James Davis

Program Manager, Google Cultural Institute

Digital Everywhere


Looking for digital answers is problematic. Technology can all too easily be seen as a shiny set of answers to a rather cloudy set of questions, as the means to take us from the physical now to the digital tomorrow. Reading about new technological developments and thinking about how they apply to their own organisations, it can feel to museums that they are constantly playing catch up.

It might be better to give up this race (a race that we can’t really win) and proceed instead in the knowledge that the ground is constantly moving. We may be better served by learning an agility that caters for uncertainty and for incompletion. That caters for frightening speed and boggling scale.

One approach may be to address the actual overhead of ‘coping’ itself. The museum might, for instance, partner with a technology organisation that shows an understanding of what can be achieved. It might distribute this technology overhead more widely throughout the organisation; rather than having one digital department, instead everyone having digital skills. The museum might also address the technology challenge head on – it may be that more traditional approaches to IT support are complemented with much more flexible, agile, ‘guerrilla’ ways of working with technology – perhaps replacing, in time, the old model of the old IT department.

This keynote will consider the ways in which technological agility can be achieved through these new partnerships, skills and infrastructures. It will present a model of museums using technology within a fruitfully uncertain existence. This is a more journey-led understanding of digital, where instead of ‘answers’ we have ‘practices’, instead of ‘solutions’ we have ‘approaches’, instead of ‘results’ we have ‘tools’, and instead of frustrating wasted spending we have empowering useful investments designed to cater for a state of transition that is both incomplete and permanent.


James Davis is a leading cultural technologist, spending the last decade working at the forefront of museums and technology.

Joining the founding team at the Google Cultural Institute in 2011, he has overseen global operations, managed product development and design, directed the curatorial and exhibitions programme and helped drive the project’s strategic direction and growth, from 17 partners to over 600 in this time.

Before this he curated at Tate in London, conceived and rebuilt the new user-oriented online collection and delivered award-winning interactive interpretation for the galleries at Tate Britain.

He studied computing, media and gender at Middlesex University, followed by interaction design at the Royal College of Art.


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