The Difference Between Museum Digital Programs and Projects

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

July 07, 2021

If digital projects haven’t completely infiltrated your everyday museum work, count yourself in the minority. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic attention on museum digital programs has surged.

As a result, museum digital programs are in need of a review and overhaul as the momentum and demand for digital projects increases. In order to increase our efficacy, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on how we distinguish museum digital programs from digital projects, what expectations may have changed due to COVID-19, and re-affirm the important pieces that go together to form a successful digital project. This mini-series will have three parts: The Difference Between Museum Digital Programs and Projects (this post), How COVID Has Changed Museum Digital Projects Forever, and The 4 Most Important Museum Digital Project Components.

Digital Program vs Projects

First, it’s important to distinguish what’s a “program” and what’s a “project”. This is not specific to digital programs and projects, though it is applicable here. Here’s how I breakdown programs versus projects so that we’re all working with the same definitions:

  • Programs
    • Perennial: The work done under the auspices of the program is perennial or evergreen work. There’s no end date to this work, it’s ongoing.

Example: Supporting K-12 curriculum or docent training and tours

    • Outcome-driven: The work conducted as part of the program is measured by outcomes (macro) not deliverables (micro).

Example: The outcome (or goal) of the museum building K-12 content and experiences led to a great level of inclusion in local K-12 curriculum; which led to an increase in student interest and knowledge of the museum’s subject matter.

    • View, plan, and measure at the macro-level: A program is best viewed, planned, and measured at a higher-level than a project. The details of the activities that make up the program aren’t analyzed at the same level as a project, but sill yield valuable data.

TL;DR: Programs are perennial, outcome driven, and are worked with at the macro-level.

  • Projects
    • End: Projects have a definitive start and end date because the goal has been achieved and there isn’t a reason to keep the work ongoing.

Example: A collection of tea cups need to be photographed and cataloged in the Collections Management System (CMS) so that they can be removed from display and restored.

    • Deliverable-driven: The project is measured by quantifiable results and the success of a project is determined by whether or not it meets project deliverables.

Example: The project ends and is considered successful because 12 tea cups have been photographed, cataloged, and sent to the conservator.

    • Program activities: Projects can be a part of larger program activities as long as they are not considered ongoing.

Example: While photographing, cataloging, and restoring museum objects are part of the museum’s ongoing work; the specificity and micro-level of the tea cup restoration project is what makes it a project and not a program.

TL;DR: Projects have an end date, are measured in deliverables, and can be included in larger program activities.

Next Week

Next week we’ll continue this miniseries with an evaluation of How COVID Has Changed Museum Digital Projects Forever.

Additional Reading

TrendsWatch 2021: Digital Awakening

The Critical Difference Between Museum Deliverables and Outcomes

Museum Forecast 2021

LAMs are More Alike Than Different: Physical vs Digital Nature of the Work

Prioritize These Remote Museum Projects During Coronavirus—Part 1

Prioritize These Remote Museum Projects During Coronavirus—Part 2

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. In addition to several titles published by Lucidea Press, Ms. Woody is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog. Register here for her upcoming webinar, “Museum Digital Project Fundamentals” on July 28, 2021. And learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for powerful and innovative museum collections management.

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