Taking Advantage Of Emerging Technologies To Reap The Economic Benefits Of Digitisation And Gain Real-Time Insight Into Museum Audiences

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Information Studies


It is estimated that Britain's culture and heritage attracts £4.5 billion worth of spending by visitors every year, supporting more than 100,000 jobs across Britain. However, in recent years museums and cultural heritage institutions in the UK have been facing increasing financial challenges due to budget cuts. This project investigates ways emerging technologies can be utilised to enable British museums and galleries generate revenue from their digitised collections, whilst gaining a better understanding of their audiences in real-time. Efforts to generate revenue from digitised collections has so far been limited to image licensing operations, an approach that is increasingly being challenged for its effectiveness and profitability. Additionally, although the importance of understanding museum visitor behaviour is undisputable with researchers and museum professionals studying museum visitor behaviour for more than a century, little has been done to take advantage of recent technological advancements to provide museums with a real-time insight into the visitor behaviour of their audiences.

Building upon our previous research and work (i.e. "Reaping the Benefits of Digitisation: Exploring Revenue Generation from Digitised Collections through Technological Innovation" by Valeonti et al. 2018) in this project we collaborate with a major British museum, i.e. the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, to develop and evaluate in a three controlled experiments two software applications: IMS 2.0 and the Museum Dashboard. The first application enables museum visitors to design and purchase highly customisable merchandise with their favourite artworks. The latter application utilises the data gathered by IMS 2.0 to enable museum staff and exhibition designers to produce custom reports on visitor behaviour in their museum in real-time.

The project is aimed at serving museums and galleries with digitised collections. It will engage key figures in digital humanities and Britain's cultural sector, as well as professionals from museums and galleries of all sizes. Its emphasis on sustainability (cost-consciousness of technological solutions and low maintenance costs) aims at maximising the project's impact, supporting and helping museums of smaller sizes to reap the benefits of digitisation. To disseminate the project's research and work, a series of journal articles and conference papers will be produced, and a full-day event will be organised at UCL in London to share key findings and demonstrate the applications developed to museum delegates. Britain is one of the three leading countries in culture globally and this project has the potential to provide a vital and timely intervention for the international community as they face similar challenges. The project will contribute not only towards the financial independence of museums and galleries with digitised collections and towards a better understanding of museum audiences, but more importantly to international debates on the future of museums in the digital age.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of this project is the economic impact for the British culture and heritage sector. It is estimated that Britain's culture and heritage attracts £4.5 billion worth of spending by visitors every year, supporting more than 100,000 jobs across Britain. The project's main beneficiaries are museums and galleries with digitised collections, as the project makes a sizeable contribution towards their financial independence. In addition it contributes towards a better understanding of their audiences, enabling them to make more informed decisions regarding exhibition design.

With regards to museum funding, this project introduces a novel solution for museums to generate revenue from their digitised collections. Through the mobile application IMS 2.0, the project allows museum visitors to design and purchase highly customisable merchandise featuring their favourite exhibits providing museums with an additional stream of revenue. More importantly, IMS 2.0 has been designed in a sustainable manner, as it does not require any investment in hardware such as multi-touch screens and custom mobile devices for visitors, or upfront purchase of stock products. As a result, IMS 2.0 has been designed for maximum impact in a way to assists museums of all sizes to benefit from their digitised collections.

The Museum Dashboard, i.e. the application that enables museum staff to generate custom real-time reports on museum visitor behaviour, is also of great benefit for museums and galleries, as it allows them to gain real-time insight into their audiences. An improved understanding of visitor audiences helps museums take more informed decisions with regards to exhibition design. Similar to IMS 2.0, the Museum Dashboard has been designed with an emphasis on sustainability. As a result, exhibition designers and curators will be able to view historic reports and assess how various formats of exhibition design performed with their visitors over time.
Description Although the project's experiments have yet to take place, as they were deferred due to the pandemic, delaying also the project's outcomes, during this award numerous insightful discoveries have been made. The project has revealed the dearth of literature and practice on the use of emerging technologies and digitisation as means for revenue generation for cultural heritage institutions. Although museum funding is amongst the main challenges for museums internationally, little has been done to explore ways to address that challenge. The limited literature available focuses mainly on how museum funding can be augmented with marketing, overlooking the vast array of new opportunities that emerging technologies are continuously opening up. This award presents one of the most systematic efforts to date, to fill the dearth of academic literature and practice for such a critical, especially in aftermath of the pandemic, field of study. Additionally, the project has made contributions to heated debates, examining whether innovative technological solutions for museum revenue generation, such as the one proposed in this award, could provide an alternative to image licensing fees, which have been attracting increasing criticism, and whether they could promote the adoption of the OpenGLAM (i.e. Open Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) principles.
Exploitation Route Building on the outputs of this award, future researchers and practitioners can explore further and develop their own solutions that combine emerging technologies with museum digitisation to counter the financial difficulties of cultural heritage institutions. The award will also provide the sector with an in-depth understanding of the breadth of possibilities emerging technologies open up for museums and galleries, demonstrating that, beyond novelty, they can also be employed for providing real, tangible impact on their most pressing issues, such as funding.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Fund
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 156780 
Organisation Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 01/2022
Description The Fitzwilliam Museum 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department The Fitzwilliam Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our contributions to the partnership with the Fitzwilliam Museum, i.e the Project Partner of the award, are numerous. Firstly, I have presented and made the museum aware of the breadth of possibilities emerging technologies can present for revenue generation. Secondly, I designed and implemented the digital outputs of the project, so that they best meet the Fitzwilliam Museum's needs, providing its staff with insights relating to museum visitor behaviour. Finally, the award contributes to the museum's research outputs, promoting its presence in the academic community, exploring key subjects of museum studies, such as revenue generation and museum visitor behaviour.
Collaborator Contribution As the project partner in this award, the Fitzwilliam Museum is making a series of contributions. Firstly, they provided insight and continuous feedback to the product design of the digital outputs, so that the research project best meets the needs of museums and galleries. More importantly, they are the host of all of the project's experiments, which have been deferred to June due to the pandemic, allowing for the evaluation of the digital outputs in a real-world environment.
Impact 1) Developed my leadership skills by leading a research project that involves a well-established museum, working with all stakeholders, managing their demands and expectations. 2) Gained experience in Knowledge Exchange projects, where the industry partner informs the research and us, the academics, inform their practice. 3) Widened my network by working with museum professionals from the museum sector. 4) Gained valuable insight on how museums of that scale operate internally.
Start Year 2019
Title Infinite Museum Store: A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Platform for Museums to Generate Revenue from their Digitised Collections 
Description The Infinite Museum Store (IMS) is a SaaS platform enabling museums to generate an additional source of revenue from their digitised collections. It builds upon and significantly improves prior research and work of the PI. The platform is comprised by the following: 1) On the front-end: Progressive Web App (PWA) with Image Recognition enabling the visitors of a museum to capture, recognise and create personalised products with the museum's artworks. Products include prints, framed prints and merchandise items. 2) On the back-end: Series of services that perform all necessary activities for the front-end app to perform optimally, including artwork recognition and product design on-runtime. 3) Database: Database of artwork images and meta-data including also image features (i.e. information that is used for image recognition). 
Type Of Technology e-Business Platform 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact With the fellowship project due for completion in September and the experiments moved to June, IMS is still under development. The main impact IMS is seeking to make is to help museums and galleries in the UK address one of their greatest challenges, i.e. to sustain funding. IMS utilises emerging technologies to open up new revenue streams for museums through the sale of personalised, on-demand merchandising that allows them to capture a share of the 25 Billion art merchandise market (Bradshaw 2011). An indication of its potential impact is that the project has attracted interest during the COVID-19 pandemic (despite being in its current format an application designed for museum visitors on-site), earning: (a) a new industry and a new museum partner for the AHRC Fellowship Extension project, which aims to adapt the platform to the post-COVID-19 era (b) a HEIF grant award to help museums benefit through the platform. References: Bradshaw, T. (2011) Internet start-up draws in art world. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/8ee39248-b485-11e0-a21d-00144feabdc0