Computer Club awesomeness: An interview with IWM’s Carolyn Royston

Posted on July 8, 2013

5


One of the coolest ideas that I picked up at Museums and the Web this year was the Imperial War MuseumsComputer Club; an “informal club for all staff that aims to provide a hands-on experience with technology.” It was so cool, in fact, that I’ve asked Carolyn Royston, Head of Digital Media at the IWM, to tell us a bit more about it.

Carolyn Royston, IWM

Carolyn Royston, IWM

Carolyn, first up, can you tell me what Computer Club is and how it all works?

Computer Club is a new museum-wide initiative that we launched in May. The Digital Media department runs informal monthly lunchtime sessions that aim to develop digital awareness and skills across the museum. It’s open to everyone and we run the club across all of our five sites. We want to introduce staff to new digital things in a very practical hands-on way, perhaps try something they normally wouldn’t get an opportunity to do in their job and hopefully just get excited about digital. We have specifically made it informal and non-museum focussed so that people will come along and just have fun in a relaxed and friendly environment.

The initial sessions you’re running cover topics like Twitter, Facebook, Xbox and gesture control, and movie making on an iPad. How did you decide what topics to cover in the first instance? Were these choices a response to particular institutional needs, or were the subjects chosen for another reason?

My team came up with a list of initial ideas based on what we felt would be of most interest and use to staff. In the first instance, we thought that most people would know about Twitter and Facebook but not necessarily have accounts, or know how they work, or not necessarily know how to get the best from them. So for the Twitter session, we give people the opportunity to set up their own account, show them how to follow organisations or people they are interested in and everyone sends a tweet. It’s just a taster really but it gives people the chance to have a go and see what it’s all about. We have a long list of ideas but have only suggested six so far as we want to ask staff what sessions they would like us to run. We want Computer Club to be as user-focussed as possible.

Have you held your first session yet? How did it go?

Yes we ran our first session on how to use Twitter at our London site last month. We had a great response – fifty people from across different departments (including two directors) signed up. We want the sessions to be totally hands-on and we provide the equipment. We had to run the session three times so each person could have their own tablet and ensure the group was small enough for the team to provide help and support. There was a mixture of experience from people who already use Twitter and wanted to learn more about it to someone who had never held a tablet before and didn’t even really know what it was.

We also learnt an awful lot about the practicalities from the first session like dealing with wifi issues, trying to support sixteen people signing up for a Twitter account at the same time and just running out of time to get through everything we wanted to cover. A session is only an hour long and it’s surprising how quickly the time goes so we have learnt very quickly to limit the number of people per session to a max of 16 and keep the content very simple so there’s more time to play and experiment. We realised that we could always run a more ‘advanced’ session later on if people wanted to learn more.

We have just run the first of our second sessions on making a movie trailer on an iPad using iMovie. This is very different to the Twitter session as we ask people to work in small groups, give them a genre for a trailer, and let them go off for twenty minutes to make a trailer using iMovie. A member of the Computer Club team goes along to help them. They then get to do a very limited amount of editing and we upload the trailer to YouTube and watch each group’s trailer together. It’s a fun session that gets people collaborating, introduces them to the video camera on an iPad and shows them how easy it is to make a film and put it on YouTube. Hopefully, they will be encouraged to go off and try making a movie for themselves. Again, we’re thinking of running a more advanced session later in the year that focuses more on iMovie editing and shows what’s possible for those people that might want more than just a taster.

One of the things I love about the program is that you actually recognise people’s achievements with stickers and rewards of different kinds. Do you think this kind of recognition is important for other units seeking to run internal training sessions?

Firstly, I should say that every single person that has come to Computer Club has wanted a sticker at the end. I think the stickers are a really important part of the Club. Everyone, no matter what age, loves a sticker! – It’s recognition that a person has come along to Computer Club in their lunch hour to have a go at something digital. We have designed several different stickers and we give out a different one depending on the content of the session. It would be great if in the future we could build in rewards and other badging ideas perhaps when we have a more established programme. We got some nice tweets from staff after the first session and I have started to see stickers proudly displayed on people’s computers and staff badges. It’s great to see people really engaging with Computer Club and the stickers definitely help with that.

I really think there is scope to think about recognising people’s achievements in this way in other areas of staff development. For some reason as we get older, learning and development seems to become more and more boring and predictable in its delivery. It’s hard for me to think of one really interesting training course that I have been on since I entered the museum sector. I think Computer Club has caught people’s imagination partly because its different to anything else that staff have been offered before at the museum and also that it’s not tied to more formal training. It’s light touch sessions that people come along to because they’re interested and want to learn more about an area that perhaps they don’t feel very confident about. You come for a fun taster session that lasts an hour, get a sticker to say you’ve attended and then go back to work. Why can’t that approach be adopted for other areas of skills development? Ultimately, my aspiration is that Computer Club stickers are recognised by managers as a form of achievement. The more stickers a person gets, the more it shows their interest in digital. If this is recognised, then perhaps it can lead to people taking on digital leadership in their area of work and provide further opportunities for people to develop their digital interest and skills. This has to be of benefit to the organisation.

IWM Computer Club stickers

Computer Club stickers

In the piece you wrote for Sarah Hromack and John Stack’s Institutional Strategy Digest, you mention that that IWM’s digital strategy has “at its heart an aspiration – to develop the confidence, initiative and digital capabilities of staff at all levels, so that they embed digital media instinctively in their work.” I think this is the sort of aspirational ideal that digital staff at most institutions would love to see in their own museums. How do you intend to build this sort of digital confidence and competence into your institution? What role do you expect Computer Club to play in this process?

This relates to my answer above. I firmly believe that in order for the museum to transform into a modern digital organisation we must raise the digital skills of staff. Computer Club is just one part of this strategy and is firmly about reaching the widest number of people and introducing them to digital possibilities. However, there are three other key strands to this strategy that support that approach and are designed to increase the confidence and digital capability of staff in a more sustained way:

One is identifying ‘transformational’ projects that have a strong digital component and will move the museum to where it needs to be more quickly. These projects are classed as ‘priority projects’ and provide an opportunity to work in ways more suited to digital development, illustrate good practice as a model for others, and enable us to demonstrate the difference and value that this approach brings if investment is made in this area.

Secondly, to support working in this way, the role of the Digital Media department will need to evolve into more than just providing digital project delivery. We need to mentor and coach project teams working on transformational projects, giving them the confidence and support to ‘own’ their projects, better embed them into their overall programme of work and show initiative when thinking about future development and planning in this area. This requires the Digital Media team to develop their skills in coaching and facilitation.

Finally we are introducing a new set of digital competences and digital leadership roles across the museum. These are applicable to Directors, Heads of Departments and all staff members. The digital competences will be applied to job descriptions, annual job plans and appraisals as well as newly advertised roles. The introduction of these new competences sends a very clear message about the importance of digital skills, about the need for on-going development and training in this area and raises expectations about what is required and expected from all staff in terms of digital skills and knowledge in their areas of work.

My goal is that through this strategy we will start to see a more digitally capable museum. This could be expressed in a number of different ways:

  • Staff are excited about all things digital and displaying an appetite for doing more and taking initiative in this area
  • Staff feel more confident in using digital tools in everyday work
  • Staff are more skilled in managing public participation projects and using social media
  • Computer Club continues to grow and staff are actively involved in choosing topics
  • Digital competences are implemented and digital leadership from staff at all levels starts to emerge across the museum

What do you think the challenges will be in running Computer Club?

There are definitely logistical and capacity issues trying to run Computer Club across our five different sites. Successful delivery relies on everyone in my department being involved in some way – from brainstorming session ideas to designing sessions, to leading and supporting their delivery. This obviously becomes a big challenge for the department from a capacity point of view as at the moment we are doing this in addition to our normal workload. The team have been brilliant in taking this idea on and making it happen and I hope that once we have a developed programme of sessions it will become easier to manage. However next year, if Computer Club is successful, then I want to ensure that it is built it into our overall programme of delivery and not seen as an add-on.

You’ve committed to run the program for a year initially, to have time for evaluation. What will Computer Club success look like for you? What would you love to achieve with the program?

I think there are a number of success criteria including the number of people that we’ve reached across the organisation over the year – looking at how many attended multiple sessions, range of departments and types of work they do. We also want to run some surveys over the year to get some qualitative feedback as a measure, and also find out which sessions were the most popular and useful. I think we need to look at the how the Club develops over the year; we have changed things after just one session so I imagine that they will continue to evolve and improve as the year goes on. There are also practical operational considerations – is it sustainable for the Digital Media department to run the sessions across five sites?

I will also evaluate how Computer Club has contributed to the success of the digital strategy along with the other activity we are doing. Are there signs that we are raising digital capability in the organisation? Is digital leadership emerging, perhaps in surprising areas? Are we starting to see staff embedding digital media more instinctively in their work? Have our expectations changed around the digital skills and knowledge that we are expecting our staff to have?

The IWM is a pretty large institution, set over a number of locations. Do you think that a program like Computer Club can scale to suit institutions of different sizes and types?

Why not? There are lots of ways you can champion digital in your organisation. This could be anything from running a Club like we’re doing, to simply sharing links and ideas of things you’ve have seen and are excited by, to just talking enthusiastically about digital with colleagues. For me, it’s all about displaying digital leadership and positioning yourself (and your department) as the digital champion in your organisation – whatever the size. You just need to work out what’s right for your organisation, what skills and knowledge the staff need to have to make the organisation more digitally capable, how you can contribute to raising the digital agenda so its seen as important, and who in the organisation can help you to achieve this. Start small with like-minded colleagues and aim for some quick wins!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Computer Club?

Just that I’ve had a really positive response from the museum community since I announced Computer Club at Museums and the Web. I’m really interested to see if, in the future, it’s a model that can be replicated or adapted in other organisations.


Carolyn Royston is Head of Digital Media at Imperial War Museums and is responsible for the strategic development, delivery and provision of all public-facing digital outputs across the museum’s five branches: IWM London, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, IWM Duxford and IWM North. Carolyn’s work spans web, in-gallery multimedia, mobile and social media. She has transformed the museum’s approach to digital engagement so that it is now central to organisational thinking and planning. She is a skilled digital project leader and manager with over 15 years of experience working in the cultural and education sectors. Prior to joining the museum in 2009, Carolyn was project director of the National Museums Online Learning Project where she was responsible for co-ordinating and managing the needs of the nine national museums and galleries to create a range of educational resources. Prior to this, she was Head of eLearning at Atticmedia, a top 25 UK digital agency, where she led several large web projects in the education and cultural sectors. Before moving into digital media, Carolyn was a primary school teacher.

Thank you so much Carolyn! Now I’d love to know what you think. Does your museum have anything like Computer Club for internal staff development? Could you see an approach like this working in your institution?