Chris Unitt

Warwick Commission – the digital stuff

In Feb 2015 the Warwick Commission released their final report titled Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth [PDF]. Here’s the blurb about it:

The Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value has conducted a 12 month inquiry into how Britain can secure greater value from its cultural and creative assets. Launched in November 2013, the Commission has been culturally led and academically informed.

They identified five goals to ensure that the Cultural and Creative Industries can fully enrich Britain, the fourth of which is:

A thriving digital cultural sphere that is open and available to all.

Which seems perfectly laudable. There’s a chapter of the report dedicated to explaining this in more detail, with some overall context, some challenges and some recommendations. If you’re reading along then you’ll want to head to p54. Otherwise, here’s a really brief summary with some notes of my own…


There’s some general stage-setting in the report. You know the kind of stuff – the digital revolution has provided new ways of doing everything, etc and so on. Three aspects of the current landscape are highlighted:


To summarise:

The search/taxonomy one comes across a little… odd. At least to my mind.The line saying “An online resource of any kind can only be used if it can be discovered” needs to be extended to add ‘and if someone wants to discover it’. Sure, develop some methods and guidance for getting your stuff indexed in search engines and the like – there are certainly plenty of online collections that aren’t getting this right. Sprinkle a bit of marketing on top if you like. Beyond that, there’s only so much you can force things down people’s throats – if people don’t want it, they don’t want it.

Personally, I reckon the second one presents by far the biggest challenge.


There are two of these. To summarise:

After wading through all the abstractions, I’m still not sure what this DiPS thing actually is beyond a reasonably interesting (your mileage may vary) thought experiment. At it’s most basic level, it sounds a bit like an Open Culture or Project Gutenberg-style clearing house for publicly funded cultural content that’s no longer commercially viable. I… dunno. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just that I can’t see how it’d work. The BBC’s Tony Ageh OBE was one of the Warwick Commission’s main people and this concept is his hobby horse, so presumably that’s one reason why it’s here.

On the R&D side of things, I think that’s reasonable enough. I’d like to see more focus on the ‘production of innovative content’ part, on the basis that innovation around audience engagement and business models is being pushed forward by other sectors.

I’d also like to see some possibility of using funds to scale some of the things that work so there’s a better pathway to helping these things succeed. And there are problems with the cultural org+academic+tech partner style of R&D programme that the report references strongly, so lets not just go running down that channel.

Interesting to see that the recently announced Arts Council of Wales Digital Innovation Fund includes an ’embed & scale’ phase. Looks like there’s quite a bit of effort going into the earlier phases too, to ensure projects address actual challenges or opportunities. Good stuff.

Final thoughts

Stepping back a bit, the Commission’s saying that one goal should be to have:

A thriving digital cultural sphere that is open and available to all.

And that the way to achieve this is to:

Which is fine, and those two things could well play a role (the R&D thing, at least) but I don’t think they’d be enough to get the whole job done.

For instance, neither of those are likely to help much with the fact that many/most cultural organisations are lacking the knowhow (both at leadership level and on the ground), time and resources to get successful digital initiatives off the ground.

Also, as much as R&D within the cultural sector is a good thing, there does come a point where the way forward is pretty well established and people just need to get on and do things properly. It might not be R&D, but there needs to be support/investment for that kind of activity too.

Finally, I think the use of digital technology in cultural learning and education warrants a mention. Or maybe as this is being solved on a general level by new players stepping in, it’s no big deal if legacy cultural organisations are being left behind. Either way, I think some discussion of that would have been helpful.

Other parts of the report highlight the need to invest in developing skills (albeit commercial), develop boards (to include more enterprise experience) and offer children ‘ digital opportunities’ in learning. I guess I’d like to copy some of that over to the digital section of the report.

Anywho. Interesting report, lots to think about.