Three thoughts on the work of “digital transformation”

Almost three years ago, the ADN Network was launched, a bold project of the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec with its partners: the CALQ, the SODEC and BAnQ. This network, made up of more than forty agents distributed among the teams of cultural organizations throughout the province, had the objective of accompanying the milieu in a digital transformation. In this column, I will share three lines of thought drawn from the practice of this new profession with the RCAAQ and the REPAIRE.

Note 1: time and sustainability 

The first consideration that always comes to mind is the notion of time. All transformation work should be approached from a longer-term perspective. Digital transformation work, in particular, is subject to the rapid evolution of technologies and takes place in a context marked by so many possibilities and flaws (programmed obsolescence, monopoly of the web giants, surveillance capitalism, environmental impact) that it is wise to adopt a perspective that goes beyond immediacy to approach and plan it (see on this subject the digital maturity diagnosis of 0/1 Hub numérique de l’Estrie and the ADN Network, a tool to help assess needs and plan digital transformation). It is nevertheless complex for most cultural organizations to orchestrate a digital transformation that is theoretically perpetual, while several factors, such as funding granted per project and employee turnover in the teams, contribute to maintaining a certain precariousness in the milieu. Faced with this observation, it is possible to modulate one’s expectations and to mobilize in order to seek out or promote solutions to explore. 

The ADN Network is an experiment developed to respond to the need for resources in the cultural milieu to address these issues. This experimentation reveals to us through practice that it would be desirable that certain expertise in digital technologies could be integrated into the teams of organizations in a sustainable manner and that other expertise could be called upon on an ad hoc basis, according to the projects and more specific needs. There is much to think about here in terms of political will and support for the operation of organizations, as well as in terms of the skills that would benefit from being developed and retained among cultural workers.

Note 2: sharing 

The second reflection concerns the notions of openness and collaboration, which in my opinion are the great strength of the ADN Network. The fluid circulation of information in places and times specifically designed for this purpose has contributed to a sustained mobilization on digital issues and to the emergence of numerous partnerships and other informal associations. A work of documentation of the learnings and the achievements is moreover in progress within the ADN Network. This operation will materialize through the publication of a website (wiki) in the winter of 2022.

Sharing the work of experimentation and learning is an extremely interesting model, especially in the context of the rapid evolution of technologies mentioned above. Groups such as the RCAAQ and REPAIRE play this important role when they create opportunities for their members to meet and reflect. We can think of forums (Façonner le numérique : l’empreinte des centres d’artistes, Artificial intelligence in the media arts, industry and academic community), talks (Pratiques artistiques, mémoires et réseaux sociaux, Prendre position. Écologie, technologie et pratiques artistiques en arts médiatiques), workshops (Ateliers Wiki x arts actuels, Web Archiving Workshops) and training sessions organized for our milieu (Introduction à la gestion des archives numériques, Introduction to metadata, the discoverability of works in media arts), as well as the Survey on the digital needs of artist-run centers in Quebec (in French). It will always be relevant to cultivate these spaces of exchange and this spirit of collaboration between regions, sectors, individuals and organizations and we will continue this effort.

Note 3: discernment 

The final note I wish to share complements the idea of sharing information. While I strongly believe that it is beneficial and desirable to share our good practices with openness, I would add that the parallel exercise of discernment is paramount. We sometimes see fad or spin effects when concepts or technologies are widely discussed and disseminated. It remains important to learn about the object in question and to evaluate its relevance in the context we occupy. This notion of developing critical thinking skills brings the thread of my reflections to a close by bringing us back to the question of time. Breaking the image of a sector lagging behind or of a race for novelty and instead inscribing the digital transformation in the long term seems to me to be a promising path, because it invites us to set aside time for reflection. Taking time to exchange, to get information and to exercise discernment is one of the foundations that should allow us to approach the digital transformation in a sustainable way.

Isabelle L’Heureux

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