determines the resourcing that's provided within the organisation and it determines organisational direction. We were often told that this is why mentees were taking part in the program so this mentee in the 2021 round told us that their organisation actually did have digitally equipped staff and were aware and interested in this kind of work but the leader themselves felt that they were a bit behind because they weren't on the same page as their staff the staff weren't empowered to do this digital work or they weren't able to access the resourcing that they needed to do it.
Working towards resolving the flow on effects of these internal dynamics was consistently described as a driving factor for applying to take part in the program and as this 2022 mentee told us their personal lack of skills was limiting their capacity to drive change in their organisation and I think it's also it's not just about skills here it's like you were saying before Seb there is just a time factor here. Very much. Yeah super challenging. Across the cohort we saw digital practices were highly varied but what brought them together was the kind of lack of strategy or structure around them. Just two percent of sorry just two of the cultural organisations participating in 2022 said they had a digital strategy of any kind but they were minimal in terms of what they provided rationale or guidance for.
So while both of those organisations had a digital strategy and it provided some guidance for undertaking work in these digital spaces neither allocated specific budget lines or set out how these activities might be evaluated or improved upon. Digital work without strategy becomes reactive right and that's what we saw in the early COVID days. Everyone became broadcasters without really figuring out whether they should be a broadcaster or what that does to an organisational mission. And aligned with this I think we heard that people want to be doing this work but they just don't have the time or are limited in their ability to make it a core or central part of their organisation and I think this all really clearly links back to what we've already discussed and while we might argue that resourcing is prioritisation in action any resources can be re-cut and re-prioritised and moved around to make this kind of work happen if it's prioritised but this clearly wasn't happening.
For these participants digital work was not coming high enough in on that list. Programme participants saw digital as offering transformative potential for their organisations, their artists and their audiences but perceptions of that potential varied and could be limited by organisational types, sizes, locations and cultural form. So for small to medium organisations their size made this work challenging. And Seb we've talked a lot about the realities of working in small to medium organisations recently and I think this is going to come out a whole bunch over the next two days. What are your thoughts on this? Yeah I think it's been really hard and I think what we're seeing is the need for small to mediums to band together and to share resources and to demand those resources from the larger organisations and you know certainly this cuts across my work in AMaGA as well and there are some AMaGA people in the room too that small to mediums need support from each other as well as from funders and I think coalitions need to, we need to be able to finance coalitions to move forward.
Certainly also using the infrastructure that sits in regional centres particularly those with a university are absolutely key that those can become key partners and stakeholders and players but require the senior leadership to have the sight lines and the ability to speak to those partners in a way that will leverage the resources that really do need to be democratised and shared. And linking to that for those organisations that are operating out of non-metro and often non-eastern seaboard states, location really profoundly matters in terms of this work. I think it's worth noting that all of the mentors in this program were based in metropolitan cities and the majority were in Melbourne and Sydney really speaking I think to the geographic concentration of these skill sets and it's just the reality of it. And also for those organisation, those mentees from traditional organisations, digital often still remained an add-on that was secondary to organisations primary goals of in this example of a gallery displaying and engaging audiences with art on walls and we're swiftly running out of time but I think this links back to our conversation about changes in organisational practice like there is a risk of orgs being left behind here.
Yeah I think the sort of sense that arts being on the wall or theatre being on the stage is changing and audience expectations are beginning to change and there are also generational shifts and it is this piece that we need to be seeing where that's going and I can see how it's easy to be defensive around the things that you do well now but if COVID's taught us anything it should be that you know that's not stable but also the COVID if you look back at the science was eminently predictable. And it will happen again, there will be something similar. Exactly and we can see the lot of the advances in AI now were also predictable a decade ago from the investments in semiconductor companies so we can see where things are going and I think it's that we don't have time to see where it's going or our organisational practice domains whatever you call it mark out a territory where we don't look or we expect the artists to be the ones looking for us and I think as I said before that puts a huge burden on artists and we'll hear more about that tomorrow from Victoria I'm sure from the Serpentine. So really quickly despite some of these challenges we saw significant outcomes from the program. We saw mentees developing digital mindsets through thinking together with their mentor and this resulted in things like greater confidence that they could be part of conversations about where their organisation is going and the steps needed to get there.
We saw participants making actual changes to their organisations approach to digital and more tell us that they're in the process of considering making real changes. Some organisations are now scheduling and programming their digital content like they would their physical programming which this might seem a small step but we think this is really significant evidence of a re-evaluation of where and how digital initiatives are considered and resourced within organisations. These are big and exciting things that evidence the utility of an initiative like the program for developing digital capability at the leadership level but this is an internal dynamic and internal dynamics like digital capability are not the only issue here as we've already discussed.
Structural conditions like funding availability are external and are framed by the boundaries of the cultural sector at large. Access to infrastructure for many like locations are determined by telecommunications policy and the national broadband network. We can see that resolving capabilities alone is not sufficient.
We also need to consider these bigger structural dynamics. The meaningful digital transformation and for the development of digital cultural futures both of these things need to be resolved and have attention and change ongoing. We think that there are two key ways that we can do this work and we'll discuss these really briefly but for those interested these recommendations and the findings that we've just discussed are expanded on at length in the research report for the program which is available open access on api.org.au and we'll also be sending this out to folks who
are registered with email addresses so keep an eye out. Okay so the first step is refreshing our understanding of digital transformation in the cultural sector. I think there are three components of this work. Putting digital transformation at the centre of cultural policy development, connecting every strategies for enhancing digital skills and training and acknowledging that this is not a one and done thing it is ongoing and will require investment and support into the future. The national cultural policy is an exciting step in this direction.
Do you have any thoughts? Yeah look I think the national cultural policy I think is an exciting step and I think also the focus on skills too in there is an opportunity and I would really hope that we can work collectively on advancing that policy and its development and seeing the opportunities at a national scale that can then be reflected at state and local levels. I think it's also important for us to remember that the sector's access to technically skilled labour has always been restricted because of resourcing questions but rising costs and cuts to university funding are also limiting us here so that needs to be part of our next steps forward too. And this too affects artists.
I think what we learnt during the pandemic became very obvious that many artists and creative practitioners rely on a well financed and functional university sector in order to access technologies within labs, to have incomes as casual tutors and other things and that's actually been one of the sort of hidden losses in this and it's one of the things that the cultural sector has a responsibility I think in reconnecting and supporting our higher ed colleagues. And it's also why we need this second piece. We need to build coalitions and share digital infrastructure. To do this we need to review and identify what is currently being used by multiple organisations to determine what could be shared. Collections management systems for instance, audience management systems. We need to develop and support or we could develop and support a shared research and development function that could work with and across multiple organisations and we should connect this kind of initiative with creative industries training in the tertiary sector to help develop the next generation of creative workers.
These recommendations raise really big questions about how organisations and sectors are currently organised and how we might do this into the future. Answering them requires collaboration and we hope that the next couple of days can be a starting point for this work and we'll leave you on this final quote from a participant in 2022 that they hope we can collectively address and implement doing digital together. Thanks. Thanks. Thank you. Thanks.