Implementing a Digital Strategy for Musea Brugge: from goals to principles
Katrien Steelandt, Musea Brugge, Belgium
AbstractThis paper focuses on the first digital strategy for Musea Brugge. Through an understanding of the Musea Brugge, how we are organised, and the role of the Flemish government in digital strategies, we explore the strategy for Musea Brugge. Goals are defined, and for each goal we mention the measure of success we would like to achieve and give indicators of how to measure. Besides these goals, the keys of this digital strategy consist of five principles that help us to define priorities and cross-overs in the entire organisation, stimulating enrichment, increasing accessibility, motivating innovation and research, setting up strong collaborations and, last but not the least, strengthening involvement. This case study describes the development and launch of an overall digital strategy for Musea Brugge. Over time we will track the success of the various efforts within and continue to publish reports on the results.
Keywords: digital strategy, how to start, participation, e-culture
Implementing a digital strategy for Musea Brugge: from goals to principles
About Musea Brugge
Thirteen municipal museums, together MUSEA BRUGGE, are a treasure trove where Bruges’ rich history is brought to life. Musea Brugge represents a wide variety of collections with a total of more than 70,000 objects. The pride of our collections is without any doubt the Flemish Primitives. Another asset of the Musea Brugge is its own restoration department, specialising in 15th and 16th-century painting. 46 works are listed as artworks of national significance for Flanders. Not only does the collection attract visitors, but the ensemble of historical buildings, most of which are classified as monuments, are equally as important. Taking care of our monuments results in an ongoing process of caretaking and restoration. Finally, we give much attention to intangible cultural heritage, with a functioning carillon and original wind mills dating from the 19th century.
Figure 1: View of the renovated Gruuthuse palace and Church of Our Lady (Musea Brugge)
Each year, approximately 1 million visitors from every corner of the world visit one of our locations. Nearly 200 staff members are involved in organising Musea Brugge, including our own security staff. Together they are responsible for a varied programme of exhibitions, ranging from in-depth presentations of the collection to blockbusters, plus more than 100 activities per year, for both a general audience and a specialized public. Providing in a tailored programme for our audiences, with a focus on visitors with sensory impairments, is also part of our mission. Over 100 motivated volunteers support our activities, together with the Friends of Musea Brugge with over 1600 members.
Figure 2: Two children visiting the Museum of Folk Life, one with an iPad, the other with an old schoolbook
Musea Brugge is a reliable and open partner for national and international research institutions. We have an active loan policy on an international scale, both incoming and outgoing. We also provide an extensive training programme for young scholars and trainees (both national and international).
The importance of Musea Brugge for our city cannot be overestimated. Supporting Musea Brugge is one of the core tasks of our city council. “ALS ICH CAN” (AS I CAN) was the dictum that the famous Bruges artist Jan van Eyck painted on the frames of some of his masterpieces. For Musea Brugge, it is a fine motto by which to develop our work: “to the best of our ability”.
Figure 3: Image of a museum hall in the Groeningemuseum, with the famous painting “Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele” by Jan van Eyck on the left side of the hall
But what is the digital position of Musea Brugge today? How does Musea Brugge attract visitors before and after their trip to this wonderful town? In contrast to those hundreds of thousands of real visitors, the digital representation of Musea Brugge is thin today. For this reason, in 2019, Musea Brugge appointed for the first time a staff member to start and implement a digital strategy.
Towards a digital strategy for Musea Brugge
Support from the Flemish government
In 2017, Musea Brugge prepared a new policy plan for the years 2019-2023. For the first time there was a general willingness to think about a digital strategy for the whole organisation. Working on digital strategies in Flemish musea was new at that time. The Flemish government undertook several initiatives to encourage Flemish heritage partners to work on a digital strategy. Firstly, the Minister of Culture wrote a vision document entitled “A Flemish cultural policy in the digital age”. In seven chapters, he stressed the importance of digitalization and of supporting a digital transition in one’s organisation. Next, the non-profit organisation Packed was established. This organisation supports heritage and arts organisations in Flanders and Brussels in the production, sharing, and storage of digital cultural content. As such, they contribute to the creation of a reliable, high-quality, sustainable, and accessible digital memory.
Packed played an important role in the awareness of Flemish musea to work on a digital strategy. They organised workshops with Flemish musea to learn how to develop a digital strategy, inspired by the digital strategy of Tate. Next, they developed a tool to measure the digital maturity of the organisation. Organisations can use the tool https://www.digitalematuriteit.be/ (though, unfortunately, it is only in Dutch). The idea is to evaluate the digital skills of a museum or heritage organisation every year. Divided into five chapters (1. Strategy and leadership, 2. Interaction with target groups, 3. Range of programs, 4. Organization and competences, 5. Processes within your organisation), the tool asks you to rate principles or ideas and explain why you gave this rate. Take a look at the five chapters and their questions and ideas on https://www.digitalematuriteit.be/sites/default/files/question-list/Vragen%20Digitale%20Maturiteitstool.pdf. The result is a report, through which you see your weaknesses and strengths, as a way to improve. After a few years, progress can be measured. What is interesting is that the tool allows users to share (anonymously) their results with other Flemish institutions.
So, with the background support of the Flemish government and Packed, Musea Brugge realised that it was time to wake up and set clear goals about e-culture in the organisation. A team of five people with a deep interest in digitalization started to interview colleagues from different departments, colleagues of the Department of Tourism, the information and communications technology (ICT ) team of Bruges, and Packed.
Musea Brugge invites diverse audiences to discover, study, admire and enjoy, to add meaning and to enrich the significance of its world-class collections. As a prominent player with an international reputation, Musea Brugge provides constant incentives to the evolution of Bruges as a contemporary city of culture.
- Musea Brugge welcomes you with open arms.
- Musea Brugge presents quality.
- Musea Brugge shows respect.
- Musea Brugge remains an inspiration.
New organisational structure
To understand the digital strategy of Musea Brugge, it is necessary to know that the organisational structure of Musea Brugge has changed completely since 2019. We shifted from different museum groups with their own departments, to one large museum with shared services. The digital cell is new, and will be part of the shared services in the new organisational structure. Earlier, there was no shared vision on digital services. Every department was doing it in his own way, or not…
Musea Brugge reorganised the existing structure into three departments: collections, public affairs, infrastructure and safety, all connected to an executive management team that bears the final responsibility for all artistic and organisational aspects. This team consists of a general director, a managing director, and a project director. In addition, the executive management directly supervises two business-related departments. First, the department of visitor services which is responsible for welcoming visitors to Musea Brugge and for guaranteeing their safety and the safety of the collections. Second, the department of administration which makes sure that internal operations are transparent and efficient.
Three umbrella departments take care of the museum operations: the collections department is responsible for all aspects concerning the maintenance of the collection, the department of public affairs is responsible for everything concerning the presentation of the collections and its communication – both physical and digital – to visitors and the press, and, finally, the department of infrastructure and safety.
As one organisation, Musea Brugge operates with simultaneous horizontal processes. Activities such as exhibitions are organized by self-steering project groups, allowing Musea Brugge to implement trans-departmental cooperation: both temporary, related to specific projects and production, and structurally, for example, concerning the digital strategy.
Finally, to understand our work, it is also important to know that Musea Brugge is embedded in the organisation of the city of Bruges and works closely with the Cluster of Culture, Tourism Bruges, Citymarketing Bruges and, equally as important, with such Flemish partners as Packed, Flemish Art Collection, VIAA (a unique platform for our audiovisual history), and Faro (Flemish interface centre for cultural heritage).
The digital strategy of Musea Brugge
After this quick overview of who we are, how we are organised, and what the support of the Flemish government means for us, it is time to have a look at the digital strategy for Musea Brugge itself.
How did we start? Packed suggested us to follow a methodology of defining goals, indicators, and critical success factors for each department.
- GOALS: ideas to achieve within 6 years.
- INDICATORS: a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively we are obtaining our objectives.
- CRITICAL SUCCES FACTORS: elements that are necessary to achieve goals and mission.
To explain the entire digital strategy of Musea Brugge does not fall within the scope of this paper. But allow me to give two examples: one for the executive management team and one for the department of collections which will explain the diversity and complexity of the implementation of the digital strategy.
Example one: the strategy for the executive management team
The digital strategy is an important document for the executive management team. It presents the digital goals that the organisation should work on. It confirms the need to invest in digital profiles among the museum staff and to search for finances. For the executive team, the digital strategy acts as a guide towards the policymakers and a practical manual for the staff.
- stimulating e-culture throughout the organization
- creating personnel space and resources to make digital leaps
- building structural and project financing for digital applications
- motivating and encouraging employees
- an e-culture coordinator who streamlines all digital campaigns, initiates new applications, and encourages employees to become as digital as possible.
- a digital content manager who can closely monitor all actions related to digitization, registration, and sustainable storage and disclosure of museum data.
- a digital community manager with expertise in the field of digital communication, marketing, social media and specific communication tools to also make Musea Brugge a virtually strong brand.
- a digicoach who can educate all employees and offer support for the management of museum digital applications and for the implementation, follow-up, and monitoring of various digital actions
- These four well-defined digital profiles are active within Musea Brugge
- These four employees work closely with each other and with the different cells of Musea Brugge
- The e-culture coordinator draws up an action plan annually
- The action plans are evaluated and adjusted annually
- The e-culture coordinator receives support from the digital applications coordinator of the cluster Culture
Example two: the strategy for the department of collections
Explaining the digital strategy of the department of collections, will be much easier, will help understand the importance and the scope of the collection of Musea Brugge. Before going in-depth in the goals, indicators and success factors, it is useful to read a bit more about the collection of Musea Brugge in the appendix.
In order to define the goals of the department of collections, the digital strategy team organised different workshops for the staff. Reflecting on the goals of the department of collections resulted in brainstorming exercises, determining priorities, making choices, but always keeping in mind what the collection of Musea Brugge means for our defined target groups. The result were six main goals, which will be explained in detail below. As mentioned earlier, the department of collections is a new department for Musea Brugge. Before the reorganisation of Musea Brugge, each location was responsible for its subcollection. This explains why the digital strategy for the department of collections is so extensive. It is a milestone in the operation of this new department. Let’s dive into the details of the digital strategy of the department of collections.
Goal 1: a plan for the sustainable digitization, storage, and exchange of the collection
Step-by-step plan for sustainable digitization, storage and exchange is operational and adjusted annually.
- The digital content manager closely monitors this plan, adjusts where necessary, and regularly discusses this with the e-culture coordinator and the head of collections.
- Museums Bruges aligns its step-by-step plan with the culture cluster and adjusts it with the colleagues of other heritage institutions in Bruges.
Goal 2: Musea Brugge makes use of the expertise of Packed, VKC or other supporting organizations for the sustainable digitization, preservation and exchange of its collection
- Musea Brugge regularly engages in an active way in consultations with Packed, VKC or other centres of expertise
- The data hub developed by VKC is actively used to open up and share the collections of Musea Brugge
- The data hub developed by the VKC is user-friendly and active
- The digital content manager closely follows the trends and technologies in his field
- The digital content manager works together with other heritage colleagues in Bruges
- There is open communication between Musea Brugge, Packed, VKC and other centres of expertise. Expectations with regard to one another are clear and realistic.
Goal 3: What is Musea Brugge digitizing?
Goal 3.1: The entire collection is digitally enriched
- Existing records are checked on sufficient basic information
- New records are created
- Existing records are enriched with extra info
- Digitally born records also become part of the collection
- The collection policy plan provides an estimate of the number of records to be enriched per sub-collection
- A model for describing records is followed
- Standards are implemented
- Content enrichment is a task for registrars, collection managers, researchers and public workers, under the coordination of the digital content coordinator
Goal 3.2: Enriching content is systematically cleaned, digitized and sustainably managed
Musea Brugge is investigating the possibilities of opening up the following extra content:
- Preservation reports
- Material/technical research
- Loan information
- Infrared photos
- Scientific dossiers
- All volumes of the museum yearbooks
- Interviews, film material
- Library collection / catalog
- Museum archive
- Musea Brugge uses digital asset management (DAM), collection management system, and e-depot
- Musea Brugge draws up a priority list of which extra content must first be made digitally accessible
- The digital content coordinator is the driving force here and works closely with the staff of the collection and public affairs department
Goal 4: How does Musea Brugge digitalize?
- Appointments with Lukas Art Flanders, City Photographer, external photographers or own employees about who can digitize which objects/content.
- Quantity of new digital records per year
- The CEST guidelines form the basis for the various digitization processes
- Procedures are cast in scripts and followed up for digitization
- The collection policy plan sets targets for achieving the number of objects to be digitized and enriching content. These are evaluated and adjusted annually.
- The digital content coordinator makes this a priority in its operation
- The digital applications coordinator of the culture cluster is closely involved in the development of the standards and the recording of the procedures and coordinates these with the cluster of heritage organisations in Bruges.
Goal 5: How to save content in a sustainable way?
- The use of a DAM, collection management system, and e-depot
- An overview of all hardware and software can be consulted centrally
- Coordination with VIAA, VKC and Lukasweb to use their DAM or e-depot for Musea Brugge and the culture cluster
- The digital content coordinator manages the DAM, collection management system, and e-depot for Musea Brugge
- Close cooperation with the Cluster of Culture (City Archives, Public Library and Heritage Cell Bruges) and the Informatics Department for the development and management of an e-depot and DAM to preserve the Museum data in a sustainable way.
- The digital applications coordinator at cluster level coordinates the e-depot.
Goal 6: How to unlock digital content?
Goal 6.1: using Adlib as a basic tool for collection access
- X number of new records are added in to Adlib annually
- Arrangements with Flanders to centralize the various Adlib entries of Musea Brugge into one Adlib entry
- Musea Brugge actively participates in meetings on the use of Adlib on a Flemish scale
- The records from Adlib are made available to a wider audience via various digital tools (museum website, social media, multimedia …)
- The use of Adlib is supported by Flanders
- Adlib is further expanded according to the needs and requirements of Musea Brugge
- The digital content coordinator closely monitors this in consultation with the e-culture coordinator and the digital applications coordinator of the Cluster of Culture
Goal 6.2 by cleaning up existing registration to create improved and enriched content
- All fields are consistently checked, improved, or supplemented (with special attention to the fields from which filters are made: material, dating, maker, location, etc.)
- The collection that is exhibited will be checked and supplemented as a priority
- A selection of records is provided with English translations
- Agreements have been made between the different registrars
- Roadmaps are available for entry in Adlib
- The cleaned data are used for various digital public applications
- The department of public affairs supports the choice of records that must be translated in function of public applications.
- The digital content coordinator monitors this with the registrars on a monthly basis
Goal 6.3 by sharing and linking data to other collections or applications in Bruges, Flanders or internationally
- Scientific researchers, hackatons, or public applications make use of the data from Musea Brugge
- Active participation in the Verona project in collaboration with institutions as KIK/IRPA and VUB
- The number of digital visitors to the collection of Musea Brugge on diverse websites such as Erfgoedinzicht.be, ErfgoedBrugge.be, XploreBruges.be, Vlaamsekunstcollectie.be, and Europana.eu
- An API is available on the Adlib of Musea Brugge
- Existing links are further expanded: ErfgoedBrugge.be, Datahub VKC, Europeana, Xplore Bruges, MagisBrugge, Erfgoedinzicht.be
- Cooperation with universities and research institutions: KIK / IRPA, VUB, UGent
- The e-culture coordinator monitors this in collaboration with the digital content coordinator
- The digital applications coordinator and Erfgoedcel Brugge encourage the exchange of data and can make proposals for new applications
Goal 6.4 by focusing on the power of various (international) communities
- Musea Brugge is involved in collaboration with Packed and VKC with Wikimedia, Wikilovesart, Wikipedia, Google Cultural Institute, Creative commons, etc.
- The international community of these initiatives ensures continuous development and alertness
- These open source technologies are available and deployable worldwide
- The e-culture coordinator monitors this in collaboration with the digital content coordinator and the public affairs unit.
Goal 6.5 Exploring the possibilities of e-publications or e-exhibitions
In addition to the temporary exhibitions or the permanent collection, e-publications or e-exhibitions can be realized.
- At least one e-exhibition per year
- At least one e-catalog for a large temporary exhibition or part of the permanent collection
- A new museum magazine is taking shape and appears not only on paper, but also in the form of an e-publication
- An e-yearbook is linked to the Museum website
- The public affairs unit and the content unit are actively involved in the development of these e-publications and e-exhibitions under the impulse of the e-culture coordinator
- The digital community manager stimulates the work around e-publications and e-exhibitions
Goal 6.6 documenting their own research or work processes
- A photographer/videographer is instructed annually to document work processes related to restorations or research (e.g., with infrared equipment).
- This documentation is used in public presentations, on museum websites, social media, or other digital applications.
- The collections department works closely with the department of public affairs and the digital community manager.
Similar to the goals for the management team and the collections department, we wrote goals, indicators and success factors for the other departments of Musea Brugge. Feel free to contact us for the full digital strategy for you to read and take inspiration from.
Implementing the digital strategy, how to make choices
The digital strategy of Musea Brugge was enclosed in the new policy plan and approved by the executive management team of Musea Brugge, the city of Bruges and the Flemish government. The strategy is a powerful document full of good intentions, but the question is where to begin.
After an e-culture coordinator was recruited, she started to explore the digital strategy within the different teams. One difficulty was that each department is looking at the digital strategy from the perspective of its own timing, resources, and staff. The goals in the digital strategy are intended to be achieved within the next six years, the time frame of our current policy plan. It was the task of the e-culture coordinator to set up an annual plan with concrete actions in order to work on those goals.
In order to facilitate priorities in goals and actions, five principles were agreed upon to take into account whenever a digital issue comes up in each department. We want to evaluate these principles regularly and see if they are still important. The principles for the first two years are: stimulating enrichment, increasing accessibility, motivating innovation and research, creating strong collaborations, and, finally, strengthening involvement. Let me give some examples.
Enrichment means both the creation of extra and in-depth layers of information. For the collection in particular, the focus comes on enriching the metadata and adding and linking extra information layers, not just digitizing or digital rendition, but also searching for and linking in-depth information. For the other departments, enrichment means reaching extra target groups, working with specialized staff and continuing to inspire each other.
Increasing accessibility is an important value in all departments. This includes expanding the museum website, starting with e-commerce activities, developing a DAM and e-depot, working on open data to make the entire collection open, usable and shareable, installing WiFi at all locations, optimizing safety plans and key management, and above all training staff to be more hospitable by investing in training and coaching.
Motivate innovation & research
Innovation and research is an incentive for many departments to dare to experiment with new technology or to focus on in-depth research. Creating measuring instruments, expanding a digilab in the new heritage factory, working on e-publications, experimenting with artificial intelligence are some of many examples.
Create strong collaborations
Our goal is to create strong collaborations within the museum departments, with the heritage organisations of the city, the department of Tourism, Flemish organisations such as Packed, VIAA, Lukas Art In Flanders, Flemish Art Collections, as well as international connections.
It sounds obvious, but consciously investing in commitment stimulates and strengthens the motivation of the staff. Organizing regular staff meetings, both formal and informal, optimizing the internal communication, creating extra training or coaching opportunities, all helps to strengthen involvement in the departments as in the organization as a whole.
Among other things, the digital strategy resulted in stimulating awareness within the organisation of Musea Brugge- awareness that digital is not just an ‘add-on’, but a fundamental part of an organisation, that working on digital heritage is not a task for one person, but for the whole organisation, and the importance of investing in specialized staff. Next to this awareness, a framework has set up, with clear goals, indicators, and success factors to stimulate the different teams to work on it.
Writing for the first time a digital strategy for Musea Brugge was an interesting challenge. Implementing is the next step. Keeping up the attention on the discussed goals, between all current daily activities, will probably be the biggest challenge.
The principles help us to make choices and priorities in the goals of the digital strategy, and, above all, they are supported throughout the whole organisation. That is why it is a nice way to work together and set targets that are sustained within the organisation.
I hope that, with this digital strategy and principles, Musea Brugge has drawn the outlines to be, not only on-site, but also digitally, a strong brand. The maturity tool of Packed ( a reference tool for all Flemish heritage organisations), our five principles, the entire digital strategy, and the start of a digital team with the four well defined profiles, will help us to grow on our digital path.
Let our case study be an inspiration source to motivate colleagues to work on digital strategies, and to convince them that it is never too late to start a digital strategy. However large or small your organisation seems, by working on a digital strategy, you can make progress and convince staff that a digital strategy is a shared project throughout your organisation and included every staff member. The strategy makes colleagues attentive to digital goals and brings a digital attitude to the organisation.
Appendix: the collection of Musea Brugge
The collection of Musea Brugge comprises over 70.000 items. The vast majority of these items are closely connected to the rich history of Bruges. This diverse collection has been assembled by collectors and art lovers, in part coming from civic institutions such as the Academy of Arts or the Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John’s Hospital). Memlingmuseum (Memling Museum), the first museum in Bruges, opened its doors as early as 1839.
Figure 4: View of the museum hall at Saint John’s Hospital (Musea Brugge)
The collection includes panel paintings by Flemish Primitives. These can be seen not only in the Groeningemuseum, but also in the Sint-Janshospitaal (St John’s hospital), the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie (Our Lady of ter Potterie), and the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady). These places also have several impressive canvas paintings from the 16th to the 20th century. Notable subcollections include work by neoclassic artists such as Joseph-Benoît Suvée, Joseph Odevaere, and François Joseph Kinsoen, as well as Flemish expressionists, such as Gustave van de Woestijne, Jean Brusselmans and Constant Permeke.
Apart from paintings, the collection of visual art also includes plenty of sculpture, graphics, and drawings from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Figure 5: detail of the famous “Madonna with child” by Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady (Musea Brugge)
Furthermore, there is also a variety of applied art on show in the Gruuthusemuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk and the Volkskundemuseum (Museum of Folk Life). This impressive overview of craftwork in Bruges also includes various tapestry collections, Bruges lace, silverware, furniture, and pottery. Finally, Musea Brugge also has a valuable folkloristic collection. For instance, the figure of poet Guido Gezelle (1830-1899) is elucidated extensively in the Gezellemuseum.
Figure 6: view on one of the 17th century tapestries of Musea Brugge at the Gruuthuse palace
The diversity of our collections is unique in the Flemish context, and this enables us to target a wide variety of visitors. The collections are an inexhaustible resource that allows us time and again to explore new subjects and to keep the relevance of the objects up to date. And, finally, there is an element of “connection”- quite a few of objects from the Middle Ages on are still in the original location they were created for. A great many pieces of our collection have intrinsic ties with the history of Bruges, which enables us to contextualize them historically. The specifically historic ties are sometimes enhanced by the city’s extensive collections of documents kept in the Municipal and State Archives, the Public Library, and elsewhere. You can visit the collection partially at https://erfgoedbrugge.be/collection-pagina/museabrugge-en/
Thanks to all my colleagues of Musea Brugge and cluster culture for being an enthusiastic yet critical audience in writing and implementing the first digital strategy for Musea Brugge. Also, a special thanks to the colleagues from supporting organisations Packed, VKC, VIAA, Faro and the Flemish government for supporting Musea Brugge on our digital path.
Ludden, J., “An Introduction to Digital Strategies for Museums.” In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published October 1, 2014. Consulted January 14, 2020.
Lemmens, B. en Vissers, R., “De opmaak van een digitale strategie voor een museum.” May 23, 2017. Consulted December 10, 2019. https://www.projectcest.be/wiki/Publicatie:De_opmaak_van_een_digitale_strategie_voor_een_museum
Royston, C. (2012). “Navigating the bumpy road: a tactical approach.” In Museums and the Web (eds.). Museums and the Web 2012: Proceedings. San Diego: Museums and the Web, 2012. Last updated April 12, 2012. Consulted December 10, 2019. https://www.museumsandtheweb.com/mw2012/papers/navigating_the_bumpy_road_a_tactical_approach_
Stack, J., “Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything.” In Tate Papers, no.19, Spring 2013. Consulted January 14, 2020. https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/19/tate-digital-strategy-2013-15-digital-as-a-dimension-of-everything
Steelandt, Katrien. "Implementing a Digital Strategy for Musea Brugge: from goals to principles." MW20: MW 2020. Published January 14, 2020. Consulted .