Towards a National Collection (TaNC) is a major investment using digital technology to create a unified national collection of the UK’s museums, libraries, galleries and archives to maintain global leadership in digital humanities and arts research.

The Audience Agency, working in collaboration with Culture 24, was commissioned by Towards a National Collection (TaNC) to deliver user research to understand what users want and need from a future national collection digital infrastructure. Central to this was the clear driver within TaNC to involve and benefit an increasingly diverse and inclusive range of audiences.

The objectives were:

  • To understand what a diverse range of users want and need from a future national collection digital infrastructure.
  • To enable TaNC to involve and benefit an increasingly diverse and inclusive range of audiences.
  • To inform the development of services, experiences, content and products built on top of a future national collection digital infrastructure.

This research took a staged consultation approach:

  • Strategic context – Talking to key stakeholders and decision makers to build an understanding of the strategic context for this project.
  • Framing sessions – Initial consultation with each of the user groups to develop our approach with them and produce research tools that were relevant, appropriate and pitched correctly.
  • Needs gathering – Gathering feedback from the user groups using the refined research tools.
  • Survey – Delivering a public survey to gather further quantitative insights.
  • Sense making – Sharing initial findings with professional user groups to sense-check and develop these findings.

This research aimed to offer an initial view of how a future National Collection’s digital infrastructure could and should be shaped to create maximum value across the UK and beyond in a way that is both feasible and sustainable. It points the way towards further research and key decisions that will need to be made about the future shape of the National Collection programme.

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Sophia Woodley, Head of Policy Research at The Audience Agency says:

“This project has opened up a lot of thinking around how people engage with collections and with heritage in the UK and specifically what their digital expectations are, how they interact with Netflix, YouTube or Tik T.O.K or whatever and how this shapes their expectations about how they might engage digitally with collections content. We think it’s absolutely crucial to understand the context in which people come to collections to be able to serve them better.

This also was interesting and important because it was such a broad range of users that the national collection might work with. So, all the way from digital humanities specialists in academia, to whom this is something they spend their whole lives working on and thinking about, to educators, professionals in the sectors, members of the creative industries, like journalists who use content every day all the way through to members of the public who might be local history enthusiasts...or might be people who have never engaged with collections at all. We traverse that whole range of people to find out what a national collection might offer.

It was very exciting to be able to work on and think about the potential for a national collection. It's already received a great deal of investment through UKRI delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

There are fascinating pilot and foundation projects going on already and we worked with a steering committee composed of people from many of the leaders from many of the major museums, archives and libraries. It was very intellectually exciting to get their input, and we think this is a project that has huge potential impact on the UK culture and heritage sector.”

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