• Achim Becker

Aventurin Consulting @ COD1NG DA V1NC1

Updated: Jul 14

Digitization Experience from Business meets Culture …



It was a really fascinating and exciting experience. I'm coming from the world of business and worked at SAP with a very diverse set of companies. All of them where in some shape and form on their way of digitization. And all these companies were on very different maturity levels regarding this. I saw quite some things ...

With Aventurin Consulting I'm starting a completely new endeavor after my time at SAP. I can pass my knowledge and experience in manifold ways, so that I'm able to earn a living. As you might know, I'm working in the context of Aventurin Waste closely with Sabine who comes from the cultural scene. It was my work with her which triggered me to peek into the world of culture and get to know their challenges. This is where the “Coding da Vinci” (CdV) hackathon came in handy ...…


Lot of things were different, also due to Corona

Obviously the cultural world is very different from the business world. But it was in fact an even more special experience due to Corona. The hackathon was set to take 7 weeks and originally planned as analog event with lots of personal interactions, which you can see looking at past CdV hackathons. Well, then Corona happened. And the CdV orga team had to turn this into an a digital format within a very short time frame. Hats off, a stunning performance!

The three of us (Natalie, Jasper, I) in our project team came together to work with the data of the “Exilarchiv 1933-1945”. And we in fact did the whole project exclusively in a digital collaboration and also included our "customer" Jörn from the leadership team of the Exilarchiv. Once a week we did align via video conference, used Trello for task management and could split up the activities in a way, so that we could work in between pretty much independent from each other and brought everything together in our sync calls. It was also a lot of fun to eventually code again something on my own in Python ;-). And if there was something to align in between, we used the Slack channel of CdV. And now our results are exposed as open source in our GitLab Repo.

Bottom line: Digital collaboration is possible without any issues, if the context for it is right! And even though we had wished to once sit together and have a beer, we will simply do this after Corona :-).

This completely digital approach was on the other hand also an opportunity. Otherwise working together from three so different regions of Germany wouldn't have been possible so easily.




The closing event was then more semi-virtual :-). Luckily we could get together in Saarbrücken to present our projects to the jury and interested visitors - with mouth-nose-protection masks obviously. Natalie and Jasper participated virtually from Leipzig. The jury and visitors weren't surprised at all. I believe this is an aspect of the “new normal”, which had been accelerated quite a bit through Corona.




Objective of our project was to visualize "what does exile mean?" based on the information provided by our data provider "who sent when from where a letter to whom". The communication via letters went to a significant extent via the “American Guild”, which was an organization which supported people in these difficult times ideally and financially. You can find a short video about the project here ...



Findings


What did I learn in this hackathon and what was my take away? The following chapters sketch my most important elements.


Also cultural organisations have data, very diverse ones


One of the core objectives of CdV is to carefully and playfully lead cultural organizations towards the thought of digitization. Many of them think for the first time about the question, which data they actually have at all. A very exciting question. There were 25+ data providing organizations participating in CdV Saar-Lor-Lux. The data sets were diverse in type and quantity, which often was related to the "digital maturity level" of the organization. Oftentimes these where “direct” data of the exhibits, like images of posters or 3D models of sculptures . And in rather few cases we had “indirect” data (meta data, descriptive information) around objects, like in our case of the “Exilarchiv 1933-1945”, which provided collection data around their exhibits (the letters which people sent in exile). Which person did sent to which other person when a letter from where. And those data were partially already standardized, i.e. that e.g. all from-/to-persons had a unique number through which they could be identified.


The question of data is one of the first to consider for organizations going their journey of digitization, because digitization has multiple facets.


On the one hand e.g. around the exhibits:

  • The exhibit in digital format, i.e. sort of the digital twin - more or less detailed

  • descriptive data around the exhibit


On the other hand for example it is important to consider around the processes:

Totally different information can and must be taken into account, if you start including the processes within and around the cultural organization in the digitization. There are totally different areas like the administration of the exhibits / items on loan / contracted work / ..., which are relevant in the administration, the so called “Back-Office”. But also the “Front-Office” - where visitors come into play - needs to be considered and here any form of interaction is relevant, from seat reservation to ticket sales and involvement of the visitor through so called “Augmented Reality” until the possibilities of digital interaction with global researcher communities and much more ...


Also cultural organizations have more data outside the organization than inside


The case of the “Exilarchiv 1933-1945” was very typical for this. Especially the approach of Linked Open Data was a prime example here.

We did enrich in our project the data of the Exilarchiv (who when to whom from where) with multifaceted data about the persons, which can be used by anybody in the so called Linked Data format. With this we could drive our analysis much further than it would have been possible with the original data set.


Cultural organization have very different maturity levels in digitization thinking


Cultural organizations are often reluctant with the topic of digitization. They don't see the connected opportunities and also don't necessarily see it as their responsibility or they even bridle at this step of change. Every change requires a willingness to move. Quite some cultural orgs aren't even aware what data they have. And what they can achieve with it - in fact completely in line with their cultural charter.

It also requires a new way of thinking and asking in order to reap the potential of digitization. Which is why cultural organizations oftentimes aren't aware of the opportunities. Asking the right questions needs to be learned and practiced. This often requires coaching from outside.


Digitization can be a huge strategic step forward


It is crucial to understand that digitization is not done for the sake of digitization! There are really positive examples like the German National Library (Deutsche National Bibliothek, DNB) to which the “Exilarchiv 1933-1945” belongs, which had already started in 2012 to engage in strategically orienting itself towards the topic of digitization and has signed off on their “Strategischen Kompass 2025” in 2016, which is now guiding the organization. And exactly such a - continuously further developed - strategy can be used to align all its activities around digitization. Such a strategy also doesn't need to and cannot be perfect right from the start, but it stimulates reflection and helps to use digitization as a means, where it does positively contribute. Digitization is a means, not a purpose!


My conclusion


I need to "translate" my experience around digitization from the business world into a different language and apply it then in the cultural context. Culture is different, things are called differently, but the basic problems, models and approaches are the same.


And based on my first experience here, people in the cultural context are open for collaboration by nature, which can be a huge plus also and especially in the area of digitization. It was a very pleasant experience to work in this new field.


And it was a lot of fun! :-)



All the best!


Achim

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Achim Becker

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66879 Reichenbach-Steegen, Germany

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