Carolyn Royston can be attributed with the impressive task of pioneering, developing and instituting the New Media Department at Imperial War Museums (IWM), a family of five related but distinct institutions located in the UK. Imperial War Museums include the IWM London; IWM North in Trafford, Greater Manchester; IWM Duxford near Cambridge; the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, London; and the historic ship HMS Belfast, moored in the Pool of London on the River Thames. “IWM is unique in its coverage of conflicts, especially those involving Britain and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present day. We seek to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and ‘wartime experience’.”
Prior to 2009, the IWM family had no discernible Digital Media department and lacked any kind of workable digital strategy. Carolyn joined the team after the newly appointed Director-General Diane Lees created a separate New Media department and asked Carolyn to head the division. Carolyn immediately set to work making digital central to organizational thinking and planning. She had the daunting task of convincing the staff at IWM that digital is the future and had to stress the importance of developing a long-term plan for digital media that is a central activity in museum operations, rather than a disconnected or segregated activity as in the past.
Carolyn and her New Media department sought to create a seamless onsite and offsite experience by initially participating in low-risk digital media projects such as Flickr images, HistoryPin, BBC Paintings, and Google Art Project as a means of easing the way into larger digital media projects with larger risk. In addition, Carolyn succeeded at getting the existing staff at the IWM involved and invested in digital media projects by taking a non-hierarchical approach and holding workshops that encouraged comments, critiques, and opinions from all. The workshops overall elicited a positive and productive response from staff members who were willing and excited to play an active and essential role in developing a digital strategy at the IWM.
Carolyn’s previous experience before joining the IWM included a position as Project Manager of the National Museums Online Learning Project in 2008. The NMOLP was an ambitious project to create a social media resource across nine different national museums. Carolyn’s experience as the “Project Champion” for the NMOLP served to help inform the decisions and strategies she would implement later on at the IWM. Carolyn “was responsible for coordinating and managing the needs of nine national museums and galleries to create an ambitious, sustainable programme that included a large-scale social media application, school-based resources to promote critical thinking and a cross-collection search that links the nine museums together for the first time.”
Although Carolyn admits that not all digital projects turn out as expected, or run as smoothly as she would like, each one is an iterative process that brings us closer to making the change from “risk adverse, to risk aware,” and developing long-term, sustainable digital media platforms that are flexible, adaptable for future opportunities and constantly improving with the evolution of technology.
Carolyn graciously took the time to answer some questions regarding her work with digital media on the NMOLP and at the IWM.
- Presentation: Carolyn Royston on the NMOLP (2008)
- Paper: Navigating The Bumpy Road: A Tactical Approach To Delivering A Digital Strategy (Museums and the Web 2012)
- Presentation: A guide to managing a large multi-institutional project in the cultural sector (Museums and the Web 2009)
- Video: Digital collections and cultural exchange (Building Digital Capacity for the Arts 2012)
Listen to the interview