Much like the term “sustainability” in all its many facets, “digitisation” is both a buzzword and a hallmark of our times. But what does sustainability mean in the context of digitisation, and can the latter lead to a greater degree of sustainability? Might the ongoing digital transformation enable us to use resources in a more sustainable manner, and what would that mean for a performing arts university?

In this overall context, the mdw is a place where multiple positions and challenges converge. But how can we, amidst it all, succeed in managing the tightrope act between rendering the sciences more accessible and protecting copyrights and exploitation rights as they relate to artistic works?1 For the aim must be to document the knowledge generated at the mdw and make it accessible to the greatest possible number of people for the long term while also archiving works that are protected by copyright—thus preserving elements of our cultural heritage as well as making them accessible to non-academic and/or non-artistic audiences.*

Back when the initial version of this article was written, the now-ongoing Covid-19 crisis seemed far off: nobody would have imagined the blanket stay-at-home order along with the associated isolation that awaited us, and how the situation will look when this issue of mdw Magazine appears is entirely unknown.

Right now, in late March, life’s been transformed for an indeterminate period of time: those who can work from home, do. Parents are teaching their own children while grandparents, conversely, dare not provide support because they’d be putting themselves at risk by being together with their grandchildren. And in the blink of an eye, digital tools have become our only way of making contact with the outside world.

No question: we’re all longing for those times when we could shake hands without worry and when a warm hug came with no apparent risk of infection. But this crisis, like so many crises, is also an opportunity to reflect upon our lives and on how we treat each other: Am I maintaining the necessary distance, or am I unconsciously invading others’ space? Am I actually perceiving the people in my direct surroundings, or am I retreating into my shell (with my smartphone)? And amidst such thoughts, one can only hope that our “digital closing of the ranks” will lead to actual solidarity “post-corona”.

But with all of the coronavirus-related private tragedies and future consequences that we can’t yet imagine, one thing has already become visible after several weeks of limited mobility: the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have considerably improved. It would be more than desirable if, upon regaining our mobility, we didn’t go back to old patterns but instead reflected on whether trips are really necessary and whether things like online conference participation might be widely introduced as a supplemental offering in the interest of protecting our environment.

A further positive development is that many cultural institutions, as well, have set about creating online offerings for children and adolescents; if these are kept or expended post-crisis, they could generally broaden access to the arts and culture, drawing in people for whom things like attending concerts had previously been unthinkable or unaffordable.

In the end, personal instruction, direct exchange through events such as workshops, and the ephemeral qualities of musical and theatrical performances won’t permanently fall victim to the coronavirus. But digitisation can ideally serve to expand our toolbox for teaching, for research, and for the arts—and the current situation is confirming this in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined.

* Over the past few years, offerings have been created at the mdw that are intended to do justice to these demands: the mdw Repository facilitates the use of research data across all digital formats (text, audio, video, images). The mdw’s Publication Server is intended to help disseminate research findings by archiving open-access university publications authored by members of the mdw community. The mdw will also soon be establishing its own publisher in order to make possible in-house publications, in the process facilitating structures and publication formats that are optimally tailored to our needs here. Additional activities that are intended to sustainably anchor digitisation at the mdw include opportunities to engage in exchange (such as the Forum Forschung Digitalisierung [Forum on Research and Digitisation]) as well as further education offerings.2 And finally, an overall digitisation strategy is currently being developed with an eye to addressing the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation.

For researchers, the use of digital tools (for storing, presenting, and documenting research data) is not insignificantly a way to raise their visibility and that of their work, thus easing knowledge transfer in society. The use of digital repositories also makes it possible to document the research process, rendering it understandable and its contents and methods visible. Among other things, this is a way in which artistic research can portray its own research processes and thus fuel the development and/or expansion of methods. The saved data needs to be archived in accordance with the FAIR principle: Findable – Accessible – Interoperable – Reusable. In order to ensure this and simultaneously protect intellectual property rights, the issuance of licences and the saving of metadata are essential—in accordance with credo, “as open as possible, as closed as necessary”. Due to the stay-at-home order issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the mdw’s Information Technology Department (ZID) has spent the past few weeks expanding its existing IT offerings and creating new ones in order to optimally facilitate everyday work in the home office and/or classroom. This is currently the only way in which we can continue working and at least partially uphold university operations. We therefore owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues from the ZID, who’ve managed this so quickly and are there to help us whenever problems arise!


ALLEA – All European Academies: Sustainable and FAIR Data. Sharing in the Humanities. ALLEA Report, February 2020

Guideline of the Rectorate on Research Data Management

Laura Birkelbach, Daniel Preglau, Christian Rammel: White Paper: BNE im Zeitalter der Digitalisierung. Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (Vienna University of Economics and Business), 2019.

Sonja Fischbauer, Robert Harm, Johann Höchtl: “Offene Daten für ein besseres Österreich” – Dossier 3, Post #4. In: Werde digital [Blog] 22 Dec. 2016, Accessed on 12 Feb. 2020.

Heide Hackmann, Dirk Messner (guest contribution): “Nachhaltigkeit in einer digitalisierten Welt?” In: Frankfurter Rundschau, 22 Sept. 2019. Accessed on 12 Feb. 2020.

Steffen Lange: Smarte grüne Welt – Digitalisierung zwischen Überwachung, Konsum und Nachhaltigkeit. Munich: oekom Verlag 2018.

Katja Mayer: DRAFT for consultation until 19 Apr. 2020: “Digital Humanities in Österreich. Ergebnisse der Studie ‚Exploratives Mapping‘, Dezember 2019”. Vienna 2020. Accessed on 5 Mar. 2020

Tilman Santarius and Steffen Lange: “Digitalisierung und Nachhaltigkeit. Triebkräfte für den Wandel?” In: Smartopia. Geht Digitalisierung auch nachhaltig? politische Ökologie 155, 2018. Munich: oekom Verlag 2018 (pp. 20–26).

Sylvia Petrovic-Majer (2017): “Eine Hoffnung für den Wandel in der Gesellschaft – Wie das kulturelle Erbe die Zukunft lebendig mitgestalten wird” – Dossier 3, Post #8. In: Werde digital [Blog] 1 Feb. 2017, Accessed on 12 Feb. 2020.

  1. mdw’s IPR and exploitation strategy
  2. See: Forum Forschung Digitalisierung: %B6rderung/?PageId=4271 The Art of Webinar. Online-Tools für Kommunikation und Zusammenarbeit mit David Röthler: 21 Nov. to 13 Dec. 2019. See %B6rderung/?h=webinar&PageId=4299
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