Changing how you connect: how digital can transform what your organisation offers

This resource outlines an example of how technological innovation might offer more than a ‘better service’ and instead become a key part of how audiences visit and work with your organisation. Through conversation with Judith Winters, editor of the online-only journal Internet Archaeology, this resource illustrates how digital innovation may completely transform the traditional ways of doing things and as such requires us to think differently about our practice.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
A view of a hill fort and a lake further below
Image courtesy of VisitBritain © Andrew Pickett

Changing how you connect: how digital can transform what your organisation offers

1. Introduction

The development of digital technologies has benefited the presentation of different aspects of our cultural heritage for many years. Computer-aided design (CAD), geographic information systems (GIS), digital photography, digitisation and 3D scanning, multimedia, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) applications have all enabled heritage organisations to understand, preserve and present our cultural heritage in a range of ever more engaging and insightful ways.

For many organisations these are valuable tools to enrich audience experience and to engage in our cultural resources through a variety of ways. Digital assets and interpretation can support widening participation and increased accessibility. However, for some organisations, the shift to digital may provide more radical opportunities to place virtual or online content at the heart of their offer. This may go beyond the use of digital as a ‘value adding’ component and instead place online and virtual engagement absolutely front and centre.

2. A key question about digital change

A key question to ask yourself in relation to your own organisation is: does digital transformation simply represent a form of added value, or does it present an opportunity to completely change what you offer and how you offer it? This resource explores how digital can provide the chance to quite radically rethink our assumptions about how a traditional service operates – in this case, publishing.

To explore this further, our expert, Dr Stephen Dobson, University of Leeds, presents a conversation with the Editor of ‘‘Internet Archaeology’, Judith Winters, about the development of this online-only journal from its beginnings in the mid-1990s to the present.

3. Case study: In conversation with the editor of ‘Internet Archaeology’, Judith Winters

Launched in 1995 with funding from the JISC’s Electronic Libraries Programme, ‘Internet Archaeology’ aimed to offer a completely new way of presenting and communicating research concerning our cultural heritage. Initially adopting a subscription model, it moved to open access in 2014. It is the first online, peer-reviewed e-journal for archaeology and, along with the Archaeological Data Service, is the largest and oldest repository for archaeological data in the world.

‘Internet Archaeology’ has pioneered accessibility to digital content in a way that aimed not simply to recreate traditional publishing in digital form, but instead to use the shift to digital as a way of rethinking the format. Digital change can offer opportunities to do things differently. Stephen discusses this with Judith here as a means to explore the importance of change and innovation to the work of ‘Internet Archaeology’.

When did ‘Internet Archaeology’ start and what was the main driver for it; why was it launched?

It was conceived by a consortium led by Julian Richards, Professor of Archaeology at the University of York, in the mid-1990s. I guess they realised that this thing called the Internet had potential, that the combination of multimedia and data would be something that could serve archaeology as a discipline. The Computer Applications in Archaeology (CAA) conferences are where the discussions initially will have started. In 1995, the consortium won funding from the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLIB) to start the journal, and the first issue of the journal was published in 1996. So that’s the very basic history.

Online content is much more commonplace now, but at that time were there many equivalent journals outside of the world of archaeology that you looked to as a model?

I don’t think there really were any others at that time. There certainly weren’t any other digital journals out there. At Sheffield, I had started a digital journal ‘Assemblage’ with a group of other like-minded post-graduates. Again, just because this Internet thing sounded quite an interesting route to go down. But we weren’t really emulating anyone because I guess that’s what happens when you’re one of the first in your field. We were really feeling our way and the same applies to ‘Internet Archaeology’ because there wasn’t really anything to copy. I guess what we did ‘copy’ were the basic publishing tenets, the structure of articles and issues, although in our case we stopped at having page numbers.

In terms of that, one of the things that I’ve always found really interesting about ‘Internet Archaeology’ is that because you have never been tied to the physical page format you could kind of break out of the rules. Do you think you are able to present things in quite a different way than print articles?

Yes, the early issues actually incorporated database searches and that was something that that was great to introduce which broke away from the traditional article narrative, you actually were able to drill down into the underlying data.

A partial map of England and France with blue markers dotted around
The embedded data distribution map from Brownlee, E. 2021 Grave Goods in Early Medieval Europe: regional variability and decline, Internet Archaeology. 56. The map shows the geographical locations of graves in Eastern England and Northern France.

The journal can accommodate lots of different kinds of media. So, it’s not just text and images, and it’s not even just searchable data, but also audio files, video, and 3D models. What is interesting of course is that the technology does keep changing over time. So for example, we published an article last year which experimented with the sonification of antiquarian photographs of Syria (Listening to Dura Europos: An experiment in archaeological image sonification: Shawn Graham and Jamie Simons [1]).

The authors describe this as “an experiment in sonifying archival archaeological imagery to make the act of looking at photography strange and weird. The sounds produced will then arrest us and slow us down, and make apparent to us the different ways that archaeological vision is constructed to particular effect/affect.”

I thought “Yes let’s do that”, we’re happy to be experimental and try different things which may or may not work and produce something deep, thoughtful and meaningful further down the line. But just the fact that people are coming to us with those experimental ideas is fantastic.

However sometimes you may have to push authors a little to do something different, something beyond the traditional print model.

[1] Graham, S, and Simons, J. 2021 Listening to Dura Europos: An Experiment in Archaeological Image Sonification, Internet Archaeology 56.

Yes, I can imagine. That is very much what this set of resources is about – not just where digital can support what you already do, but where it can challenge what you’re doing. Where do you think the biggest changes have occurred?

The published material hasn’t really changed as much as the tools and the technology which have changed rapidly, and as editor I am constantly having to adjust my skill set since 1998. There was no Twitter, no Facebook back then, which are brilliant means of promoting, presenting, and broadcasting what we do, but these didn’t exist in 1998.

Do you think the audience and readership is different to other journals?

We do have accesses from all over the world although the main focus of our audience is English-speaking and European. I don’t really think that our audience makeup has changed much overtime, but what has changed are the means of reaching more people and social media has been massive in this regard.

The journal has probably changed more than the actual audience themselves, although the numbers have increased every year.  The difference is that it’s open access, there are no barriers anymore as there used to be for a short period at the start of the journal. Going open access did see a step change in the number of people who were responding to posts about new content.

A page from an interactive comic entitled 'The Dig' about an archaeological dig at a building site for a new accommodation block
A page from the interactive comic based on archaeological work at Holis Croft, Sheffield, and published as part of the excavation report. From Tuck, A. and Rajic, M. 2021 Hollis Croft, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Old site and new connections, Internet Archaeology 56. Elements of the comic are hyperlinked which take the reader straight to the digital archive for the site or to other documents and images concerning the site and the project.

What could change look like for you?

Digital innovation may be evolutionary (small step-by-step changes) or revolutionary (a complete change) and may refer to your products and services such as exhibitions, events, or programmes, as well as items in your shop, your processes, or indeed your whole operating models. Using this simple innovation framework below to support some blue skies thinking, try to imagine what kind of digital change might be relevant for your organisation and note these down for each box.

Questions to ask:

  • Which of your products or services could you imagine making evolutionary changes to?
  • Which tweaks could digital help you make?
  • What might revolutionary change to your whole operating model look like?
  • What if you were only an online organisation, what would you offer?
  • Not limiting yourself to digital technologies or applications that already exist, what digital tool can you imagine that would really benefit your organisation or audiences?

Thinking about digital transformation in this way can spark surprising new avenues and potential for your organisation.

You can see the innovation framework below or download a Word version (12.9kb).

A table with two columns entitled 'Evolutionary' and 'Revolutionary'. The three rows read 'Product/service', 'Processes' and 'Whole operating model'.

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Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Changing how you connect: how digital can transform what your organisation offers (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


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Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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