Understanding Approaches towards New Technologies in the Cultural Sector

Post by Amber Geurts (University of Groningen, The Netherlands), summarizing her presentation at CREATe Researchers Conference & Technology Capacity Building Event

amber guertsWithin existing research, there is a lack of understanding concerning the way creative, or cultural organizations, approach new technologies – even though technological developments have changed, facilitated and threatened the cultural sector enormously over the last several years. On the one hand, utopian approaches to new technologies (Castells, 2002) stress how these technologies have enabled cultural organizations to inform, educate and engage a wider and more diverse public (Cunliffe, Kritou & Tudhope, 2001), or created opportunities for cultural organizations to reduce costs of production and distribution (Cameron, 2011). On the other hand, dystopian views contrast these expectations by emphasizing how traditional value measures and working methods in the cultural sector become increasingly challenged (Peacock, 2008; Leyshon et al., 2005).

New technologies therefore provide opportunities to strengthen the position and possibilities of cultural organizations, but also threaten the cultural sector simultaneously. Previous research reveals a similar focus on the winners and losers of technological change. For example, most socio-cultural studies indicate how new technologies might create a so-called “digital divide” (Norris, 2001) between prominent actors or cultural organizations who are able to access, use and implement new media applications and those who aren’t. Similarly, most innovation management studies make the Schumpeterian (1942) assumption that, in the wake of discontinuous technological change, it are incumbent firms who increasingly struggle or exit the sector, while new entrants rise to market dominance (Bergek et al., 2013).

Notwithstanding these results, merely focusing on the winners and losers of technological change has resulted in an oversimplified view of how firms differently perceive, approach and eventually react to technological change. More recent studies have contested the Schumpeterian assumption within innovation management studies (Hill & Rothaermel, 2003; Mol et al., 2012) and have even suggested to direct attention towards new ways of thinking about and responding to the challenges and opportunities of technological change (Peacock, 2008).

Relatively little is known about the use, acceptance and understanding of technology by creative and cultural organizations. Considering that even more sophisticated technologies and services will be developed over time in this climate of fast technological change, it is important to address approaches towards technology-related organizational change within the cultural sector.

To develop such a fine grained understanding of the approaches towards technology-related change within the cultural sector, retrospective, semi-structured interviews have been conducted with key personnel from Dutch cultural organizations involved in e-culture or online marketing in 2013. The sample of cultural organizations in the analysis represented both traditional cultural institutions, in this case museums (8), and suppliers of reproducible cultural products, in this case record companies (5).

Most interestingly, the majority of cultural organizations do not have a preconceived online strategy from the start. For record companies, technological advancements brought about an immediate pressure to respond: consumers had to be reached in a different way and products had to be digitally exploited. For museums this pressure was less severe; the traditional target group of museums, which is above 65 years old, couldn’t even be found online at first. Most museums could therefore take time to brainstorm about their online strategy, whereas most record companies had to respond to face an imminent crisis. This therefore illustrates how the approach towards new technologies might better be conceived as a process; the perceptions and use of new technologies might have changed along the way.

Indeed, the interviews also indicated how both types of cultural organizations approached new technologies through a process of trial and error; they still had to find out what works and what doesn’t. Most cultural organizations, especially the museums, indicated how they started out with a rather primitive website or online folder, which they adapted and developed along the way to become more up to date, professional, structural and effective. Moving forward, both types of cultural organizations had to deal with uncertainties regarding, for example, concerning legal issues –can we put this online?-, cultural issues –how will ICT affect the meaning of a cultural product?-, social issues – who will visit us online and will they be able to find us? -and economic issues – how can we digitally exploit cultural products?. In order to answer these and related questions, cultural organizations had to “discover” the solution to iteratively, indicating not a need for alternative business models, but rather, a kind of organizational media literacy.

Finally the interviews also suggested how the predominant focus on the winners and losers of technological change provides a distorted view of the way cultural organizations perceive and accommodate technological advancements. For example, even when solely comparing record companies among each other, it becomes evident that some record companies have been more reluctant, defensive and “wait-and-see” towards new technologies than other record companies, even though both are still in business. This therefore calls for more research focusing on the organizational responses to technological advancements.

The above discussed results provide some insights in the perceptions, approaches and uses of new technologies in the cultural sector. Together, they highlight future research directions that could further stimulate discussions about the perceptions, approaches and uses of technology by creative and cultural organizations.

References

  • Bergek, A., Berggren, C., Magnusson, T. & Hobday, M. (2013). Technological discontinuities and the challenge for incumbent firms: destruction, disruption or creative accumulation? Research Policy, 42 (6-7, p. 1210-1224.
  • Cameron, L. (2011). The Impact of Digitization on Business Models in Copyright-Driven Industries: A Review of the Economic Issues. The Brattle Group, Inc.
  • Castells, M (1996). The information age: economy, society and culture. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Cunliffe, D., Kritou, E. & Tudhope, D. (2001). Usability Evaluation for Museum Web Sites. Museum Management and Curatorship, 19 (3), p. 229–252.
  • Hill, C.W.L. & Rothaermel, F.T. (2003). The Performance of Incumbent Firms in the Face of Radical Technological Innovation. Academy of Management Review, 28 (2), p. 257-274.
  • Leyshon, A., Webb, P., French, S., Thrift, N., & Crewe, L. (2005). On the reproduction of the music economy after the internet. Media, Culture & Society, 27 (2), p. 177-209.
  • Mol, J.M., Chiu, M. & Wijnberg, N. (2012). Love Me Tender: New Entry in Popular Music. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 25 (1), p. 88-120.
  • Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Peacock, D. (2008). Making Ways for Change: Museums, Disruptive Technologies and Organizational Change. Museums Management & Curatorship, 23 (3), p. 333-351.
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