Enhancing cultural assets through digital innovation: the multidisciplinary approach as a development asset

The multidisciplinary approach to enhancing cultural assets, combining knowledge of cultural and architectural assets with managerial skills applied to the specific context, may represent a strategic key to the country’s economic recovery.


Deborah Agostino, Associate Professor in Accounting Finance and Control and Director of the Digital Innovation in Heritage & Culture Observatory, School of Management, Politecnico di Milano.

Stefano della Torre, Full Professor of Restoration at the Politecnico di Milano and Head of the Master in Management of Cultural Heritage and Institutions – MIP Graduate School of Business, Politecnico di Milano


The current pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of adopting a multidisciplinary approach to enhancing cultural assets, based on a combination of humanistic, technical and scientific skills.
Cultural assets are in themselves multidisciplinary, in terms of the diverse ways in which they can produce benefits for local development and their resilience in the face of major crises. Over the last few years, the spotlight has often been placed on the importance of understanding the complexity of cultural assets with regard to their enhancement, involving areas as diverse as archaeology, architecture, chemistry, mathematics, materials science, design and management.

With the physical closure of Italian cultural sites, following the legislative decrees issued with a view to containing the Covid-19 pandemic, further attention has been drawn to the importance of creating synergy between different professional figures to enhance cultural assets, also – and, indeed, above all – in times of crisis. At this historical time, digital innovation, and the ability to exploit the digital channel, is the guiding thread connecting various disciplines. The cultural experience has temporarily shifted from the physical to the digital: on-site visits have turned into virtual tours, school visits into online activities, shows and events into live streams. In most cases, these services are not delivered in a structured manner by a team of professionals. On the contrary, a last-minute, emergency-driven approach has often been adopted, paid for with delays on several fronts. The School of Management has monitored the types of digital content proposed and the resources dedicated to it. While results, in terms of online participation in events, have on average been high (online participation doubled during lockdown, compared to the same period last year), the same cannot be said for the skills and resources involved. The findings of the School of Management’s Digital Innovation in Heritage & Culture Observatory show that, in Italy, one out of two museums employs professionals with specific digital skills. Of these, only 6% have a dedicated team comprising a digital manager and a set of specialised professionals.

While the approach used in the first lockdown involved producing digital cultural content using the resources available, it is now time to reflect in a more structured manner on the medium- to long-term sustainability of this business model, as further proven by closures and revenue loss. This means considering at least three aspects:

  • The type of digital cultural content, which cannot be a mere transformation into the digital realm of the activities designed for on-site use. Instead, we need to develop “native digital” offerings;
  • The revenue mechanisms associated with the new digital cultural offering. The digital content emerging from the first lockdown was free, but this does not contribute to the financial sustainability of museums;
  • The professional skills required to develop the project, which must inevitably combine cultural and heritage skills with managerial, technological and experience design competences.

In this regard, the School of Management takes an active role in boosting the digital innovation of cultural institutions through both research and training.
From a research perspective, its projects analyse new sustainable business models, the digital transformation approaches implemented, and the impact generated by innovation. For example, in terms of new business models, we are mapping fully digital offerings and their cost and revenue mechanisms. Early results show some difficulty in identifying a value proposition capable of highlighting the value of enjoying culture in digital form; in other words, while visitors may be willing to pay a ticket to visit a site, they are not prepared to do so for a digital activity. The research is in its early phase, but it will continue by mapping the models adopted nationally and internationally also in related sectors, in order to contribute to the definition of a possible “phygital approach” capable of combining the “physical” nature of cultural assets with the value added by a digital experience.

From a training perspective, it is now more necessary than ever before to train multidisciplinary professionals having two key cross-cutting competencies: soft skills, and the ability to understand different languages within the cultural heritage world; and digital innovation, in terms of designing experiences and of conservation techniques and new digital languages. In this context, with the Master in Management of Cultural Heritage and Institutions – unique in its kind, in Italy, for combining the technical skills of architecture, management and design in a single programme – the School of Management has set itself the ambitious goal of training executive figures capable of exploiting and steering the great changes underway in the cultural heritage world, combining an in-depth knowledge of cultural and architectural assets with managerial skills applied to the specific context.
This was done by means of an application approach that makes it possible to “experiment”, in the actual context, with the complexity of managing and enhancing an asset, favouring the dialogue between “theory” and “practice”, between universities and cultural institutions, and between different professionals.
This is an ambitious challenge we have set ourselves, but one that we believe, today more than ever, will represent an added value for the cultural heritage world and form part of our country’s economic recovery programme.


BlackRock Hackathon: a green experience!

Milano Digital Week (MDW) is a social initiative hosted every year by the City Council of Milan to inform the public about challenges and issues in the digital environment. Among keynotes, roundtables and workshops, the organizational committee launches initiatives aimed at engaging companies and citizens in shaping the future of digital. The BlackRock Hackathon is an example of such public involvement.

At the beginning of 2020, Larry Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, announced that environmental sustainability would be at the core of the company’s investment strategy. This was a bold decision made by a global leader in the industry. Following the news, the company decided to launch a challenge aligned with UN SDG (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal) #13: Climate action. The goal of BlackRock’s Hackathon was to create a tool, leveraging big data and analytics, to support investment professionals in taking environmentally informed decisions for their clients.

Hackathons are generally demanding, as participants are asked to develop a thorough, innovative solution in an incredibly short amount of time. Personally, I found this one even more challenging for two reasons.
I signed up to the event as an individual. I was reluctant, at first. Building something with people you have never met before in just 36 hours is not an easy task: you need to create a common ground of communication style and understand how to push your ideas, among other things. Then I remembered something I had learnt some years ago: if you wish to grow and achieve great things, you need to exit your comfort zone ̶ so that is what I did. Luckily, I got along quite well from the start with Mattia and Stefano, my teammates, and, since the team is the key, everything was downhill from then on. And, despite the struggles and the little sleep, we managed to have fun and achieve our goal: winning the hackathon.

Furthermore, the contest addressed a quite complex issue. Despite improved willingness from companies to disclose their environmental impact, the greatest obstacle remains data availability. Whichever solution you want to design, you need to take this into account. Another crucial element was the type of product to present. How are users going to benefit? Which channels to use?

Throughout the competition, teams were supported by BlackRock professionals: in our case, the mentoring was extremely useful. Mentors helped us reason better with regard to the choices we were making by questioning them constantly. In the end, when we prepared the pitch for the jury, Mattia, Stefano and I had motivated our choices so many times that we were confident about the idea, and it only took us a few minutes to find the right words to describe it.

After an initial, long brainstorming session, where ideas seemed to pop up from everywhere, we decided to focus our attention on something that could easily be implemented by an incumbent and whose usage could possibly be sold: an algorithm optimizing the environmental performance of investment portfolios. The name? (re)Balance!

Our starting point was the Paris agreement and its stated goal to contain any increase in global temperatures within 2°C by 2030. Upon that, we built a mechanism that allocates money by picking the most environmentally virtuous emitters and securities from among a predefined set of categories (best-in-class approach). Moreover, as a team, we wanted something visual that could communicate to investors how much they are contributing to the goal: something socially valuable; a thermometer, showing how much investors’ portfolios are helping limit global warming.

I am a student of the International Master in Fintech. One could say the competition was basically my bread and butter, as it addressed innovation in the financial industry. Looking at the specificity of the challenge, especially, one could equally add that mastering financial and technological concepts was pivotal to performing well. This is not completely true. First, because the environmental component was relevant. Second, because innovation does not result just from knowing things. You need to analyse, understand and take decisions in an unexplored environment. In other words, you need to exercise critical thinking ̶ and I believe that’s where the Master was a game-changer for me: it taught me to think about what I know and use it in unconventional ways.


About the author
Lorenzo D’Auria 
I am 24 and grew up in Cagliari, Italy. I am a student of the International Master in Fintech at MIP and I hold a BSc in Economics and Management from the University of Trento. My professional interests revolve around the investment management industry and the impact new technologies have on it.