Why might digital change be a necessary disruption for my organisation?

Managing change is necessary in a landscape of rapid changes and emerging new technologies. This resource introduces a practical tool to help heritage organisations make the most of the opportunities that digital innovation may offer. Exploring the art of ‘improvisation’, you will learn how to embrace productive change.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
Light installation from Illuminating York, British heritage city
Image courtesy of Visit York ©

Why might digital change be a necessary disruption for my organisation?

1. Why change is important

Working in the cultural and heritage sectors, you know these uncertain times can be challenging. You want to find time to develop smarter working patterns and reach new audiences. You would like to find novel ways to increase engagement with your events and sites. In this section, we show you flexible, hands-on ways to plan for change; ones that are practical for the everyday experiences of smaller organisations. This resource introduces you to some simple but effective business strategies that are easy to apply and that make the best use of your time and resources. It aims to inspire you to make the most of digital opportunities and new technologies and to incorporate them into your strategies for the future.

2. Quick strategies for managing successful change

Our expert, Dr. Stephen Dobson, University of Leeds, explains two ways to think about how to create a strategy for change within your organisation.

Deliberate and emergent strategies

Business strategists Henry Mintzberg and James Waters developed the idea of deliberate and emergent strategies in 1985 to reflect a more pragmatic and practical approach to managing and leading change. Mintzberg and Waters are highly influential academics in the field of business strategy and developed this approach as a way of acknowledging strategy as ‘a pattern in a stream of decisions’. A practical strategy for your organisation will lie somewhere along a scale between these two end points shown in the diagram.

A diagram showing possible change management strategies for your heritage organisation.
A diagram of strategies with your organisation at the centre. On the left is a deliberate strategy, which is to make a plan and follow it. On the right is an emergent strategy, which is to see change is needed and respond to it.

The deliberate strategy, to the left of the scale, reflects a more ‘prescriptive’ and traditional approach of creating and following a long-term plan for your organisation. It is what we would like to see if everything went according to plan. Of course, especially in a small organisation, things don’t always go to plan.

Emergent strategies are ones you adopt at the point when you see the need to change. A completely emergent strategy represents an approach where there is little or no plan at all, the organisation is in permanent ‘fire-fighting’ mode and simply responding to whatever challenges emerge. In a fast-changing digital landscape it can be hard to gain new skills and knowledge quickly enough to respond in good time, if the organisation’s strategy is too close to the emergent end of the scale. Ideally the best practical strategy lies somewhere in the middle.

Adapt and improvise

Being able to adapt and change involves ongoing learning, experimenting, and perhaps taking a few risks along the way. If you adopt new technologies and respond to new opportunities in small steps, then change can feel more manageable.

You may be familiar with the idea of improvisation in jazz music, where a musician makes fresh melodies over a piece of music they already know. The information systems specialist Claudio Ciborra, from the London School of Economics (1992), compares this principle of improvisation to ‘tinkering’ with work patterns in an organisation. Like improvising in jazz music, you know your existing resources and try fresh ideas to push beyond your usual way of doing things, little and often. Like a jazz musician, your ability to improvise gets better the more you do it. The jazz musician first masters the original tune (or way of doing things) and then makes small changes to try out new things. Over time, these step-by-step changes can transform how your organisation will operate in the future. This is a great model to help you achieve your organisational plans.

3. Start by being reflective

A diagram showing questions to consider in your approach to developing digital strategies.

Each week, set aside some time to focus on one of these questions.

You can complete your answers as individuals or as an organisation. Remember to discuss your answers with colleagues to make the most of this process.

  • Why? What are your organisation’s values and goals? Are they still the same as when the organisation started? Why do people care about what you offer?
  • What? What technologies are out there? What does your current offer look like? What are other heritage organisations doing with digital?
  • How? What new technologies and information do you need? What digital skills and competences does your organisation need? What problems are you currently facing as an organisation, or what opportunities have you recently identified?
  • Who? Who is out there that can help? Where might you meet new contacts and other organisations with experience?

4. Further resources

Use the template we have provided to create your own version as you reflect on the questions and discuss them with your colleagues.

Download Assessing your digital needs (PDF file 329 KB)

More help here

A female baker sells bread at a market

Persuading your stakeholders of the value of digital change

Any kind of organisational change can be challenging. This guide provides a useful framework for understanding how to communicate with and involve staff and volunteers in addressing the need for digital change in heritage organisations.

A man faces the camera, standing inside a cathedral lit up in blue lighting

Using root cause analysis to help you identify where digital can make the biggest difference

This guide explores the use of fishbone/root cause analysis as a way of for you and your team to establish key areas and issues that may need to change.  Root cause analysis helps you to identify your organisation’s biggest challenges and weaknesses and how digital change can help to address them.


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Heritage Managing change New technologies
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: "Why might digital change be a necessary disruption for my organisation? (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson 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.

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