The ‘Towards a National Collection’ [TaNC] programme aims to open up and democratise access to collections across the UK and The Audience Agency and Culture 24 are ensuring that it meets the needs of the people who will be using it.

TaNC is a five-year investment from the UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund, delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which is designed to take the first steps towards creating the digital infrastructure for a national collection by dissolving barriers between different collections. The programme is being led and coordinated by Programme Director Rebecca Bailey, based at Historic Environment Scotland, who has commissioned TAA and Culture 24 to carry out this online user research.

The programme has the potential to transform cross-collection access; it aims to open up and democratise access to the astonishing collections held by the UK’s world-beating galleries, libraries, archives and museums. It’s also vital to ensure those institutions stay relevant and continue to punch above their weight in the 21st century.

However, to be successful, TaNC has to answer the fundamental question beneath this ambition: what are the services, experiences, content, and products built as part of a collections infrastructure – and the people, organisations and communities around it – which create long-term value?

To answer this question TAA and Culture 24 are carrying out detailed research with a diverse range of user groups who reflect the range of people who might benefit from the development of the future infrastructure. Understanding their insight and experiences will be crucial in building a broad and inclusive picture of potential interest and engagement in a national collection. As well as one to one interviews and workshops with GLAM professionals such as individual organisations, sector bodies, academics and key practitioners, we’re also finding out how breaking down the barriers between collections could benefit professional users such as researchers and educators as well as a wide range of users in the public and private sectors.

This project reflects many of TAA’s strengths:

  • As a research organisation, we create actionable insight using innovative research techniques, both qualitative and quantitative
  • We specialise in using ‘design thinking’ to inform our projects because we know that audiences and users should be at the heart of any solution
  • We understand that successful innovation starts with developing people and changing organisations first which informs how the technologies and data are used.
  • We know that data and digital technologies are tools for helping organisations create cultural, social and economic value.
  • We think long-term about the future contexts in which arts, culture and heritage will thrive.

As project partners, Culture24 bring a deep understanding of the sector’s work in this area over the last 20 years. By involving key stakeholders like Collections Trust and others either directly through our consultation or via TaNC’s scoping and steering groups, Culture 24 are ensuring lessons from the past are learned and duplication is avoided.

As TAA and Culture 24 are data-driven organisations we understand the power of data, the value that it can generate but also how it needs careful management. Both organisations believe that in the long-term, sophisticated use of data and simplifying access to content will enrich our cultural lives, so we know how vital the TaNC project is.

Patrick Towell, the Innovation Director of The Audience Agency Group, said:

“This is an incredibly exciting project that draws on all of TAA’s strengths. As an innovation agency in the creative and cultural sector we have lots of experience at breaking down complex tech problems and framing them as questions that are relevant to the people who will be using or benefitting from the new infrastructure. As long-term proponents of design thinking, we understand that psychology is the most important component of digital projects – they only work if they meet people’s needs. The breadth of our experience and our innate curiosity means that we can bring in successful approaches from other sectors. Finally, as a data-driven organisation we know that the digital future will be driven by open-ness, interoperability and ecosystems.”

Anra Kennedy, the Partnerships Director of Culture24, said:

“Culture24 has been working to connect people with cultural organisations’ collections, ideas and wider offer for over twenty years. We’re interested in how, when and why digital tools and channels can support and enable meaningful, socially purposeful connections and impact. Understanding what people want and need from GLAMs and their collections lies at the heart of our work so it’s great to be supporting our friends at The Audience Agency in carrying out this research.”

Rebecca Bailey, the Programme Director for Towards a National Collection said:

“This is a vital piece of research for the programme, after all, how can we design a future collections research infrastructure if we don’t understand what people want and how it can be of most value to them? TAA have extensive experience to bring to this task and we are keenly looking forward to what they uncover.”

Updated on 30 November 2021.