Learning “Digital Courage”: Using Technology to Build Agency and Equality in the Museum Workforce

Sophie Frost, University of Leicester, United Kingdom


The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a crisis in museums - that we have not done enough to reconcile our histories and narratives with present racial, social and economic inequities. It has added a sense of urgency to existing deficits in digital skills in museums, joined by an increased recognition of technology's crucial role as an enabler of new, radical practices of equality. This paper argues that what is needed, more than ever, is the practice of "digital courage" in museums. More collaborative than "confidence", "digital courage" has equality at its core. Digital courage is linked to the idea of small steps, not big leaps; to slow, emotionally intelligent and methodical digital activities which involve enabling staff to use digital at a level and with a tenacity that suits them. This idea reclaims digital activity as a radical, equalising practice that, by including all the voices that make up a workforce, can speak more profoundly to audiences and communities (Rogers, 2003). "Digital courage" asserts that the acquisition of digital skills is an exercise in freedom, whereby museum workforces adopt new technologies and at the same time acquire the rights to reinvent them. Consciously, the concept of "digital courage" is being proposed here through emphasis on three intersecting ideas from social theory: creative agency (the act of self-expression and self-affirmation), radical pedagogy (which disrupts the normative idea of teacher and student, focusing on the practice of equality in knowledge transfer), and diffusion theory (in which the implementation of an innovation is seen as a form of participatory democracy). Drawing on longitudinal examples from action research projects in the US and UK, this paper explains how, through the application of these concepts, we can construct an understanding of what it means to be an agent of change in a museum or heritage context, and what the act of learning new digital skills can mean for the future of museums.

Keywords: Skills, Agency, Pedagogy, Innovation, Equality

Why do we need “digital courage”?

“Digital courage” reclaims the radical, equalising role of technology in museums. It positions digital activity as a more collaborative and less individualistic process than “digital confidence,” an activity that situates equality at its core. It is a practice that depends on the workforce being enabled to experiment and play with digital; to tell their own stories with it, and to plot their own paths. “Digital courage” asserts that acquiring new digital skills is an exercise in freedom where museum workforces adopt new technologies whilst at the same time acquiring the rights to reinvent them. This paper draws upon ideas from critical social theory as first principles, to explore why museums engaging in practices of “digital courage” are future-proofed museums.

We can appreciate the need for “digital courage” by bearing witness to the lived experience of practitioners in museums today. Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove (RPM) is one such institution that attests to the necessity of “digital courage” – a five-site museum service based on the south coast of England, UK. Within its purview are a historic palace (the Royal Pavilion, built by King George IV in 1787), three museums (two local museums and the Booth Museum of Natural History) as well as Preston Manor, a Grade II listed Edwardian manor house located in the northern suburbs of Brighton. During 2019, RPM was changing its governance status – moving from the local council authority to independent trust – and was reflecting on its mission and purpose in order to re-model itself as an independent entity. Due to this institutional soul-searching, internal policies on social media and online communication were increasingly being challenged, with different staff in different departments feeling by turns hopeful, frustrated, or reluctant about how the organisation was currently owning its presence on social media. It was clear that the two-hundred strong staff and volunteers at RPM needed a new vocabulary to understand the change that they were undergoing, and that digital technology was perceived as one way that they might collectively (and effectively) transform their organisation for the 21st century.

As with most regional UK museums of medium size, the workforce in Brighton were of mixed ages and varying levels of digital confidence. Some engaged with social media daily, while others described themselves as “observers, not users” (Frost, 2020a). Many expressed how they used different platforms for different things while others claimed minimal understanding of the purpose of several online channels. There was a prevailing sense of fear around how to effectively utilise social media in a way that would be appropriate while not compromising the privacy or ethical values of the organisation or any of its staff. The feeling that “we could do more” resonated with many and there was a consensus that there was little consistency in RPM’s approach (ibid, 2020a). Much of the workforce intimated a lack of confidence in accurately representing the organisation via social media.

Over four 90-minute workshops for those working at all levels of the museum regardless of skill or interest in social media, 40 staff contributed to the writing of a new social media blueprint for the organisation when it moved to trust (Frost, 2020b. See also Frost, 2019). The workshops sought to consider what kind of approach to personal online communication was needed to capture the value of RPM’s objects, stories, and communities. The current and potential role of social media at RPM was brainstormed, working through a series of scenarios where the organisation had been required to respond quickly and coherently to social media attention. Staff and volunteers mapped areas of digital expertise, skills, networks and partnerships that may have been unknown to the rest of the organisation, and, finally, a frank and critical discussion was had about the future role of social media at RPM. The overall process was consensus-led; it involved the courage of staff to invent their specific approach to online communication, shaping it to fit the values of the organisation within the specific communities of Brighton and Hove. There was no technology present during these discussions – no iPads or laptops, no mobile phones or interactive displays. These workshops suggested an emergent form of “digital courage,” where what was most central was people rather than technology.

As a result of the discussions, staff and volunteers decided that they had three main requirements of their social media activity. First, to have a voice and be an active participant in different online communities, communicating the organisation’s relevance to society and in the community whilst enabling a form of critical friendship with other networks. Second, to use social media to build audiences and to advertise, and – third – to tell stories about the collection. Voice, audience, and storytelling: the three objectives of social media at RPM.

“Digital courage”: a theory of bricolage

The workshops held at RPM in 2019 and a subsequent set of mirroring discussions held across the Smithsonian Institution in the US in 2020, help us deduce three significant propositions about digital technology in museums (Frost & Vargas, 2020):

  1. That the only way digital confidence is going to be achieved is through systemic behavioural change, by working collaboratively across all departments and levels to meet staff and volunteers where they are, based on their specific needs and aspirations.
  2. That digital activities can be mobilised in such a way that the organisation can better promote its founding ideals (in RPM’s case, “to inspire the minds and morals of the people”) and include those whom it often struggles to include.
  3. That technology in museums is pervasive, not going away and can be better used for more socially purposeful ends.

These propositions determine the need for “digital courage,” a form of action that reclaims the radical, equalising potential of technology in cultural practice. Such a concept can only be devised by adopting, temporarily, the role of the bricoleur – from the French word for “handyman” – which, in its most basic sense, refers to someone who constructs or creates something through piecing together a diverse range of objects that happen to be available. By undertaking a kind of conceptual bricolage and casting our gaze beyond the disciplines of museums and curatorship studies to ideas and writings from other areas of the humanities and social sciences (thus combining something substantive and strong from multiple, separate, smaller, and seemingly disparate constituent elements), a theory of “digital courage” can be assembled capable of responding to the complexities of our current moment.

Adopting the role of bricoleur when formalising a theory of “digital courage” is a creative act in itself, imbued by the imaginative potential of the three overlapping critical components that it seeks to connect – radical pedagogy, creative agency, and diffusion theory. The idea of radical pedagogy disrupts the normative idea of teacher and student, focusing instead on the practice of equality in any learning experience. Creative agency is a theory of empowerment, linked to self-expression and self-affirmation, sometimes transgressive, political and subversive. Diffusion theory maintains that the adoption of any innovation by a community – in our case, the implementation of new digital technology in the museum context – can be considered a participatory and democratic process. Each of these critical concepts corresponds to one of the three propositions outlined above, for each promotes an alternative philosophy for a) institutional change, b) equality, or c) the capacity of technology to create more radically democratic results. Here in this discussion, therefore, we will become conceptual bricoleurs, piecing together these theories to create a new approach to digital skills development in museums, where the feasibility and transformative power of “digital courage” becomes self-evident.

Radical Pedagogy – an alternative way of learning digital

Radical pedagogy, frequently linked to the ideas of critical pedagogy (Freire 1968; Giroux 2011) and engaged pedagogy (hooks 1994), disrupts the standard learning relationship between teacher and student, and urges for a more equal relation between both. The possibilities of this kind of “intellectual emancipation” are explored by French philosopher Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991). Rancière draws upon the example of exiled French schoolteacher Joseph Jacotot who in 1818 discovered an unconventional teaching method in which he taught French to Flemish students who knew no French. By asking the students through an interpreter to learn the French text of Télémaque (a 24-volume novel about Telemachus, son of the Greek hero Odysseus, written in 1699 by François Fénelon) with the help of the translation, Jacotot discovered that they “had learned by themselves, without a master explicator” to write in French (1991: 11). Jacotot’s method was founded upon an instinctive belief in the intellectual capacity of all of his students. He perceived that by encouraging the same skills that they used to learn their own language – “observing and retaining, repeating and verifying…relating what they were trying to know to what they already knew, by doing and reflecting about what they had done” – the normal hierarchy between master and student could be overturned (1991: 10). In sum, Jacotot discovered that the act of learning could be a practice of equality, where equality was a “presupposition rather than a goal” of the pedagogical experience (1991: xix). For Rancière, this discovery led to the realisation “that each ignorant person could become for another ignorant person the master who would reveal to him his intellectual power” (1991: 17).

How can Rancière’s ideas about radical pedagogy contribute to a theory of “digital courage” in museums and our pursuit of digital maturity? For some time, there has existed an assumption that when it comes to the adoption of museum technology there is a passive workforce awaiting the miracle cure of digital transformation. This is quantified in policy reports such as the UK’s Culture is Digital, which cites that 37% of cultural organisations claim “a lack of capability and knowledge” as “a major barrier to achieving digital aspirations” (2018: 31). Radical pedagogy helps us recognise the danger of placing too much emphasis on lack and incapability, for such a self-narrative perpetuates the “pedagogical myth” that “divides the world into two: the knowing and the ignorant, the mature and the unformed, the capable and the incapable” (1991: xx). Equality is not the compulsory starting point in such an emphasis, but rather the end goal.

By applying the possibilities of radical pedagogy to our understanding of digital skills development (and to our assembling of the notion of “digital courage”), we can realise that technology (surely the Télémaque of modern times?) need not be bequeathed top-down from a digital specialist, IT department or Big Tech firm, but can be effectively shared, appropriated, or repurposed by any museum person who has need or desire for it. Jacotot’s experiment indicates the radical potential of a more collaborative, two-way, dialogic, and explorative approach to knowledge sharing. In the museum context, this could manifest as a form of learning that is intrinsically equalising: expanding beyond job titles, salary bands or intergenerational divides; learning that promotes an egalitarian re-framing of inherent, long-standing structures within the museum ecosystem.

Creative Agency – an alternative way of practicing digital

At the core of our second component, the term “agency” is synonymous with ideas of autonomy and freedom. Economistic and philosopher Amartya Sen best summarises this understanding when he recognises an “agent” as someone who acts and brings about change, whose achievement can be valued in terms of his or her own goals (2001). Sharon Salzberg, renowned teacher of Buddhist meditation, helps take this definition further when she describes agency “as that purposeful, embodied, heartfelt movement from deep within” which comes about in response to personal or societal striving for change (2020: 36). The need for greater digital maturity in museums and heritage organisations, as very particular sites of knowledge production, has itself been an issue encompassed by both personal and collective discomfort at a workforce and leadership level. What Salzberg adds to Sen’s definition is the idea that while agency means possessing the momentum for action, it is, at the same time, a response to personal or collective adversity.

“Creative agency” can thus usefully be seen as the ability to act autonomously following difficulty with creativity, openness, and imagination – both individually and as part of a collective. This definition is supported once again in Rancière’s writings. In The Emancipated Spectator he describes how equality comes from every person having the power to “plot” their own path from what they observe on a theatre stage (2008: 16). He proposes that storytelling (the ability of every individual “to translate what she perceives in her own way, to link it to the unique intellectual adventure that makes her similar to all the rest in as much as this adventure is not like any other”) is a practice of equality, one which recognises a parity between different lived experiences (2008: 16). Storytellers are active participants in their own lives. Most significantly – Rancière recognises such an audience of storytellers as an emancipated community with revolutionary potential. If we take the museum workforce as our audience of storytellers, then Rancière helps us forge an alternative vision for digital skills development in museums, where creative agency emerges as another critical component of “digital courage.”

The potential for creative agency in the learning of new digital skills takes us somewhere more progressive still. Rancière’s philosophy states that a radical form of equality can emerge when we acknowledge that “in a theatre, in front of a performance, just as in a museum, school or street, there are only ever individuals plotting their own paths in the forest of things, acts and signs that confront or surround them” (2008: 16). If the “individuals” in this context are members of the museum workforce, all of whom are “plotting their own paths” when it comes to accruing the digital skills that they need and desire, then the pursuit of digital maturity symbolises a significant means of responding to museum-wide calls for diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. Promoting the creative agency of staff members and volunteers in their own digital learning – encouraging the picking and choosing of skills and needs that they most wish for – could be considered a form of “diversity work” as understood by activist academic Sara Ahmed (cited in the American Alliance of Museums’ 2017 Facing Change report). Developing diverse and distinctive levels of participation, thought, and action in the digital training of museum workforces bolsters institutional ambitions for diversity and empowerment.

As Rancière helps us to recognise, building digital skills “allows for new modes of political construction of common objects and new possibilities of collective enunciation” (2008: 72). This way of doing digital in museums promotes new forms of agency and new forms of emancipation whereby “every common person might conceive his human dignity, take the measure of his intellectual capacity, and decide how to use it” (1991: 51). Simply put: practicing new digital skills empowers workforces to be agents of change and proponents of freedom.

Diffusion Theory – an alternative way of owning digital

The final critical component of “digital courage” draws from a theory of diffusion proposed by communication theorist and sociologist Everett R. Rogers, informed by his research of agricultural innovation in rural farming communities in the United States in the 1950s. Rogers perceived that the adoption of any new innovation is an intrinsically social process in which subjectively perceived information about a new idea is communicated from person to person (Rogers, 2003). He determined that this process of diffusion (and the social system in which it takes place) “acts like a participatory democracy in which the aggregated individual adoption decisions of its members represent a consensus vote” (ibid., 2003: 67). It is beneficial to return here to what was witnessed in the Social Media workshops held at Royal Pavilion & Museums in 2019, where online communication was openly discussed and amended according to the needs and wants of the workforce across the museum service. What was this process if not “the social power of peers talking to peers about innovation’ (ibid., 2003: 68) that led to the adoption of new ideas?

Where Rogers contributes most to the concept of “digital courage”, however, is in his understanding of reinvention. Reinvention has long been commonplace in the cultural sector – indeed, cultural production relies upon the constant translation and reiteration of old ideas into new. Rogers found that innovation was more likely to be successfully implemented if it underwent reinvention, a process of localisation upon adoption. He states: “many adopters want to participate actively in customising an innovation to fit their unique situation, […] an innovation diffuses more rapidly when it can be re-invented and […] its adoption is more likely to be sustained” (ibid, 2003: 15). In other words: when an innovation is adopted by a group, they at the same time acquire the rights to reinvent it. This, undeniably, is a process involving both radical pedagogy and creative agency.

Rogers’ theories of reinvention also support the argument that digital maturity is not a set, pre-determined process, but rather subject to the wants and whims of those who are involved in building it. His definition of “innovation champions” as necessary agents of change in the diffusion process is particularly helpful when developing a firmer understanding of “digital courage.” For Rogers (2003: 414): “the presence of an innovation champion contributes to the success of an innovation in an organisation”. It is worth stating in full the qualities Rogers found in “innovation champions,” for such figures are fundamentally necessary for the practice of “digital courage”:

The important quality of champions were that they (1) occupied a key linking position in their organisation, (2) possessed analytical and intuitive skills in understanding various individuals’ aspirations, and (3) demonstrated well-honed interpersonal and negotiating skills in working with other people in their organisation. Thus champions were brokers and arrangers for an innovation in an organisation, helping fit it into the organisational context. Often the innovation was redefined and the organisation was restructured by a coalition of individuals, with the champion orchestrating this informal coalition. Champions in an organisation play a role something like that of an opinion leader in a community (ibid., 2003: 415).

Practicing “digital courage” requires innovation champions to work with agency at multiple levels across a museum. These individuals (some of whom we will meet in the next section of this paper) possess high degrees of emotional intelligence and empathy and are committed to bringing others alongside them.

Defining “digital courage”

By assembling ideas from radical pedagogy, creative agency, and diffusion theory, “digital courage” emerges as the practice of equality when using technology in a museum context. It is a practice that depends on the workforce being enabled to experiment and play with digital; to tell their own stories with it, and to plot their own paths. While it may take place quickly or spontaneously, “digital courage” has no predictable schedule, and generally adopts a slower, more methodical and collaborative progress that is person-centred, values-led, and context-based. “Digital courage” recognises that acquiring new digital skills is an exercise in freedom where museum workforces, with the support of key linking individuals, adopt new technologies whilst at the same time acquiring the rights to reinvent them to fit the purposes of their institution.

“Digital courage” in action

This progressive definition makes clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to undertaking “digital courage.” Instead, it can be practiced in distinctive, idiosyncratic ways depending on the context and communities of a given museum. Museum practitioners in the US and UK have been foregrounding practices of “digital courage,” and it is the evidence of these new behaviours to which we now look. A note before we reflect upon the empirical data – I am aware that these examples predominantly look to how museum leaders are enabling “digital courage” rather than focusing on the practices of museum staff at other levels. Further research is currently underway which will centre more closely on how “digital courage” is being undertaken within the everyday digital behaviours and practices of staff working across all levels of museums.

While RPM was displaying an emergent form of “digital courage” in its social media workshops throughout 2019, the Museum of London (MoL) was building its own version as it re-orientated its approach to digital skills development by using agile management techniques to create a more centralised digital content plan. Until that point, MoL had operated “without a shared content vision, strategy, or planning practices or processes” when it came to digital content (Vargas, 2020). There were several reasons for this. Siloed ways of working where staff were creating successful content within their own departments but not sharing it beyond them, overly bureaucratic and hierarchical processes when trying to gain sign-off, and a generalised cross-organisational discomfort with digital internal communication “which didn’t rely on everyone being present at the same time” all worked to halt possibilities for “digital courage.” Assisted by an external research collaborator (who acted as one of Rogers’ “innovation champions” in this context), MoL re-ignited its “Digital Hub,” an internal community of stakeholders from across the organisation, to create a forum for structured discussion about how to better design and manage the museum’s digital activity. Significantly, the working group took this interaction online, using Microsoft Teams to create a “psychologically safe” space in which to discuss and answer questions about current digital content activities guided by a combination of “Work-Out-Loud” prompts (Stepper, 2015) and the implementation of a CALM approach to distributed leadership (Vargas, 2020). This virtual setting helped inspire a new culture of equality through its emphasis on open and transparent collaboration, enabling leadership qualities to be recognised “at all levels of the organisation and at all stages of the content planning, creation, distribution and analysis process” (Vargas, 2020).

To lean once more on Rancière, we could claim that for MoL the re-energised Digital Hub functioned as a radical pedagogical environment presupposed upon a practice of equality, where each staff member was able to become for another “the master who would reveal to him his intellectual power” (1991: 17). The success of this dynamic was tested in the digital content planning for the museum’s celebration of Black History Month, which resulted in the highest ever visitor and engagement numbers recorded across MoL’s “discovery” blog and social media channels. Experimenting with an unfamiliar digital platform in order to trial alternative modes of working, to be more open-minded to the needs and ambitions of different individuals and departments, and to stage more collaborative cross-departmental relationships is ultimately an example of a museum actively engaged in “digital courage.”

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, instances of museums practicing “digital courage” have proliferated. Anxieties and frustrations previously perceived at institutions such as RPM and MoL have had to be overcome, and digital is now less siloed or avoided, and recognised as more fundamental to the operations, activities, and collections of our museums and cultural institutions than ever before. Museum practitioners at the Smithsonian Institution in the United States have recognised this moment of rupture – with the closure of museum buildings, reduced revenue, staff layoffs, growing institutional precarity, not to mention the difficulties of switching to teleworking and its correlative pressure on physical, mental and emotional health – as corroboration of the urgent need for “digital courage” in the museum world post-pandemic. Sara Snyder, Chief, External Affairs & Digital Strategies at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), described the impact of the pandemic on her digital team:

We’ve had to do a lot of training and internal support, constantly creative problem solving for situations that have no precedent and dealing with perpetually uncertain timelines…and some people are still not comfortable, maybe never will be, with collaborating remotely…having more meetings on Zoom does not take the place of a truly distributed, remote, asynchronous approach to managing projects and getting work done. (Frost, 2020c)

Snyder (definitively an innovation champion) goes on to note the results of this change for work processes at SAAM:

It really stressed for us the importance of planning and documentation and also just of communicating and collaborating across teams. There’s expertise you don’t have that someone else does and you have to find ways to keep people in the loop and that doesn’t mean writing more emails, it means having clarity in terms of your to-do list and really assigning roles and responsibilities in a way that is totally clear and transparent so there’s no doubt who’s doing what and when so that the box is checked when its finished. (Frost, 2020c)

Shared knowledge, dialogue, collaboration, creative agency – what can be found implicit within Snyder’s description is the gradual appropriation of a vocabulary of “digital courage,” and an acknowledgement of the critical role of digital to enable new practices of equality across the museum and its constituents. Snyder’s emphasis on the need to improve digital processes can be seen as a directive for gaining better equality and agency for all, opening up to the possibility that “every common person might conceive his human dignity, take the measure of his intellectual capacity, and decide how to use it” (Rancière 1991: 51).

A recent example of “digital courage” in action at SAAM, as with other museums in lockdown, has been the transformation of the public programme since the start of the pandemic. Snyder describes how the “reinvention” of talks and exhibitions for virtual audiences has enabled access to a much larger public, with fully accessible captioning for those with different viewing needs, designed as “digital first” evergreen, mission-centred content that can be posted easily to YouTube and the website for years to come. Snyder recognises that this internal shift towards producing more accessible digital content has been matched by a shift in the demands of audiences, who “are spending more time online doing their work and researching.” Effie Kapsalis, Senior Digital Program Officer at the Smithsonian and Lead Digital Strategist for the American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI), similarly describes how the launch of Smithsonian Open Access in February 2020 has resulted in many new audiences – especially schools and universities – using it as a significant data source for teaching online since the pandemic began. For Kapsalis, the radical possibilities for taking museums online are only just beginning to be felt:

I think of Stewart Brand’s vision for the internet and the democracy of information and this is so close to the mission of many cultural organisations around the world…we’re at a time where misinformation is pervasive, and we need to rise to that challenge as a sector going forward by being a reliable source of that information. (Frost, 2020e)

The need to practice “digital courage” in our museums has never been greater – for both our museum workforces, their audiences and the integrity of museums as sites of public information. As Snyder adds: “let’s not go back and be content with small audiences once this is all over. Let’s dream big, at internet scale, and let’s truly reach people where they are” (Frost, 2020d).

Nevertheless, digital leaders at the Smithsonian Institution (at least those with whom this research has engaged) evidently show awareness of the threat to this new-found effervescence for “digital courage” and emphasise the need to continue to build a case for it once the pandemic is over. If digital transformation is going to continue apace Kapsalis notes, then “we need to be very directed with what we’re doing and no longer rely on having a website and doing a digital thing only when we get funding. We need to be much more thoughtful, comprehensive and focused in our approach” (Frost, 2020e). What is needed is not just more and continuous examples of “digital courage,” but the embedding of its ideological precepts: behavioural change, the pursuit of equality, and the assertion that technology is vital for truly democratic cultural participation. For Kapsalis, this is only possible through a combination of targeted strategies: the ongoing education of staff in traditional roles, the recruitment of those “who know how to understand audiences, to analyse data, and to build strategy out of data,” the emotional labour of those in key linking positions and, perhaps most significantly, the “convincing” of senior leadership about the urgency of these strategies. This task – “of balancing the core past history with the need to significantly ramp up digital” – is “going to make many people in our sector uncomfortable,” Kapsalis fears (ibid, 2020e). Yet it is precisely within this unavoidable and uncomfortable space, this zone of unease, that “digital courage” can effectively work its magic for, as writer Rebecca Solnit describes, “in the spaciousness of uncertainty is the room to act” (2016).

The time for “digital courage”

The ideas shared here have themselves been written with creative agency, in a spirit of reinvention, and with a desire to pursue a more constructive role for digital technology in the practice of equality. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a systemic crisis in contemporary museums – that we have not yet done enough to reconcile our complicated histories and narratives with present racial, social, and economic inequities. More and more acts of “digital courage” are urgently needed if we are to create a new scene of radical equality in our museums, a scene that will surely emanate outwards to the diverse communities that we serve.

The possibilities provided by “digital courage” extend far beyond the project of advancing digital maturity in the cultural and heritage sectors. There are wider societal implications to this understanding of courage in technology, and it is up to each one of us to heed it as we choose, to “plot” our own path through it in every area of our lives. As we have explored, it is at one and the same time an ideology, a principle, a new vocabulary, and an action (or set of actions), which promote the use of technology in creating profound change in our attitudes towards and practices of equality.



The author is grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) (UK) for its ongoing support of the “One by One” research initiative. “One by One” brings together international cultural organisations, policy makers, academics, professional bodies, support agencies and communities of practice to build digitally confident museums. Our current project partnership team includes: American Alliance of Museums (US) and Museums Association (UK) as commissioning partners; Museum Computer Network (MCN) (US) and Museums Computer Group (MCG) (UK) as community partners; Haitham Eid (Director, Museum Studies Program, Southern University at New Orleans) and Ross Parry (Professor of Museum Technology, and Deputy Head, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester) as research partners; and museum partners including, in the US – Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; Smithsonian American Art Museum; American Women’s History Initiative, Smithsonian Institution; paired with four UK partners – Science Museum Group, Victoria and Albert Museum, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and National Museums Scotland.

With extra special thanks to all museum volunteers and staff at Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove for their participation throughout 2019 in a series of social media workshops and the staff-led podcast series Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums. While it was not possible include their insights in a more comprehensive way in this paper, their contribution reminds me how vital it is to have the voices of workers themselves in this kind of research. My sincere gratitude also goes to the Museums Association (UK) for allowing the topic of “digital courage” to be explored during their 2020 conference through a series of “in practice” panel discussions and their support of the launch of the People. Change. Museums. podcast series.


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Cite as:
Frost, Sophie. "Learning “Digital Courage”: Using Technology to Build Agency and Equality in the Museum Workforce." MW21: MW 2021. Published January 31, 2021. Consulted .