Digital Heritage in the Highlands and Islands region

CUPIDO has enabled Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and University of St Andrews to work collectively to deliver a transnational Digital Heritage project in the Highlands and Islands region. The pilot is referred to as Digital Heritage comprising the three project strands of Digital Adoption, Digital Connect and Digital Skills.

What is the background to the Pilot Project?
Industry experts advise that the rapid rise of new digital platforms is leading to the development of new business models and ways of working across the creative industries including the heritage sector. Use of digital is starting to be applied in different ways within the sector − ranging from digitalisation of content to widen public access to heritage and enabling access to a global audience; developing interactive applications; 3D printing for exhibiting collections; and supporting new ideas in museum interpretation, to include use of interactive technology with augmented and virtual reality becoming increasingly popular.

Growing use of digital within the sector is evidenced by many larger national museums employing designated digital teams. However, it is recognised that smaller cultural organisations and museums have limited access to finance and specialist technical assistance to adopt use of digital technologies and take advantage of the many commercial benefits enabled through digitalisation of content. Additionally, changes in cultural visitor consumer patterns have been identified recognising increased demand for digital experience of cultural heritage assets.

A large percentage of visitors are attracted to the Highlands and Islands region because of its cultural offering, with many of the region’s heritage centres being key visitor attractions, and as such adopting innovative use of digital to improve the visitor experience are starting to be looked at as a way to respond and capitalise on growing digital market demand. 

HIEreports targeted digital support has been identified as a necessity, through a range of its engagements with organisations in the sector, to enable commercial growth. Advising that a large number of cultural organisations are extremely short of resources, both financial and staffing, creating a barrier to the adoption of new technologies that have the potential to enhance their commercial growth and financial viability. For example, if a heritage centre/museum is to be less dependent on subsidy, it has to recognise the need for greater customer engagement digitally, which cannot be solely based on the surrounding area which will often have a limited population, and instead need to adopt new digital technologies / ways of working that will support them to access a range of new markets that will lead to increasing their customer base.

Additionally, engaging more local young people with their local culture and heritage is identified as a further need.  

Can you describe what you are doing in your project?
CUPIDO creates the opportunity for HIE to engage in a transnational cooperation approach to support international knowledge exchange, sharing of resources, knowledge and expertise to address aforementioned market needs. The Digital Heritage pilot aims to address the barriers for smaller cultural organisations adopting digital technologies and digital ways of working by supporting a tailored programme of digital support as detailed below

Digital adoption − to support a cohort of cultural social enterprises (6-8), in the H&I area, to adopt new digital technologies to modemise their cultural offering and enable them to become more financially sustainable, disseminating findings and sharing examples of good practice amongst national and European partners;

Digital connect develop a virtual transnational digital networking type hub to connect participating cohort of organisations and European partner cultural organisations for information exchange, and to market their cultural offering and products and services;

Digital skills  facilitate transnational digital workshops which raise awareness of relevant technologies that bring about direct commercial benefits; as well as addressing media creation, delivery and dissemination. These events will be hosted by participant cultural organisations, with the opportunity for our transnational partners to attend.

Additionally the project alsoaims to create ‘digital adoption’ work experience, volunteering and employment opportunities for local young people, as a means to engage more young people with their local cultural heritage.

Who are working together in your pilot and where is your pilot located?
We are looking to work directly with a number of cultural organisations namely Aros Centre, Isle of Skye, Scapa Flow Museum and North Isles Landscape Partnership both of whom are based in Orkney, Highlanders Museum located outside Inverness, Taigh Chearsabhagh and St Kilda project both located on the Isle of Lewis, and Shetland Amenity Trust in Shetland. Our national partners include Interface (support business collaborations between academic and business sector including social enterprises), Historic Environment Scotland, Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise (national economic development agency).

Specific project activities will take place in Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis, Orkney Isles, Shetland and Inverness. Throughout the project we will be looking to progress opportunities for digital collaboration projects with our European partners.

How are you working together in your region?
HIE and St Andrews University are working with our strategic partner organsiations to share resources, knowledge and digital expertise to support our cohort of cultural organisations to modernise their cultural offering and enhance commercial growth through the use of digital. The organisations that we’re working with will share learning and provide venues to host and facilitate digital skills workshops with other local sector organisation.

What are the challenges?
A main challenge is the dispersed geography of the Highlands and Islands region to bring groups together particularly from very rural locations to participate in CUPIDO related activities.  

What do you hope to achieve?
We aim to improve the environment for commercial growth including strategic development knowledge exchange, networking and capacity building in the field of digital.

Accelerating business growth by progressing new international business collaborations with academia and 'creative' social enterprises and businesses to accelerate the adoption of new technologies that support commercial growth. Its anticipated that by supporting opportunities for digital networking with transnational partners will enable new international business collaborations.

Strengthening communities by supporting opportunities for international exchange and networking amongst local social enterprises, community groups and businesses to explore new business collaborations that will lead to supporting new jobs and attracting external investment. In turn contributing to enhanced community cohesion, confidence and sense of place.

Supporting growth sectors by supporting academic knowledge transfer between participating transnational academic Institutions on application of business models to support commercial growth within the cultural heritage sector.

Developing regional attractiveness by enabling growth in the tourism and creative industries sectors through the development of new digital products and services that will improve the visitor offer, and lead to wider economic benefits in respect of supporting productivity within participating companies, and enhancing the overall attractiveness of the region to domestic and international visitor markets.

Who will be affected by the result?
Local cultural heritage organisations, in particular those located on Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis, Orkney, Shetland and Inverness, will be directly effected by enhancing their knowledge and skills base to adopt new technologies and ways of working.

The project aims to enhance commercial turnover of participants organisations through development of new digital products and services. Additionally the project aims to support volunteering, job and work placement opportunities for young people, thereby enhancing their digital skills and creative talent to pursue positive education and career destinations.


Ann Marie Reid, Highland and Islands Enterprise, Project Manager for the CUPIDO pilot

Highlands and Islands Enterprise

University of St Andrews

Read more articles about the pilot:

Highland and islands takes local cultural heritage into a digital era 

Digital heritage in the Highlands and Islands region 

HIE and St Andrews – Working with island communities on use of digital to help preserve and promote their local cultural heritage 

Covid-19 – Bringing museums to the home in the Highlands and Islands region 

Join CUPIDO Digital Heritage Workshops: Bringing Museums to the Home 

Digital heritage workshops kicks off in September 

The power of culture, the dna of the Highlands and Islands