Modeling Cultural Value within New Media Cultures of Networked Participation

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

This collaborative and interdisciplinary research project between Tate, the Royal College of Art and London South Bank University is based upon the recognition that contemporary professional practice, policy-formation and understandings of cultural value remain resolutely analogue despite the profound changes in how knowledge and contemporary culture is being produced and experienced due to the fundamental changes in human communication that digital technologies and network cultures are creating. Prevailing accounts and concepts of cultural value are essentially based upon representational systems and forms which were originally developed in relationship to analogue technologies. Whilst our social, political and cultural value systems remain tied to representational forms through which society and the individual are constructed and identified, network culture is defined by new non-representational forms of distributed communication and exchange of value in which both the social and the human are being reconstituted.

The key problem which this project addresses is that despite the substantial amount of research analysizing the impact of digital technology and the rise of network culture, this research has yet to easily translate into the professional practices of new media nor the policy field of new media and cultural value. The reason for this is rooted in the separation of the practical spheres of theory, practice and policy which itself is historically based upon representational systems of knowledge. This project seeks to develop new understandings of network culture required to develop new modes of knowledge production which are closer to and connected with the new conditions of network culture.

The proposed project aims to address the problem of both the limits of representational thinking and the separation of its modes of knowledge production in relationship to analogue and digital cultures by a practice-led enquiry. The project will experiment with dialogic and interdisciplinary modeling of new knowledge by bringing together practitioners, theorists and policy-makers who are inter-connected through existing institutional practices and partnerships.

In collaboration with Tate the project adopts an embedded approach to engage with Tate's own networked practices as a means of tracing value in network relations and producing a dialogic response from the network. It will focus upon Tate's digital projects and research initiatives across Tate Media, Tate Learning, Tate Collections and Tate Communications to examine its modes of digital access and co-production.

The research will culminate in a three week public research programme that will bring Tate staff engaged with Tate's digital projects and practices into dialogue with co-producers and users along with leading digital culture theoreticians, policy-makers, funders and managers to investigate and record their responses and engagements with a structured series of research questions generated in advance by the project's research analysis of the disjunctures between practice, policy and theory which restrict a new modeling of cultural value in network culture today. All of the public research programme will be recorded and uploaded to the Tate website ensuring public access to the sessions along with the project's report and final research findings.

Planned Impact

As the Tate's Digital Strategy 2013-15 paper, published in April 2013 online and sub-titled 'Digital as a Dimension of Everything', outlines:

"Tate's Social media and use of third-party content platforms, however, are destined to change many more activities at Tate, offering new ways to engage with audiences and to distribute content where it will reach new audiences. We believe that there are significant opportunities for social media and new digital platforms to revolutionise the visitor experience as well as transform the practices of learning, research, curating and fundraising within the museum. As with blogging, Tate will seek to embed the use of social media across the organization ... The social value of Tate's knowledge and assets is limited by the institution's approach to its reuse by audiences."
(http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/tate-digital-strategy-2013-15-digital-dimension-everything)

Attracting 7.5 million physical visitors in 2012/13, 20 million unique users and 300,000 facebook friends, Tate's need to understand the cultural value of its digital offer both on and offline is crucial if it is to continue t develop new audiences and sustain the engagement of existing ones. Tate's acknowledgement of the need for research into this area underpins both the collaborative organisation of this project and its methodology which is constructed to ensure maximum impact for Tate and its digital partners and funders. This is to say the practice-led research methodology constitutes in and of itself the impact as it will firstly provide the space and opportunity for Tate to critically and reflexively review the forms and modes of cultural value, both assumed and invested in projects such as the RCUK funded 'Art Maps' project (digital research collaboration with Universities of Nottingham and Exeter) and 'Transforming Tate Britain Archives' (£1.9 m / HLF funded) which is based on the digitization of archives for new models of online learing and interactive participation. Secondly, it will offer an account and analysis of digital use in network cultures and the value placed on it by users and partners which Tate does not have the skills or resources to critically interrogate independently. Thirdly, it will enable Tate to share useful information to its national regional partners in the Plus Tate Plus scheme who look to Tate as a national sector-leading museum to share new research and insights into pressing issues of mutual concern, such as digital engagement with audiences.

Beyond Tate, the project will clearly be of direct interest and value to key funders of Tate's digital projects such as the HLF, NESTA, Arts Council England and RCUK and the impact of the project will be both through the direct participation of these funding agencies in the public research programme and through the final research report and funding presentations that Tate Research will lead as part of its Tate National remit to distribute information to key public sector stakeholders for discussion. As a national institution that is actively engaged in policy-formation with key government departments such as DCMS and BIS, Tate will also ensure that the project's research findings are shared appropriately with these departments.

Finally, in the private sector, as an institution that consistently commissions new innovative digital design from SMEs the involvement of software and programme designers in the research programme, as well as the participation of Google Cultural Institute, will ensure that the networked nature of the digital across sectors and domains is maintained.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description 'Modelling Cultural Value in New Media Cultures of Networked Participation' was a collaboration between the Curating Contemporary Art Programme at the Royal College
of Art, Tate Research, and the Centre for Media and Culture Research at London South Bank University. The aim of the project was to examine how conceptions of cultural value are currently operating within national and European cultural institutions in relation to digital media and online communication and what challenges the rapid development of network cultures is posing. Working with Tate as a case study, and bringing together cultural practitioners, academics, policy-makers, and funders to address the research questions, the project found that:

1. There is a general confusion within the public cultural sector about what constitutes the digital and hence its relation to culture, audiences, and cultural value.
2. A false binary opposition persists between the concept of culture and the concept of the digital which is rooted in the historical separation of art from technology; a separation that continues to underpin the traditional distinction between high and low culture.
3. Museums predominantly understand and employ the digital as a tool and continue to adopt the analogue broadcast model of one-to many transmission based on traditional models of institutional cultural authority and disciplinary expertise.
4. Cultural institutions are trying to adapt to the two-way, many to many model of digital networked communication through which new collectives and collectivities are redefining the idea of the social and publics, but struggle to identify and find ways to work with these new users / visitors.
5. While cultural heritage is understood to hold exceptional national cultural value, there are conflicting positions about how this value can be sustained in contemporary digital culture.
6. The separation of practice, policy and theory, restricts the emergence of new models of cultural value which recognise contemporary socio-cultural conditions of online production and consumption of culture.
Exploitation Route As a collaborative project with Tate which, as a national museum is actively engaged with understanding how the digital is transforming the practice of both creative practitioner and museum professionals, as much as forms audience engagement, the research findings are now being internally discussed at Tate to see how they should inform new ways of working, particularly in relation to the opening of Tate Modern 2. In relation to the research method, which brought together 37 individuals from across the cultural sector, creative Industries, public and private sector funding, and commercial and non-profit programming and software companies, new forms of dialogue have opened up and identified key areas of policy and funding disconnection with practice. A new large-scale research project evolved directly out of this, 'Curating, Computation and Cultural Value' which is led by LSBU as a collaboration with RCA, The Photographers' Gallery, Google and Rhizome is to be submitted March 2017. The research findings are also informing new research-led teaching at all postgraduate levels.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.rca.ac.uk/research-innovation/research/funded-research/cultural-value/
 
Description In addition to the impact that the final report of the project's findings will have through its direct dissemination across the cultural and academic sectors, creative industries and funding bodies through the 37 contributors that took part in the project itself, there are currently three specific areas of impact originally identified: Practice, Policy and Theory. Practice As a collaborative project with Tate which, as a national museum is actively engaged with understanding how the digital is transforming the practice of both creative practitioner and museum professionals, as much as forms audience engagement, the research findings are now being internally discussed at Tate to see how they should inform new ways of working, particularly in advance of the opening of Tate Modern 2. The key findings that Tate is currently examining in this respect are: • The lack of engagement with artists' use of technology has directly contributed to the separation and construction of the binary operation between art and technology, and art and culture, limiting the present understanding for the museum of new media as an essential component of understanding it in relation to cultural value. • Decisions to digitise have been predominantly driven by funding policies of audience development which have further contributed to the perception of the digital as primarily a tool rather than a medium of creative production. • Instead of thinking about the 'digital' as a conventionalised add-on to existing forms, codes, conventions and practices of both media and institutions, new media draws attention to the larger dimension of a set of fundamental changes in human communication made possible in the human-computer interface which the museum now needs to work with. Policy Despite the initial enthusiasm of museums of modern art towards the digital the proliferation of issues regarding the purpose and value of policy directives to expand the projects of digitisation increasingly poses questions and presents challenges related to practical questions around resource allocation, asset management, use value, copyright, and the need to build and manage a new skills workforce which is not necessarily professionally invested in the object of analogue collections. What became apparent through the research, particularly in relation to Tate as a case study, was the extent to which having achieved immense success in creating a business model based on brand value (and generating income against this to offset an ever-increasing decline of public subsidy), networked culture is perceived to pose significant risks to brand value and asset management through the redistribution of cultural authority online. This area of policy and practice needs further research by funding agencies and was acknowledged during the final conference which included participation from representatives of the Arts Council of England and Nesta. Funding policies for the digital have generally been underpinned by concerns with instrumentalised value focused on enhancing and demonstrating commercial value which has limited more open-ended research into the digital for cultural practitioners and organisations. The absence of a common and shared vocabulary around the digital that policy-makers, cultural institutions, and academics need in order to be able to connect and maximise the value of the insights generated by their individual work was consistently highlighted by academics, cultural practitioners, and policy-makers. Discussion to develop more interdisciplinary methods of research and research engagement were noted by all participants and new collaborations and networks are emerging from the project and feeding into new research proposals. Theory Two book publication offers have been received and are under review which will support more detailed analysis and wider dissemination of the research process and findings. In relation to the research method, which brought together 37 individuals from across the cultural sector, creative Industries, public and private sector funding, and commercial and non-profit programming and software companies, new forms of dialogue have opened up to identify key areas of policy and funding disconnection with practice. A new large-scale research proposal is now in development between the project partners and five of the contributors to further examine the cultural and commercial value of online arts film and performance production and the changes in temporal experience of culture and the implications this holds for the management and experience of culture. Both these outcomes are based on the following findings: • Opportunities for academics to develop and test more applied theory within cultural organisations is limited due to a primary emphasis of digital research funding in cultural institutions for creative production. • The digital 'object' is not the content to be focused on as the generator of meaning, but rather the flow of information attached to its circulation - it is through the metadata of online users that a different frame of value should be traced. Museums need to value the metadata of online users and to prioritise research in this area to understand how value is being redistributed, but this needs greater applied research. • There is a new level of complexity of communication in both art and media that demands new transversal perspectives that can inform acquisition and display. Whether this might be formulated within or across existing disciplines the underlying issue is the need to create new insights and understandings of the convergence between the discourses of art, media and technology. • Given there is an ever-increasing disjunction between the accelerating timeframes of technological development and digitisation with those of the analogue museum and the cultural institution, both in relation to funding and resource capacity as much as skills, and this is exacerbated by a further disjuncture between the timeframe of policy-making and that of research. For policy, practice and theory to relate and generate knowledge usefully new models of research collaboration to inform policy formation, funding criteria and targeted organisational development need to be established.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Cultural Value Policy Scoping Project led by King's College London
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
URL http://www.kcl.ac.uk/Cultural/-/Projects/CulturalValueScoping.aspx
 
Description Research collaboration 
Organisation London South Bank University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project built on a previous AHRC major award in the Diasporas, Migrations, Identities programme which was a collaboration between Tate (where I previously worked) and London South Bank University. In addition to subject specialist knowledge (the impact of digital and networked cultures on cultural production and the art museum), as academic lead in this field I brought expertise in practice-based and collaborative research methodologies to the project design. As a professional curator and arts manager with 20 years knowledge and work experience of Tate I was able to design the research project with a good working knowledge of who and which Tate departments we needed to involve in the project to address and answer the research questions. In addition, my international networks of museum curators, artists and policy-makers allowed me to include the contribution and participation of practitioners outside of Tate and the UK.
Collaborator Contribution Tate Research enabled members of Tate staff from 9 different departments to participate in the research through public seminars, workshops and interviews to share knowledge about the use and management of digital and networked culture within the museum's organisational practices. All research events took place in front of public audiences, were recorded and made public on Tate website. LSBU provided further academic leadership and expertise in the filed of networked cultures related to the production of visual culture and to academics directly engaged with digital technology, coding and programming.
Impact The project organised a series of public research seminars that brought together 37 cultural practitioners, academics, policy-makers, and funders to respond to specific research themes and questions. All events were recorded and are available on the Tate website: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/cultural-value-and-digital-practice-policy-and-theory
Start Year 2014
 
Description Research collaboration 
Organisation Tate
Department Tate Learning
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This project built on a previous AHRC major award in the Diasporas, Migrations, Identities programme which was a collaboration between Tate (where I previously worked) and London South Bank University. In addition to subject specialist knowledge (the impact of digital and networked cultures on cultural production and the art museum), as academic lead in this field I brought expertise in practice-based and collaborative research methodologies to the project design. As a professional curator and arts manager with 20 years knowledge and work experience of Tate I was able to design the research project with a good working knowledge of who and which Tate departments we needed to involve in the project to address and answer the research questions. In addition, my international networks of museum curators, artists and policy-makers allowed me to include the contribution and participation of practitioners outside of Tate and the UK.
Collaborator Contribution Tate Research enabled members of Tate staff from 9 different departments to participate in the research through public seminars, workshops and interviews to share knowledge about the use and management of digital and networked culture within the museum's organisational practices. All research events took place in front of public audiences, were recorded and made public on Tate website. LSBU provided further academic leadership and expertise in the filed of networked cultures related to the production of visual culture and to academics directly engaged with digital technology, coding and programming.
Impact The project organised a series of public research seminars that brought together 37 cultural practitioners, academics, policy-makers, and funders to respond to specific research themes and questions. All events were recorded and are available on the Tate website: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/cultural-value-and-digital-practice-policy-and-theory
Start Year 2014
 
Description Public Research Seminars 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project organised a series of public research seminars that brought together 37 cultural practitioners, academics, policy-makers, and funders to respond to specific research themes and questions. All events were recorded and are available on the Tate website:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/cultural-value-and-digital-practice-policy-and-theory