October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper:Digital ICTs: Driver or vehicle of organisational change?

Darren Peacock, University of South Australia, Australia


This paper aims to stimulate discussion about the nature of technology-related organisational change and how it is managed within cultural heritage organisations. How we think about and understand change affects our ability to plan, shape and direct it. Drawing on perspectives from sociology, management and organisation theory, as well as information systems, this paper explores how we might understand and better manage change within the cultural heritage sector arising from the use of digital ICTs.

I advocate the conscious use of theory, particularly organisational theory, to enable us to see our organisations and the challenge of change represented by technology in new ways. Organisational theory provides a rich source of insights about the nature of change that have so far been lacking in the discussion of digital cultural heritage.

Theoretical models of the interaction between organisations and technology have however tended to promote a mechanical concept of technology as an irresistible deterministic force, undermining the idea of organisational and individual agency. More recent approaches emerging from the social constructivist perspective emphasise the role of organisations in shaping the outcomes of technology.

Theories based in social constructivism help us to understand that the outcomes of organisational use of digital technologies are neither fixed nor predictable. People and organisations shape technology; technology shapes organisations and professional practices.

The changes wrought by digital ICTs are mediated and to some degree at least constructed by organisational choices, cultures and dynamics. Using a range of theoretical perspectives and associated metaphors, we can begin to understand the multi-faceted nature of organisational change related to technology and how, as practitioners and managers, we can shape new practices, structures and objectives with that technology. The paper concludes with seven recommendations for action.

Keywords: organisational change, technology, theory, cultural heritage organisations, digital ICT.


Digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) now pervade the operations, if not the strategic visions of most cultural heritage organisations. More than two decades of networked personal computers and a decade of the Web have exposed cultural heritage organizations to a much wider world and to the rolling waves of technological change coursing through it.

The world emerging from the digital revolution, whether described as a ‘Network Society’ (Castells, 1996) ‘Information Superhighway’ (Negroponte, 1995) or ‘Global Village’ (McLuhan, 1962) remains a work in progress. The place of cultural heritage and traditional cultural heritage organisations within this new order is still unclear and in flux. digitisation, virtualisation, networking, syndication and user-created content have shaken the sector’s foundational constructs of authenticity, ownership, authority and audience. Convergence and collaboration have further blurred traditional organisational boundaries and the public’s perception of them. Change, it seems, is the only constant in this new world.

At present, within the cultural heritage sector, a sense of fluid, fast moving change arising from the proliferation of digital ICTs is palpable. Change has become a familiar condition, but one still poorly understood. Just how do our organisations respond to, initiate or manage technology-inspired change? Are we simply playing keep up- or catch up- in our use of digital ICTs, or are we using these technologies to pursue a new vision of what and how we might be? Should these technologies be regarded as a challenge that requires a response, or as an opportunity to reshape cultural heritage institutions for the twenty-first century? How much do we know about the dynamics of organisational change to manage these effects consciously and proactively rather than simply reacting to the white noise of the digital revolution?

In, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 exposition of the digital future, he asserts, “The change from atoms to bits is irrecoverable and unstoppable.” (1995: 4). That observation provides the starting point for this paper. The question I wish to explore is this: If change is inevitable, can it be managed? More particularly, if the changes engendered by the proliferation of digital ICTs are as inexorable as Negroponte and others contend, how can they be managed by cultural heritage organisations? How do our institutions become digital? Is the transition made by translation or by transformation? What constructs and tools can we use to describe, analyse and understand the process of change?

My interest here is in exploring how digital ICTs act as agents of change within cultural heritage organisations. The discussion draws on perspectives from sociology, management and organisation theory, as well as information systems to explore how we might understand and better manage technology-related change within the cultural heritage sector arising from the use of digital ICTs. My purpose is to suggest some new ways in which cultural heritage organisations and the sector as a whole might apprehend, discuss and manage technology-related change.

Roadmap for the Information Superhighway?

In 2002, the DigiCULT study, commissioned by the European Commission, offered a five year roadmap for the future of ‘European cultural heritage in the Information Society’ (European Commission, 2002: 31). It drew heavily on the expertise of professionals within the cultural heritage sector to create a picture of the current state of play and to make recommendations for action to individual institutions and to governments and other funding agencies.

The question of organisational change was highlighted in that report as one of the four main thematic areas for examination. The report makes a number of assertions about the nature of change, including, “The frequent assumption that the implementation of ICT can serve as a ‘motor’ for organisational change in a company or institution is more than questionable.” (ibid: 80) Organisational factors such as the need for skilled workers and changed workflows are at least as important for success as the technology itself, the report asserts. Nor are the effects of technology assured.

It cannot be assumed that new technologies foster structural change within cultural and memory institutions (archives, libraries and museums). Quite the opposite is true: In order to beneficially implement ICT they have to "reinvent" themselves. ICTs are systemic technologies that affect all practices and procedures of an institution, if properly integrated. Therefore ALM [Archive, Library, Museum] institutions that aim at optimising their internal and external workflow with ICT have to rethink their complete institutional fabric. (2002:82-83)

The outcomes and effects of digital ICTs within cultural heritage organisations are therefore presented as contingent on the organisational work of ‘reinventing’ and ‘rethinking’ ‘institutional fabrics’ at a fundamental level. Technology’s force is inert until mobilised by conscious organisational effort. The DigiCULT Report goes on to canvas a number of dimensions of organisational change: collaboration, skill development, work processes, structures, mission, values and purpose, new products and services, new business models and new organisational forms, but does not describe how these actions ‘reinvent’ the ‘fabric’ of institutional life.

However they might be produced, many of the sector experts consulted for the report clearly expected organisational change effects arising from the use of digital ICTs. A majority of them agreed with the proposition that: “Adaptation to the new electronic environment will lead to a complete transformation of the organisational structures of cultural institutions (to achieve more flexibility)."

As to the nature of these change effects, while the DigiCULT Report offers many practical ideas about what might change, or need to be changed, it provides no models of how such changes occur. It advocates large numbers of undertakings for institutions, policy makers and funding agencies. The report is focussed on identifying challenges, advocating some potential responses and describing possible new models, rather than advising on the process of change. None of the twenty recommendations made within the ‘Organisational Change’ section of the report address the problem of how change occurs in organisations. Change remains a ubiquitous but unexamined concept, whether discussed in retrospect (ie. how it has occurred to date) or prospectively (ie. how it might occur in the future).

Although the DigiCULT Report recognises the importance of organisational change in relation to technological change, it does not offer any theories on how the two processes connect. It introduces the change concepts of ‘adaptation’ and ‘transformation’ but does not define or differentiate them. Although the report points to the role of organisations in mediating the transformative potential of digital ICTs, it is silent on the dynamics of change. A number of important questions remain unanswered. Is organisational change simply reactive to the drive of technology, or can it create new possibilities for the use of technology? In our management of technology, can we shape organisational outcomes?

Practice In Search Of Theory

The dearth of theoretical perspectives in the discussion of ICTs within cultural heritage organisations has been highlighted in a recent article titled Digital Heritage and the rise of theory in museum computing (Parry 2005). In it, Ross Parry offers an illuminating account of how theoretically informed analysis has only slowly emerged and spread in the discussion of computing practice within the museum domain.

Parry traces the rise of theory in museum studies more generally over the past twenty years, noting the adoption there of constructs and analytic frameworks from sociology, linguistics and cultural studies. Yet until very recently, Parry observes, museum computing has not been subjected to “the same rigours of theory enjoyed by the rest of museum studies.” (2005: 336). Instead, discussion of museum computing has principally focussed on methods, rather than developing or drawing upon theoretical models. Even as other aspects of museum professional practice have become more reflexive as theoretical perspectives take root, museum computing has remained more conscious of practice than theory. However, in recent years, writes Perry, museum computing has taken a theoretical ‘turn’ of its own. Discussion and thinking about ICTs in a museum environment are being transformed by these new ways of considering their purpose and effects.

In tracing the lineage and lineaments of an emerging discipline of ‘digital heritage’, Parry welcomes the application of more critical lenses to museum practice with digital ICTs. This ‘cultural turn’ from method to theory in discussion of ICTs has been influenced by the sociological perspectives, theory and methods reshaping museum studies generally. These emerging analytical practices and discourses include attention to questions of change and agency in organisational and social life. They offer a cultural rather than a technical grounding to the discussion of digital ICTs in museums and other cultural heritage organisations.

The shift from a focus on method to more abstract conceptions of technology as described by Parry has also been apparent in reflections by Clifford Lynch on the evolution of the research libraries domain. Lynch recently observed that much of the focus of digital libraries in the 1990s was overly directed to recreating digitally what already existed “rather than starting with an understanding of how the workflows and social practices of research, scholarship, teaching and learning, managing and preserving the scholarly record changed in the digital world.” (Lynch, 2006) In another context, he has characterised this as a choice between incremental rather than transformative change within cultural memory institutions (Lynch 2003).

Lynch calls for a new research agenda for digital services actively engaged with the ‘complex and continuously-evolving knowledge ecosystem’ of contemporary society, rather than merely responding to it. “It is understanding this ecosystem broadly and the potentials for its transformation which should be the focus of the research program, and not simply the historic and emerging roles of libraries within it.” (Lynch, 2003). He contends that these issues are important because

they go to the very heart of our ability to continue to function effectively and responsibility as individuals, as members of organisations and as a society across decades and generations….They can also ensure that our cultural memory organizations can continue to evolve and function in a responsive and appropriate way.

Thinking Theoretically

Without a vision grounded in coherent theoretical assumptions, perhaps incremental change is the only possible outcome for our organisations and our sector. A foundation that is at least informed by theory seems essential to achieve the type of ‘transformative’ change that ‘reinvents’ an organisation or a professional practice through the use of technology, as envisaged in the DigiCULT Report and in Lynch’s observations.

The use of theoretical constructs advances debate and understanding in several ways. Parry puts the case strongly and clearly that the use of theory provides a robust framework for discussion, confers terminological precision and coherence and allows for the development of a body of knowledge. Theory provides a logical foundation and a tool set of assumptions, terminology and methods for understanding and communicating about issues. In the absence of theory, debate can polarise to simplistic dichotomies, such as the two rhetorical camps of ‘sceptical discourse’ and ‘advocate discourse’ described by Parry in the discussion of digital ICTs within museums.

I would argue further that understandings and arguments grounded in theory are also essential for making plans, developing strategies and evaluating outcomes and performance. Theory enables and sustains vision. Thinking informed by theory enables us to envisage the future in more complex ways, to adjust our course and to understand better where we have been.

Greater theoretical sophistication confers a number of very practical benefits too. Theory better enables us to participate in policy debate and to influence funding decisions, especially when we can articulate our theories compatibly with the theoretical premises underpinning government social and economic policies. Already, theoretically-grounded arguments in respect of e-learning and ‘creative industries’ development have enabled cultural heritage organisations to gain credibility and support for their ICT-based activities rather than relying on the support of traditional cultural policy arguments. Cultural heritage organisations, particularly those dependent on government funding, must be able to argue and demonstrate the value of their investments in ICTs within the prevailing social and economic discourses of government.

Theory does, as Parry suggests, provide an essential tool in our understanding of how cultural heritage organisations are changed by digital ICTs. Yet it is not just theory that examines the social possibilities and effects of museums and other cultural heritage organisations that is important. Theory is not just useful applied at the level of social outcomes, such as those discussed by Parry. What is also needed is theory that explores how organisations themselves mediate, resist and shape the effects of technology. The role of organisations and the perspectives provided by organisational theory are the missing links in our understanding of the ways in which digital ICTs may change the cultural heritage sector.

In their book The Social Life of Information (2000), John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid emphasise the important role organisations play in mediating the effects of technology, including digital ICTs. They argue that,

organizations play a critical part in the step from invention to innovation, the transformation of ideas into products and processes. Once you have a well defined product or process, markets take over. But before that, organizations, large and small, play a vital role in organizing knowledge, practice and practitioners (2000: 171-2).

They go on to call for more attention to the facilitating role that organisations play in the development and diffusion of technology-based change. Digital ICTs do not exist in a vacuum. Organisations are a critical link in determining how and indeed if such new technologies are developed and used.

Much of the broader discussion on the digital revolution, particularly that regarding the Internet and the Web, emphasizes the macro effects of these technologies on society as a whole. The organisational perspective advocated here draws attention to the micro effects on individual and professional practice and on organisational behaviour. Organisational theory provides a rich source of insights about the nature of change that have been lacking in the discussion of digital cultural heritage. As Abraham et al. observed some time ago, despite recent profound changes in museums around the world, “there appears to have been little attempt to relate these change processes to the general literature on organisational change in any formal way” (Abraham, Griffin, & Crawford, 1999: 736). The changes arising from digital ICTs are certainly an opportunity to address that deficiency.

The Organisational Perspective On Technology

Our thinking about organisations and the assumptions we make about how they work are implicit in the metaphors we use to describe them. According to organisational theorist Gareth Morgan, “all theories of organization and management are based on implicit images and metaphors that lead us to see, understand and manage organizations in distinctive yet partial ways” (Morgan, 1997: 4). Metaphor is both “a way of thinking and a way of seeing” (ibid) that shapes our understandings and our behaviour. But the use of metaphor is double-edged. The metaphors that we commonly and unconsciously use facilitate some insights about organisations, but preclude others. They focus our attention, but filter and screen out other information. They suggest certain behavioural responses and neglect other possibilities. In seeking to understand how digital ICTs might affect cultural heritage organisations, we need to critically examine our preferred metaphors and consider the possibilities suggests by others.

In Images of Organization Morgan describes eight common metaphors of organisation: organisations as machines, as organisms, as brains, as cultures, as political systems, as psychic prisons, as flux and transformation and as instruments of domination. Each of these metaphors or perspectives is underpinned by its own body of theory and is represented both in academic research traditions and practice prescriptions for organisational managers. Theory and metaphor are entwined. In fact, “all theory is metaphor”, Morgan suggests, a way of representing and explaining the world. (ibid :5)

Some metaphors, however, gain more traction than others. A majority of classical organisational theories and popular management practices have been predicated on the idea of the organisation as a machine, expressed in the language of mechanical impacts and effects, drawn from the paradigms of classical physics and economics. It is only more recently that more organic metaphors, borrowed from biology and ecology, have encouraged a shift to greater consideration of systems of interaction and causation. Similarly, the influence of sociology and psychology can been seen in the cultural and political metaphors of organisation more popular in recent decades.

When it comes to thinking about change, the deficiencies of the machine metaphor with its mechanical perspective have repeatedly been called into question, but have proven remarkably persistent in organisational theory and discourse. In the physical and natural sciences, systems, complexity and chaos perspectives have long since usurped the mechanist paradigms derived from Cartesian logic and Newtonian physics. Yet our models and metaphors of organisation and organisational change continue to rely heavily on mechanical ideas of change such as the ‘re-engineering’ of structures and processes.

Even when the ‘environmental context’ of change is considered, it is often reduced to deterministic model of linear cause and effect. More often than not, this construct represents technology as an external force that has ‘impacts’ upon organisations.

The idea of environmental causation in organisational change suggests that change is a process of adaptation somewhat akin to biological evolution. In this conception, technology is adopted from the environment, resulting in organisational change. Such ‘adoption’ and ‘adaptation’ metaphors of technological change, popular in the ‘diffusion of innovation’ paradigm (Rogers, 2003), suggest that organisations ingest technology from their environment in a one-way exchange. Such a dichotomy of organisation and environment perpetuates a deterministic model of causation, one which underestimates the ability of organisational actors to shape their own environments.

Another of the metaphors of organisation that Morgan explores, that of organisations as systems of ‘flux and transformation’, suggests a counterpoint to the common dichotomy of organisation and environment. This conception draws on new perspectives taken from contemporary biology, physics, cybernetics and economics, such as the theory of autopoiesis, chaos and complexity theory, evolutionary economics and the theories of mutual causation and dialectical change. What these perspectives have in common is that “they seek to fathom the nature and source of change so that we can understand its logic.” (Morgan, 1997: 298). Where they are useful within a context of organisational theory, Morgan suggests, is that they demonstrate the various ways in which an organisation is connected to its environment and how change occurs through repatternings of those relations. Change processes- whether biological, physical or social- are understood as fluid, self-organising and emergent. As such, they cannot be wholly predicted or controlled. The occurrence and outcomes of change are far more contingent upon context and relational dynamics.

While these perspectives have gained legitimacy as explanatory tools in the physical and biological sciences, they challenge the common assumptions of traditional organisational theory that change within organisations can be strictly managed (Stacey, 2007). While such control may be incompatible with the nature of reality as proposed by these newer theories, these perspectives do suggest a means of at least influencing the change process. They are tools for understanding if not necessarily for controlling organisational change processes.

Morgan’s work draws our attention to the need for a multi-faceted view of organisations and of change. Each of the metaphors – or theories – Morgan describes may be usefully applied to any situation to extend our understanding. The purpose of thinking through metaphors is not to ‘prove’ a particular theory however, but to illuminate dynamics and suggest pathways for action.

Ian McLoughlin (2004) draws on Morgan’s use of metaphor in his own analysis of approaches to understanding technological change within organisations. Just as Morgan proposes a rethink of our concepts of organisation, McLoughlin suggests that in moving beyond the paradigm of technological determinism we must reassess our conceptions of technology and of the technology-organisation relationship. The first challenge in doing that is to identify where the technology ends and the organisation begins in any interaction. Just as an organisation is changed by the introduction of a given technology, that technology becomes enmeshed in the social structures and patterns of the organisation and so is in its turn shaped, blurring the boundaries between the two and mingling cause and effect. This is the starting premise for the social constructivist perspective on technological change in organisations which seeks to understand this complex dynamic.

The social constructivist view of technology sees the process of technological change in organisations and the artifacts it produces (eg. databases, communication systems, Web sites) as being wrought through the social dynamics of the organisation. The form and outcomes of any new technology are contingent upon how these organisational dynamics are played out. The form of technology and its effects are the outcome of a negotiated process within the organisation. “…[O]rganizational transformation is seen here to be an ongoing improvisation enacted by organisational actors trying to make sense of and act coherently in the world” (Orlikowski, 1996: 65). In this view, rather than active agents of change, “technologies are better viewed as occasions that trigger social dynamics, which, in turn, modify or maintain an organization’s contours” (Barley, 1986: 81).

There is, therefore, “little point in talking about the ‘impacts’ of a technology when what the technology is, what it can do, and so forth are themselves matters of social choice and negotiation” (Morgan, 1997: 99). The micro-political debate and decisions around the technology frame its potential and its realisation. Obviously, the way these negotiations are framed and conducted has profound implications for the use, and ultimately the effects of any new technologies. And yet to date there has been no attention to these processes in undertaking the transformation of cultural heritage organisations.

Socio-technical perspectives, such as social constructivism make use of larger social theories to explain technology within organisational settings. Two meta-theories employed with this perspective are Structuration Theory (Giddens, 1984) and Actor Network Theory (Latour, 1987). In the past two decades, both approaches have come to prominence in discussion within the Information Science field on the outcomes of technology within organisations.

Structuration Theory, originating with sociologist Anthony Giddens, contends that social structures exist only as they are created and reinforced through social interactions. Structuration is the process whereby social structures are continuously remade and reinforced through language and behaviour. These social structures simultaneously create and constrain social relations. Actor Network Theory (ANT) posits that events can be explained by analysing networks of relations between people and material things, such as technology. ANT is often used to explain change processes and innovation, as it recognises both the complexity of social life and the interplay of social relations, concepts and material things.

In their application to technology issues, one of the central problems addressed by these theories is the relative influence of human intentions and technological constraints in shaping social -and organisational- outcomes. This problem of agency is at the centre of the dilemma about how the mutual shaping of technology and organisation occurs. In a recent article Rose, Jones and Truex (2005) discuss the different perspectives on human and technological agency implicit in Structuration Theory and Actor Network Theory. They suggest that,

machine and human agency can be found inextricably intertwined: a double dance of agency. Humans base their actions on complex interpretations of past actions and present conditions, and on attributions of agency to machines. Those actions are partly planned, partly opportunistic, partly pro-active, partly reactive to conditions; partly successful, partly unsuccessful, part strategic oversight, part bricolage and tinkering (Rose, Jones and Truex, 2005: 146)

For many people in the cultural heritage sector, this description of the ‘double dance’ will sound a lot like the sector’s practice with digital ICTs. Learning to dance well with technology is the challenge that all organisations face.

Theories based in social constructivism help us to understand that the outcomes of organisational use of technology are neither fixed nor predictable. The actions pursued by people depend on complex social processes of interpretation and negotiation which respond to and reshape technology’s potential. The outcomes of this interaction between technology and organisation reflect both forms of agency, not one or the other. People and organisations shape technology; technology shapes organisations and professional practices.

Reinventing Our Thinking

The DigiCULT Report talked about the ‘capacity’ of a cultural heritage organisation “to meet its mission, as well as its capacity to innovate and ‘re-invent’ itself in order to come to terms with a changing environment.’ (European Commission, 2002: 79). The challenge of change is presented as one of keeping up, of reacting to an external environment. It has been the argument of this paper that concepts such as this limit our thinking and inhibit the potential of our organisations to make effective use of digital ICTs. Our first challenge is to reinvent our thinking about change. Only then will we be able to ‘reinvent’ or transform our organisations.

The conscious use of theory, particularly organisational theory, will enable us to see our organisations and the challenge of change represented by technology in different ways. The theories implicit in our professional practices need closer investigation and assessment. As Morgan observes,

…practice is never theory free. In any sustained endeavour we are guided by implicit root images that generate theories of what we are doing. It is vital that we know what they are and the strengths and limitations they express. This has implications at all levels of management and policy making (Morgan, 1997: 377).

We must make explicit and critically examine the metaphors we have been using to understand the actual and potential change that digital ICTs represent for cultural heritage organisations and for the sector as a whole.

It makes no sense to talk about technological change without talking about organisational change. Regardless of whether technological change effects are discussed at the social, organisational, or individual level, it is organisations that frame, shape and mediate those effects. Organisational theory is the key to understanding and managing the change processes. The various metaphors of organisational theory provide a range of useful perspectives on how change occurs. In respect of technology-related change, social constructivist perspectives, such as that represented in structuration theory, provide the means to understand the process of change so that we can intervene in its unfolding and, to a limited extent, direct its outcomes.

By now, it should be clear that it will not do to view technology as an external deterministic force that reshapes or transforms our organisations. The processes of change are far more complex than a simplistic mechanical cause and effect scenario. The real challenge is unraveling that complexity. Theoretical perspectives and the metaphors they provide offer us a way into that complexity: to understand, anticipate and manage the change process. Organisations are not simply the playthings of deterministic forces. They actively create their own realities and participate in myriad relations beyond their boundaries. Persisting with the ‘effects’ and ‘impacts’ metaphor of technology assumes our organisations are static and reactive, rather than connected, integrated and creative.

To get beyond deterministic simplicity, we need to look out and we need to look within to understand the meaning of change and the true nature of our organisations. We need a better understanding of organisational culture and its effects on what we do. Morgan argues, from the perspective of organisational culture, that our beliefs about our organisations shape what they are and what they become as much, if not more, than any ‘external’ factors. Organisational culture- the shared values, beliefs and practices that characterise our organisations and our sector- conditions our ideas about the possibility and desirability of change . In fact, “Since organization ultimately resides in the heads of the people involved, effective organisational change always implies cultural change. Changes in technology, rules, systems, procedures are just not enough.” (Morgan, 1997: 150). We need to understand the dynamics of organisational culture better and how it can be used to effect change.

Looking without, we need to see that our organisations are enmeshed in larger chains of activity and meaning. In some of these, we may play just a single part: a source for a researcher, a destination for a tourist, a secure repository for a unique creative work. {social capital ) When we examine the influence of digital ICTs we need to consider how all the links in those chains are affected, not just our own organisational routines, structures and identities. To properly apprehend and manage technology-related change we have to step outside of our organisations and our sector to see how the broader patterns of society are altered by internetworking and digitisation.

Change does not simply originate externally ‘out there’ and impact upon us, it ripples through the weave of connections between our organisations and the bigger world. The boundaries between our organisations and ‘the environment’ are more fluid and permeable than we tend to imagine. Cultural heritage organisations are active participants in the creation and circulation of social and cultural capital. As practitioners and managers, we move between the world ‘out there’ and our organisations, moving ideas, experiences and networks between the two. Our organisations exist in complex social, economic and cultural networks which are fluid and also make their own responses to technology. They include networks across our sector and into others and incorporate relationships with creators, users and co-creators, ‘produsers’, governments, donors and corporations. Change orginates from and in relation to these networks.

Driver Or Vehicle Of Change?

As a driver of change we ought to avoid seeing technology in a simplistic deterministic light. The outcomes of new technology for our organisations and our sector are never fixed. There is no place for excessive optimism nor for excessive pessimism about what might result. The changes wrought by digital ICTs are mediated and to some degree at least constructed by organisational choices, cultures and dynamics. In seeking to manage those changes towards particular goals, we need to be cognisant of the complex ways in which technology-related change occurs. Using a range of theoretical perspectives and associated metaphors, we can begin to understand the multi-faceted nature of organisational change related to technology and how, as practitioners and managers, we can shape new practices, structures and objectives with that technology. Similarly, digital ICTs can be a highly effective vehicle for driving organisational change agendas, but only, once again, if we recognise how change works and where it is possible to influence, if not to control, its outcomes.

In the cultural heritage sector, our discussion of technology’s effects needs to move on from describing impacts to understanding and, where possible, influencing the dynamics of change. In the world of ongoing technological change in which we now live, we need to be continually learning about how change occurs, consciously observing where and how it might change our organisations. With this knowledge cultural heritage organisations have the opportunity to redefine their practices and identities and to reshape their relationships with the wider world.

Recommendations For Action

This paper has spent much time looking at and applying theoretical perspectives to the problem of managing change in cultural heritage organisations. In closing I would like to propose the following actions to improve our understanding and our practice in managing technology-related change. There are seven main suggestions I wish to contribute to that discussion:

  1. Relinquish deterministic assumptions about technology’s effects.
    Not only are these perspectives inadequate as explanations, but they also undermine our sense of agency and the ability to shape the outcomes of technology within our organisations.
  2. Make use of theoretical perspectives on change and organisations.
    There is a wealth of conceptual and analytical tools that we have not yet used to understand and plan the technological futures of our organisations and the sector as a whole.
  3. Understand the full complexity of social/organisational processes involved in the use of digital ICTs and organisational change.
    Using some of the more recent thinking about change as fluid and relational rather than mechanical and autonomous, adopt a multi-faceted perspective on change.
  4. Accept that the interactions between organisations and technology are not entirely predictable or manageable.
    This means recognising where we can most effectively shape outcomes and where we cannot.
  5. Map and track the wider relations of the sector to better understand the dynamic relationships between users, producers, competitors, collaborators and funders.
    We need to recognise that change occurs in relationship and to make better use of the opportunities that presents to work proactively and collaboratively.
  6. Evaluate change processes as part of project evaluations for digital ICTs used in cultural heritage organisations.
    In this way, we will build our knowledge of technology-related change dynamics.
  7. Share learnings about change across the sector.
    A growing and accessible body of knowledge will ensure that we can all continue to benefit from the experience of change.


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Cite as:

Peacock, D., Digital ICTs: Driver or vehicle of organisational change? , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/peacock/peacock.html