Using a situational analysis to create your digital strategy

Start planning your digital strategy by learning how to conduct a situational analysis and exploring the SWOT and PESTLE frameworks. This resource highlights the benefits of taking a structured approach and helps you identify suitable resources to assess your organisation’s digital readiness.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
Interior of York Minster illuminated for the exhibitions and performances that are part of Minster Nights
Image courtesy of Visit York ©

Using a situational analysis to create your digital strategy

1. Starting your digital journey with a digital strategy

Planning a strategy is a good place to start, or further, your digital journey. This guide shows you how to plan a practical digital strategy with actionable aims. You will see how to make a plan that you can use to focus on using technology, reach new audiences, improve business performance, market yourself better, manage change, create new products or reimagine old processes.

After using this resource, you will be able to create your own digital strategy, starting with:

  • The goals of your organisation
  • Who your customers and employees are
  • What you want to offer or produce in the future.

2. First steps in creating a digital strategy

Our expert, Dr Amelia Knowlson, University of Leeds, explains how you can start to plan your digital strategy.

The fields of arts, culture, and heritage use digital technology in many ways. These include producing, sharing and consuming heritage, how people learn about technology and organising work-based processes in a strategic way. You are not alone in thinking about the myriad of ways you can apply digital technology. Here are some of the things a digital strategy can help you do as an organisation:

  • Understand your current digital strengths and weaknesses
  • Envision where you want to be
  • Plan how you can engage with new online audiences
  • Maximise digital technologies to manage your collections
  • Set out actionable goals
  • Measure, evaluate, and improve these goals as technology advances.

The importance of situational analysis

Two essential first steps to create your digital strategy are to:

1. Assess your current situation
2. Establish where you want your organisation to be.

This second question is really important. To what extent do you expect that an increase in your digital capacity will change fundamental things about who you are as an organisation? Perhaps you want the digital strategy to better support your existing organisational goals, or alternatively you may want to use the digital strategy to help you completely change and re-evaluate these? When you complete this type of assessment, you use situational analysis.

The two most common frameworks for situational analysis are:

  • PESTLE (Political, Environmental, Social, Legal, Economic)

PESTLE (evaluating Political, Environmental, Social, Legal, Economic factors influencing an organisation)

  • SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats).

SWOT (assessing organisational Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

Completing a situational analysis will help you explore the internal and external factors influencing your organisation. You may discover potential digital opportunities to reach new audiences, limit possible threats via new work packages or take advantage of changes in government policy:

You may wish to use these frameworks in a brainstorming session with staff and/or trustees.  First try completing the PESTLE analysis.

  • POLITICAL – do you know enough about how political changes might affect you in the future?
  • ENVIRONMENTAL – are there particular issues and concerns around sustainable development and green initiatives which might impact what you do?
  • SOCIAL – how well do you know your audiences?  Are there current debates and cultural changes which are important for you to engage with?
  • TECHNOLOGICAL – are you up to date with skills and technological resources or do you feel you are lagging behind?  Do you feel other organisations are using technology more effectively or are you cutting edge in how you use digital resources? What are the latest trends that you feel might benefit the heritage industry?
  • LEGAL – what are the legal and policy frameworks that impact your work? Have these changed?
  • ECONOMIC – what are the trends in terms of the local and national economy?  How do you feel the cultural and creative sector is performing? Is your audience particularly impacted by economic change?

Once you have explored this you would then transfer this thinking into a SWOT analysis.  In fact, many strategists would suggest that from the PESTLE analysis you may want to first think about whether you see any Threats in the things you have identified or indeed are there any Opportunities for you to maximise?  You can then look at your own heritage organisation and reflect on whether you have any Weaknesses which make mitigating the threats or indeed responding to opportunities a challenge.   Finally, you can reflect on where your key Strengths lie as an organisation.  Focussing on your strengths can help you establish the best way to frame your digital strategy. Conducting the SWOT in this order is referred to as a TOWS analysis.

Further sources of support

When starting to think about digital, it is important to remember you are not alone. Organisations such as the Arts Councils and the Arts Marketing Association have good resources to help you. Here are some further links you may find useful:

3. Start analysing what you need to address in your digital strategy

Now you have a better understanding of situational analysis, we suggest you apply this for your own organisation. There are two interactive pdfs for you to download and complete. You can do this analysis on your own or with colleagues. It may be useful for several of you to complete an analysis independently and then meet to discuss similarities and differences.

Use the templates we have provided to complete your own PESTle and SWOT analysis.

More help here

A path through a garden surrounded by a wide variety of trees

Approaches for digital transformation

This guide focuses on three approaches to digital transformation and what they can mean for your heritage organisation. Case studies explore how other organisations have embraced digital transformation, their experiences and the strategic pathways they have taken to change how they engage with their audiences.

Salisbury International Arts Festival – the orchestra stand to receive applause at the end of a performance in Salisbury cathedral

Deciding when to work with a digital strategist

Employing digital strategists to guide you through the unfamiliar landscape of developing a digital strategy can have its benefits. However, making the most of expertise within your organisation can often be as effective as bringing in outside assistance. This resource guides you through the initial steps of planning your digital strategy to help you identify where digital expertise may be of benefit.


Browse related resources by smart tags:

Digital strategy PESTLE Situational analysis SWOT
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: "Using a situational analysis to create your digital strategy (2022) by Dr Amelia Knowlson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

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.

Arts Marketing Association
Heritage Digital
University of Leeds logo
The Heritage Fund logo