A Report on the Openlab WorkshopDecember 1-2, 2015Arlington, Virginia

Written for the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)Diane M. Zorich Cultural Heritage Consultant
Authored March 18, 2016Posted June 26, 2016 by - edsonm edsonm

About this Report

This report summarizes and synthesizes the discussions that took place at the Openlab Workshop held on December 1-2, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. It focuses primarily on the second day of the event, which was held at the offices of the American Alliance of Museums.

Sources used to develop this report include the author’s own “real-time” notes, audio and written transcripts of discussions from Day 2 of the event, social media feeds and blog postings that document the event, and post-workshop discussions with Openlab’s organizers.

The narrative outline of this report follows the agenda and general trajectory of discussions that occurred on the second day of the Openlab Workshop. The report is not a refined transcript but a summary account that highlights the key ideas and themes to be discussed further by the project’s stakeholders. Major discussion points are synthesized and reported in sections where they were most frequently discussed rather than in strict chronological order.

For purposes of clarity the term “GLAM” (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) is used throughout this report to represent all memory, knowledge, and humanities-based organizations. The term “technology” is used to represent the entire spectrum of technology and practices related to computers, mobile devices, the Internet, and the World Wide Web. “Openlab Workshop” is a rubric used to refer to all events that took place on December 1st and 2nd, including a smaller workshop meeting held on the second day of activities.

1. What is Openlab?

The Backdrop

The idea for Openlab emerged from several years of work, collaboration, and discussion with people trying to bring the concepts and practices of ‘new technology’ into the work and thinking of GLAMs.

There is broad consensus in the GLAM sector that GLAMs are struggling with technology and change. Many Openlab Workshop attendees and stakeholders feel that GLAMs are conservative, 1950s-style institutions that often wrap themselves in a veneer of 21st century technologies but don’t understand or utilize these technologies to their full extent. They acknowledge that GLAMs have created exciting and innovative projects, but these initiatives have had little lasting impact sector-wide. For many attendees and stakeholders, GLAMs are not leveraging their use of technology to address the grand challenges of our time, and thus are not on the forefront of work that affects the public good.

Attendees also assert that the GLAM community suffers from its own “digital divide” between institutions who have the capacity and expertise to explore technologies and those who do not. The latter have few opportunities to leverage the knowledge and work taking place elsewhere in the sector. Many GLAMs never even hear about these efforts.

Crosscutting all these issues is the trajectory of change, which attendees assert is fast, continuous, and far-reaching in society but slow, sporadic, and isolated in the GLAM industry, with little scale or urgency across the sector. The rapid changes brought about by digital technologies in other sectors (such as medicine, publishing, or industry) will not occur in GLAMs without new efforts to jumpstart sector-wide change.

Openlab as a New Way Forward

Openlab’s central premise is that a focused effort is necessary to help GLAMs address change and harness the opportunities provided by technology. The ultimate outcome of this effort is a GLAM sector that is adept at change and able to use technology to increase the scale and impact of its work in society.

Spearheaded by digital strategist and Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Distinguished Fellow Michael Edson, the Openlab concept received formal support in July of 2015, when CLIR received funding through a cooperative agreement from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of Digital Humanities and Division of Public Programs to host a series of events where the Openlab concept could be explored further.

Openlab’s first day of events took place at a hotel conference facility in Arlington, VA and included a public Unconference and Ignite talks designed to generate ideas and solicit participation from a broad spectrum of GLAM stakeholders. The dialogues that emerged from this day were continued and examined more deeply in a follow-up meeting (structured in a smaller workshop setting) that was held on the second day at the offices of the American Alliance of Museums.

The Unconference sessions addressed far-reaching topics such as funding and sustainability in GLAMs; issues for small and start-up organizations; communities of practice; the politics of change in nonprofits; community engagement; partnerships; solving the “grand challenges” that threaten our world; and the purpose and potential of GLAM Labs. The Ignite talks presented perspectives of 15 GLAM professionals who spoke about issues of social justice in museum practice; engaging global communities of learners; bringing GLAM data to life in new ways; getting GLAMs to look outward; and rethinking the concept of “museum time.” Several individuals proposed innovative ways for GLAMs to participate in education (e.g., “Smithsonian High,” sensory learning), and offered case studies demonstrating how hacking, historical preservation, and personal archiving can support and engage local communities.

The Openlab events received sector-wide endorsement, with over a dozen cultural heritage organizations and associations providing financial, leadership, or in-kind support. (See this wiki's home page for a full list of supporters and partners.) Over 100 professionals from 80 institutions attended the Unconference/Ignite talks, and 36 individuals participated in the Openlab workshop meeting. A Twitter backchannel engaged many others in virtual conversations and sharing of Openlab information.

Information and materials from Openlab events are available on this wiki, including videos of the Ignite talks, Unconference session notes, and information about the workshop meeting and attendees.

2. The Openlab Workshop Meeting - Honing the Idea

The Goal and Process

The goal of the Openlab workshop meeting was to clarify the scope and magnitude of what is needed to accelerate change in the GLAM community, and to outline a way forward in this process. Underlying this goal was the question of whether the Openlab concept, as expressed in verbal and written form, identified a viable pathway for addressing the need, and if not, what alternative solutions might be developed.

To encourage a high level of participant engagement and reduce meeting fatigue, the workshop was divided into a series of timed “sprints.” The goal of the first sprint was to foster an esprit de corps and draw out detailed personal observations about the Openlab concept through extensive participant introductions. Attendees introduced themselves, summarized their professional backgrounds, and expressed their hopes for, and concerns about, the broad issues that Openlab seeks to address.

In the second and third sprints, participants debated what Openlab might be, who it might serve, and how it might operate. This discussion was structured around a review of the one-page Openlab Concept document that was developed prior to the meeting. The review also highlighted gaps Openlab might address, and issues that require more considered attention.

The fourth and fifth sprints offered attendees an opportunity to delve deeper into Openlab’s scope. Participants split into groups to hold informal conversations and later reconvened to share summaries of their discussions.

Sprint 1: Openlab's Relevance and Possibilities - Initial Thoughts

The extensive time allotted for introductions gave participants an opportunity to speak about their motivations for taking part in the workshop, their hopes for how Openlab might affect the GLAM sector, and their concerns about the Openlab concept as it moves forward. Their thoughts are summarized below.


Openlab’s funders (the Council on Library and Information Resources and the National Endowment for the Humanities) and host organization (the American Alliance of Museums) felt their programs and missions aligned with Openlab’s goals. Representatives from these organizations noted that:
  • Openlab supports their organization’s mission to advocate for the GLAM sector and ensure it remains sustainable and thriving
  • Openlab’s ideals are so important that their organization wants to be at the forefront in supporting conversations about accelerated change in the GLAM sector (whether Openlab goes forward or not)
  • The US federal endowment programs have supported the creation and use of cultural content in digital form for years and want to see these investments leveraged for greater ends
  • The sector’s current model of developing an “enormously expensive…beautiful array of silos” needs to change to a model where GLAMS work together toward a greater public good.

Participants from individual GLAMs had a different set of motivations that were more personal and wide-ranging. They include:

  • Inspiration
    Many attendees were inspired by Openlab’s mission and hoped the workshop would be “the disruptive event that (serves as) a turning point in GLAM culture.” Having talked about change for years, they now want to start working toward it by leveraging local efforts at their home institutions into something larger and more global. Indeed, many participants spoke of how Openlab’s model is a macrocosm of what they want to do in their own institutions. On a more personal level, attendees spoke earnestly about the value of learning from, and being inspired by, fellow attendees.
  • Representing issues and ideas
    Getting “grand challenges” and marginalized issues (such as climate change, biodiversity, human migration, and social justice) on the GLAM agenda was a motivating factor for many attendees who see these topics as the critical issues of our time. They are disheartened by GLAMs’ avoidance or misguided efforts to tackle these problems and by their failure to take leadership roles to address them.
  • Representing disenfranchised voices
    For many participants, a critical motivating factor was ensuring that disenfranchised communities and groups (e.g., people of color, rural communities) are represented in GLAM conversations. Several professionals also identified themselves as the voice of underrepresented members within the GLAM community (e.g., archivists, stymied change agents, smaller organizations such as historical societies.)

Hope and Change: Thoughts on What Openlab Might Do

The reasons for attending the workshop often foreshadowed the attendees’ deeper hopes and aspirations for the types of transformative change Openlab might engender. These aspirations include:
  • Leading and driving change
    Openlab was envisioned as a sector-wide leader who might lead in a manner similar to a coxswain - simultaneously guiding and serving, helping a crew row toward a common goal. Some tangible suggestions for how Openlab might accomplish this feat include: enabling small but bold steps that have intrinsic relevance to communities; marshaling resources and energy to undertake community wide projects that match GLAM beliefs and values; scaling up innovative, individual efforts and helping them catalyze the community; and proposing collaborative ways to address common challenges facing GLAMs.
  • Putting a focus on the “grand challenges” of our time
    Openlab might help GLAMs collectively address critical global issues that have local impact, such as climate change, human migration and conflict, social justice, education, etc. By positioning GLAMs to address these issues, Openlab would work with them to reshape the public good.
  • Bringing the local to the global
    Openlab might help GLAMs leverage local issues and needs in ways that involve the global public, bringing smaller community concerns to larger audiences.
  • Establishing a value proposition for GLAMs
    The purpose, role, and value of GLAMs increasingly are being called into question by industry and political leaders, and by the public at large. GLAMs have responded to the skepticism in separate and unconvincing ways. Openlab might help them establish a cogent value proposition for why GLAMs are integral to the public, and what makes their work and collections so interesting and necessary to the world.
  • Empowering GLAMs
    GLAMs struggle to provide their communities with an “emotional, passionate connection to cultural heritage.” Openlab might help by promoting efforts to democratize access to culture and science through technologies, enabling communities to tell their own stories, and facilitating user innovation.
  • Offering a lifeline
    GLAMs frequently serve as a lifeline for rural and dispersed communities who need access to larger communities and to information. But GLAMs that serve these communities are now struggling to maintain these lifelines. Openlab might help them reconnect with their communities in new ways through technologies. In a similar vein, Openlab might serve as a lifeline for the many GLAMs who do not have the in-house capacity to think creatively about technology, or do not have the opportunities to learn from those who do.
  • Serving as an innovation hub
    The sector needs an independent innovation hub that can help build infrastructure, develop collaborations to support GLAM needs and interests, and foster organizational adaptation to technological and social change. It also needs an organizing agent and space to bring together the different groups of people (representing different voices and points of view) that are necessary to foster true innovation. Openlab might serve as this hub and agent, helping to establish a “partnership with future generations by building an environment … that will be used by those who come after us.”
  • Serving as an information hub
    Information about technology in the GLAM sector is widely dispersed. Openlab might serve as a central source and distributor of this information in both the GLAM sector and further afield.

Concerns and Risks

Openlab will face some difficult issues as it moves forward. Participants identified the following areas as key challenges for the initiative:

  • The echo chamber
    GLAM audiences are a mirror reflection of GLAMs themselves, with little diversity of people and opinions. Participants characterized GLAMs as “echo chambers,” holding conversations that are self-serving and ideologically “safe.” Indeed, the attendees at Openlab events were not spared this characterization, with one participant forcefully commenting that “the problem is in the room” [note 1]. Transformative change will not be possible until GLAMs address their homogenous workplaces, acknowledge that this homogeneity hinders their capacity for public dialogue and engagement, and develop an inclusive workforce that represents the diversity of people and voices in our society.
  • Dichotomies
    GLAMs are pulled in different directions by opposing forces.
    - For example, they struggle with working together as a community while needing to “bring glory to our individual institutions.” They also have different notions about the centrality of the user. Indeed these distinctions played out in the context of the workshop, with disagreement among attendees on whether users should be the focus of all GLAM and Openlab efforts. Those who disagree with this notion observe that users (and their identities and interests) change at undetermined times and in unknown ways. Because of this “shape shifting,” GLAMs should focus instead on developing agile infrastructure, which can be altered as needed to suit users in different contexts.
    - The sector also struggles with dichotomies that exist in the wider world. For example, some participants felt that digital technologies, which were designed to foster communication and share information, increasingly move us away from the very public conversations and dialogues that GLAMs need to foster.
  • Retaining GLAM values
    Change can be disruptive, and accelerated change even more so. GLAMs must ensure that their enduring values as communities of practice are not lost or diluted by the accelerated change that Openlab is hoping to achieve.
  • The Openlab business model
    Some participants felt the community must be realistic about how a concept such as Openlab might be sustained. One attendee noted that philanthropy alone cannot support it, so alternative means of support - such as commercial relationships - are likely to be part of its business model. However, other participants felt discussions of business models were premature. As one participant noted, Openlab needs to move quickly from “conversations about the vision to focusing on the vision” before it can develop a business plan and operationalize.
  • Risk of failure
    Some individuals expressed doubt that the GLAM sector, given its entrenched behaviors, will accept or support a concept such as Openlab. One individual candidly admitted, “I’m not really convinced we can do this.” Another suggested Openlab might be received skeptically because the purpose of GLAMs is “to conserve, not to “rabble-rouse and instigate.” Still others expressed doubt that change can come from inside the sector, believing it will take an external existential threat (much like what the Internet posed for the newspaper industry) to instigate change.

Sprints 2 and 3: Deconstructing the Openlab Concept

The Openlab Concept Statement

The statement is reprinted in its entirety below, with each paragraph of the statement numbered to provide reference points in the subsequent discussion section. [Note: the concept statement is also on this wiki page - edsonm edsonm]

(1) OPENLAB is a solutions lab, convener, and consultancy designed to accelerate the speed and impact of transformational change in the GLAM (gallery, library, archive, and museum) sector.

(2) GLAMs have some of the most profound and important missions in society: to increase and disseminate knowledge; to encourage civic dialogue and engagement; and to support individuals in their right to access and participate in culture. These outcomes are critical if we are to have strong, happy citizens and wise, resilient communities in the century.

(3) Technology provides GLAMs with new opportunities to dramatically increase the scale and impact of their work. The Internet connects more than half of humanity; and digitization, open access, and new forms of collaboration and production expand the capabilities and obligations of all civic institutions. But change is difficult and GLAMs
struggle to recognize and exploit these opportunities.

(4) Small institutions struggle to experiment and begin the process of digital engagement. Large institutions struggle to innovate and begin the process of digital transformation. Visionary institutions struggle to sustain innovation and deepen the impact of their programs. Everyone struggles with disruption and change.

(5) OPENLAB is a group of funders and partners who help GLAMs use technology to see beyond their own traditions and imagine new ways to work, share, and create value in society. OPENLAB does this work through three complementary programs.

(6) OPENLAB SOUTIONS is an instigator, incubator, and digital studio that accelerates the adoption of technologies and best practices across the GLAM sector. The Solutions team creates disruptive prototypes and pragmatic turn-key solutions; tests new business models; conducts leadership and technology training; and publishes case studies, standards, and how-to guides to catalyze sector-wide change.

(7) The OPENLAB COLABORATIVE is a consortium of innovation labs from across the corporate, government, and social sectors. Labs are a nexus of talent and innovation but they tend to work in isolation: members of the Openlab Collaborative pool their expertise and resources to attack annual challenge goals and sponsor a cultural sector X-Prize.

(8) The OPENLAB NETWORK is the global community that provides the governance, support, and leadership framework for OPENLAB. The Network includes the Openlab Fellows program, which advances targeted research and change initiatives; and Openlab Chapters, which enable mission to be championed and scaled at the local, regional, and national/international levels. Openlab StartCamp workshops and conferences provide a forum for professional development and knowledge exchange; and blog and social media presence builds the expertise and accomplishments of network members into a movement and validates the importance of emerging practices.

(9) OPENLAB accelerates change across the global GLAM sector for less than 0.004.% of the combined annual budgets of American libraries and museums.

Discussion Issues

As participants examined the Openlab Concept document, they challenged implicit assumptions, identified gaps in coverage, and clarified terminology. Their discussion took two forms: “big picture” comments about purpose, activities, and audiences, and more focused conversations about concepts in the statement that warranted further thinking.

"Big Picture" Comments

A “read-through” of the statement prompted a series of questions about Openlab’s proposed role and scope. These questions often were framed in oppositional pairings to describe the range of options. For example, should Openlab be:

  • An advocate of institutions OR of users?
  • A change agent OR a supporter of change agents?
  • Global by default OR local (with the intention of moving from to global)?
  • An advocate for approaches OR a facilitator of approaches?
  • Meaningful for organizations at all levels of maturity OR focused on organizations whose work offers the greatest impact?
  • A place that compiles and shares the work of other labs and funder-supported programs OR a research and development (R&D) lab that does its own experimental work?
  • An organization that helps GLAMs “on the margins” OR an intermediary that connects these GLAMs to existing labs and programs who can help them?
  • A creator of transformative projects OR an entity that “templatizes” [note 3] the transformative projects of others (so they gain greater traction across the GLAM sector?)
  • A builder of infrastructure and scaffolding for GLAMs OR a service organization that trains GLAMs to build this infrastructure themselves?
  • A facilitator who helps GLAMs embrace change OR a coordinator who helps GLAMs get out of their way?
  • Envisioned in its mature state OR in a smaller start-up state (that will build up over time?)

In many respects, the “either/or” framing of these issues, while meant to enforce greater clarity, presents a false picture of how Openlab might evolve. Participants noted that at different times and in different circumstances, Openlab might wish to pursue both aspects of these dualities. For example, if Openlab reviews cultural heritage labs for purposes of aggregating and sharing their work, it may stumble upon important issues that these labs are not addressing. Armed with this knowledge, Openlab might then decide to take on another role, perhaps convening groups to address the gaps or developing prototypes to help fill them.

Refining the vision
For many participants, ideas about what Openlab “could be” reinforced their sense that its broad vision (“to accelerate the speed and impact of transformational change in the GLAM sector”) must be formulated as actionable problems before the concept can move forward.

Openlab was challenged to undertake an exercise whereby it would articulate the change it wants to see, the problems that prevent that change, and the tactics (or action plans) needed to solve those problems. This exercise would help clarify Openlab’s value proposition, which is critical to its success in seeking financing, enlisting GLAM support, and demonstrating importance to a broader public. (After the conclusion of the workshop, these ideas were published in a slideshow titled, “How Change Happens—The Openlab Change Model.”)

Openlab's Audience
Participants felt that Openlab must appeal to and serve three major groups:

  • GLAMs
    These institutions form the basis for Openlab’s existence. Even if Openlab chooses to target GLAMs with the greatest transformational reach, the endgame is the same: to move all GLAMs along on the innovation curve.
  • The public
    The public is the reason transformational change is needed in the GLAM community. Openlab must demonstrate to this group that GLAMs are resources, partners, innovators, and proponents of forward thinking changes that serve the public good.
  • Individuals and organizations with power and resources
    Appealing to power brokers outside of GLAMs, such as government, political, commercial, educational and philanthropic leaders, is important for Openlab’s success. Openlab needs resources, influence and support from these communities to accomplish its goals.

Focused Conversations: A Sectional Review of the Openlab Concept Statement

The characterization of “change” (paragraph 3)
The statement that “change is difficult” implies GLAMs are intransigent about change, but participants felt the reality is more complex. Inadequate capacity, minimal resources, leadership issues, and a host of other factors often make it difficult for change to occur. Change also is a constant, and everyone struggles with it. The issues with adjusting to change are so powerful and universal that the concept warrants consideration at the very beginning of the document, where it should be recast as a human (not GLAM) problem.

Distinctiveness of GLAMs (paragraph 3)
For brevity sake, Openlab lumps galleries, libraries, archives and museums under the single GLAM banner. However, this grouping masks distinctions that both define each of these organizations and impede their ability to collaborate with one another. The document should be explicit about this issue since it contributes to the slow pace of change in the sector. It also should emphasize Openlab’s role to help these organizations transcend their boundaries for a greater public good.

De-emphasize institutional size as a limiting factor in change and transformation (paragraph 4)
Representatives from small to mid-sized GLAMs felt that the correlation of institutional size with increased capabilities was a misconception. The real issue is where an institution is positioned on a spectrum of openness to change. Small museums, for example, may be more nimble, forward thinking, and open to experimentation than larger institutions.

Clarify terms and relationships (all sections)
Some of the terminology in the statement needs to be defined or eliminated to appeal to a general audience. Terms such as “technology” and “lab,” for example, should be clarified. Jargon such as “digital transformation” and “digital engagement” might be more simply expressed as “transformation” and “engagement.” The statement that Openlab is a “group of funders” (paragraph 5) needs to be reframed: funding organizations may support parts of the Openlab agenda, but they will not want to be cast as a funding consortium within Openlab. Finally, Openlab should add the educational and cultural sectors in the list of partners included in the Openlab Collaborative (paragraph 7).

Openlab “Solutions” (paragraph 6)
Attendees pushed back against the idea of Openlab becoming a research and development (R&D) lab. A greater value was seen in having Openlab “rigorously assess and better understand” the innovation, experimentation, and transformative ideas already underway in the sector. Openlab might use this information to:
  • Be a referral agent for existing labs
  • “Templatize” innovative solutions developed by these labs (via generic toolkits or processes) so these solutions can scale up across the sector
  • Conduct field-wide assessments to identify gaps in the GLAM landscape that might profit from new solutions developed by a collaboration of labs (see Openlab Collaborative below).

Openlab Collaborative (paragraph 7)
With dozens of cultural heritage labs working in isolation, Openlab’s call for a collaborative or “co-op” of labs to work on common problems was roundly endorsed. But individual labs will need capacity and a champion such as Openlab who can get them to work collaboratively. Openlab might play the role of convener here, bringing labs together around a common problem, and getting commitments from them to dedicate a portion of their staff time/space/funding to work towards a solution. Innovation challenges (such as the XPrize competition) might be a catalyst that could rally labs to work collaboratively around grand challenges.

Openlab Network (paragraph 8)
Participants were supportive of Openlab’s plan for a network of training and assistance that would increase capacity across the GLAM sector. In developing this network, they advised Openlab to target existing research initiatives and distribute their results more broadly, and to consider model programs such as Wikipedians in Residence and the National Digital Stewardship Residency when crafting new training initiatives. They cautioned against Openlab sponsoring a new set of conferences, suggesting instead that any workshops or training events be offered within or alongside existing GLAM conferences.

Sprints 4 and 5: Delving Into Scope

Participants separated into two groups to discuss specific programs, activities and deliverables that Openlab might consider. When they reconvened to share their discussions, it became apparent that considerations of scope extended into larger discussions about how Openlab might serve GLAM community needs.

Group 1

Group members felt that GLAMs need training and assistance on how to meet goals given institutional constraints (such budget, resources, and staff). They characterized GLAM technology needs in three incremental phases:

  • Phase 0: Basic Digitization Mechanics
    Basic knowledge and assistance with digitization techniques (e.g., “how to digitize a collection.”)
  • Phase 1: Metadata Building
    Learning how and why GLAMs need to build metadata around their digital resources (e.g., openness, linking, etc.), and how they might convince their institutions of the importance in investing in this activity.
  • Phase 2: Interpretation of Digitized Collections
    Building an education layer atop digitized resources for different audiences and contexts.

Group 2

This group identified three ways Openlab might bring about change in the GLAM community.

  • Identify problems whose solutions have a “multiplier effect”
    Projects that can be scaled quickly, and across a large swath of GLAMs, would help Openlab meet its goal to increase the rate of change and transformation in this sector. Openlab might identify such projects by:
    - Conducting an environmental scan of the sector to identify problems, gaps, and needs that are amenable to large-scale solutions. This scan might start with existing cultural heritage labs – identifying the extent and range of their work – and branch out to other sectors of the community.
    - Identifying situations that have had a multiplier effect elsewhere, and reverse engineering the process to examine what problem was solved, how the solution was developed and implemented, and how it might be replicated in the context of the GLAM community.
  • Showcase transformative work underway in GLAMs
    Openlab might tell the story of intriguing work and experimentation underway in the GLAM sector – e.g., open data projects, new tools developed to help users engage with GLAMs and their collections, new presentation modes, etc. – in a more high profile, journalistic fashion. By shining a spotlight on inspirational work in the GLAM community, Openlab could reach broader audiences, inspiring the public to engage with their cultural heritage in more meaningful ways.
  • Build a set of minimal viable metadata that will enhance discoverability.
    A plethora of digital material exists in GLAMs, but it is encased in “dirty” or insufficient metadata that hinders discoverability. Openlab might address this issue by identifying a minimum set of viable metadata that would yield the greatest discoverability, and promote use of this “set” across the GLAM community.

3. Next Steps for Moving Openlab Forward

Although workshop discussions moved in far-reaching and often opposing directions, participants agreed that goal – to accelerate the pace of change and transformation in the GLAM sector – was noble and necessary. But how might Openlab move forward from an idea to a reality? While many suggestions emerged in the context of various discussions, two approaches gained traction over the course of the day.

Approach 1: Environmental Scan

Despite possessing formidable knowledge and experience of the GLAM sector, participants felt that much about GLAM operations remains a mystery. A scan of the digital GLAM landscape would bring important information to light. For example, who (e.g., labs, individual GLAMs) in this community is creating transformational change? How are they achieving it? What tools are they using? What services do they provide?

In addition to identifying “who is doing what,” a scan of the GLAM landscape also would identify what is not being done. What gaps exist in the landscape? Where might change occur with minimal/moderate/major effort? Which groups in the GLAM community need the most support to achieve transformational change? And what resources are needed to achieve change at various levels of implementation?

An environmental scan might include case studies, reviews of “how-to” guides, surveys, and interviews with staff working in labs in the cultural heritage sector as well change agents who are doing transformative work within an individual GLAM. Participants felt the environmental scan would be an important contribution to the sector, giving everyone a clearer sense of current transformational work underway and examining its effects. Moreover, it would give Openlab staff insights into important ideas in the community that might need more formal consideration (through a central convening of GLAM professionals) and would identify work that might be leveraged across the wider community (such as templatizing work processes or products).

The environmental scan also would demonstrate the “due diligence” that Openlab will need to move forward, helping it build a case and gain support for its activities.

Approach 2: Moving from Vision to Action

Achieving Openlab’s vision of change requires translating the vision into actionable parts. Several participants suggested Openlab could do this by conducting an exercise that explores what transformational change in the GLAM community would look like. How might GLAMs behave? What structures might they assume? What activities would they conduct?

Once this scenario of transformational change is defined, the next step is to identify the problems that prevent the scenario from taking place and map solutions (with tactics and action plans) for each of the problems. When Openlab has completed this process, it then can strategize about how it might proceed by prioritizing the problems and pursuing one (or a handful) that meets pre-defined criteria (e.g., yields the quickest change, is the most scalable, offers the “lowest hanging fruit” etc.) This “vision-to-action” approach transforms the Openlab concept into smaller, concrete activities that can yield tangible results. Much like environmental scan, this approach process presents Openlab with a clearer understanding of the problems in the sector that hinder change and transformation, and helps it identify viable ways to move forward.

Which Next Step?

The two approaches outline possible ways for Openlab to move forward from its current conceptual phase. The environmental scan is a “bottom up” method that gathers information from the field, analyzes it, and uses the analysis to make decisions about action steps. The “vision-to-action” assessment is a “top down” method that begins with Openlab’s vision, identifies obstacles that impede it, and proposes solutions that might move GLAMs closer to the vision. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive: Openlab could benefit greatly by undertaking both.

However, each approach will require funding to move forward. Specific funding opportunities were not addressed during the workshop, but representatives from funding organizations spoke of how the GLAM initiatives they have supported over the years are ripe for leveraging into greater community-wide change. Their support of the Openlab idea suggests they may be appropriate funding sources for either of these approaches.

Towards a Business Plan

Workshop organizers stated their desire to create a business plan to set the stage for Openlab’s success and generate further support from funders and the GLAM community. Thus a major consideration when deciding on Openlab’s “next step” is how much closer it will move Openlab toward a business plan that describes the purpose, activities, and resources required to make it a functioning entity. Will the “next step” demonstrate that Openlab has “done its homework” and has a firm understanding of the landscape? Will it help back up Openlab’s value proposition with evidence? Does it help Openlab develop a roadmap for implementation? Whatever “next step” is chosen, it should put Openlab on a path towards crafting a viable business plan.

4. Conclusion

The Openlab events brought together over 100 individuals from more than 80 organizations over the course of two days to discuss the viability of the Openlab concept, how it might be scoped, and issues to consider as it moves from idea to reality. Many of the discussions challenged assertions about what is needed in the sector to promote more rapid, transformational change. Participants spoke freely and convincingly about issues close to their heart such as values, inclusivity, local and global issues, and the public good.

Participants in the Unconference and Ignite talks opened up the conversation by articulating a strong desire for meaningful change in the GLAM sector. These events were a remarkable demonstration of the passion, commitment, and talent that can be found at all levels in GLAMs.

Attendees at the workshop meeting spoke of their motivations for participating in the meeting and their hopes for how Openlab might unfold. They continued with a review of the Openlab Concept statement, assessing how well it lays out the background, the problem of change and transformation in the GLAM sector, and the operational structure that Openlab proposes to develop. Their review also provoked discussion about broader issues such as Openlab’s purpose, activities, and audiences. The conversation ended in small group discussions that considered Openlab’s scope in the context of community needs.

The discussions held during the workshop meeting could easily have focused on small-bore problems about GLAM operations, but participants continually fought this against this impulse. Instead, they considered a more ambitious platform. How might Openlab, for example, move the GLAM sector from its insular, silo-focused agenda toward collaborative efforts that address grand challenges like climate change, social justice, or global conflict? Such aspirations are out of scale with current GLAM ambitions, but workshop participants (and the attendees at the previous day’s Unconference) felt that GLAMs should be leading on a world stage, addressing the critical issues of our time. Openlab’s goal may be to accelerate the pace of change and transformation in the GLAM sector, but its larger purpose is to make the GLAM sector a more vital force for the public good.

Interspersed throughout the discussions were suggestions both large and small for how Openlab might work to achieve its ends. Two of these suggestions gained traction over the course of the day: an environmental scan of the GLAM sector to identify where transformational change was taking place, and an assessment of Openlab’s vision in the context of problems, solutions and actionable activities. Both approaches, combined with the development of a comprehensive business plan, offer reasonable “next steps“ that would move Openlab forward from concept toward reality.

Much work remains in getting Openlab off the ground, and a continued dialogue is needed as the initiative evolves. The Openlab team welcomes comments on this report, and on the Openlab effort.


1. A workshop participant made this statement during the Unconference, and it resurfaced as a theme in the workshop. Adrienne Russell expanded on this statement further in her post-workshop blog. See: Russell, Adrienne. 2015. “The Problem is in the Room.” Blog post. Council on Library and Information Resources. http://connect.clir.org/blogs/adrianne-russell/2015/12/17/the-problem-is-in-the-room.

2. To make generic by means of templates. The term is used frequently in computer programming. Wiktionary https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/templatize.