Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You Go First

"We're right on the edge but we need a little push 
Dancing on the tightrope wearing it thin 
Instead of closing our eyes and jumping in" 
--Jessica Andrews 

Sometime change is painful. Very painful. Giving up cherished traditions, abandoning the comforts of certitude, challenging assumptions about the way your life and career are going to play out—these things are not easy. That’s why in stable, comfortable times, only a small percentage of people, a minority who enjoy risk and change for their own sake, test radical disruptions of traditional business practices. And their innovations often fade away without a trace if their compatriots in the mainstream feel no impetus to adopt the methods they have pioneered.

But since we are living in a time of profound economic and social disruptions, many sectors are now paying close attention to the radical innovators in their fields. The alternative practices they are testing may turn out to be adaptations the field as a whole need to adopt in order to survive.

See, for example, libraries and journalism. The traditional library is being shaken up by e-books, internet search engines, cuts in government funding and economic stress on the communities in they serve. Print journalism saw its business model collapse with the rise of the internet, as advertising decamped to the web and more people look to social media for their news. Both libraries and newspapers have to experiment with new business practices, remaining true to their core functions (enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all; investigative journalism) while questioning assumptions about traditional ways of achieving these goals.

That is why we see a new emphasis on library as a resource—bookless libraries, libraries with staff dedicated to serving the homeless, libraries providing co-working space. We see journalistic experiments like digital access by paid subscription (the New York Times), joint for-profit/nonprofit partnerships (Pierre Omidyar’s NewCo, the Guardian’s ProPublica), and Huffington Post’s strategy of exploiting free or low-paid labor and aggressive borrowing of content.

Here is another sector to watch for disruption and innovation: high-end dining. Restaurants have always been a high-risk sector marked by low profit margin and a high rate of failure. Recently it has been further challenged by everything from high-end food trucks (which can take advantage low overhead, low start-up costs and flexibility to test combinations of audience/cuisine/location) to quasi-legal, pop-up “supper clubs.” Two radical business innovations that entrepreneurial restaurateurs are experimenting with are:
  • Dining as a ticketed event. In 2011 Nick Kokonas opened “Next” restaurant in Chicago, eschewing a traditional reservation model in favor of presold tickets. If a patron doesn’t show up for the prefixe meal, they forfeit their money. You can even buy a season ticket –one seating each time the menu changes throughout the year—positioning the dining experience as more like attending the theater or a sporting event. This “restaurant ticket” model is spreading, modestly, as some high-end restaurants adopt this model, which transfers the financial risk of no-shows to the patron, facilitates responsive pricing (calibrated to the popularity of a given seating time) and, at least for now, generates buzz.
  • Participatory design of recipes. This weekend the New York Times covered Dinner Lab, a pop-up restaurant company that is premised around using intense, directed customer feedback to shape the menu for fine dining. Rather than the chef as impresario, implementing a focused, singular vision of excellence, Dinner Lab sees the chef as collaborator, soliciting the input of every diner in order to perfect their recipes. 

Museums can learn a lot by keeping an eye on other sectors, including libraries, journalism and restaurants. When I read about Dinner Lab, I hear echoes of the changing role of curators in museums, from expert teacher to moderator of exploration).  Dinner Lab also brings the chef out from behind the scene—putting him (or her) in the middle of the action, and making the chef’s “story” part of the dining experience.  This emphasis on process, and story, is also visible in museums as we create “open laboratories” and encourage curators to engage with the public via social media.

Sometimes watching others go through the difficult process of introspection and re-invention is a good way to ease into our own discomfort zone. And this gives you one more reason to read the food section in the newspaper—you might stumble across a recipe for business success, as well as tonight’s dinner.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Navigating the Social Media Morass

What do Jelly, Nextt, Spayce, Pheed, Sulia, Sharebloc, Bubblews and Learni.st have in common? They’re all new social media sites, most having launched within the last year. It seems like every week a new service (or two, or three) bursts onto the cultural consciousness. Just last week the social media buzz was about LACMA being the first museum to join Snapchat (an app designed for ephemeral messaging. Sort of like digital disappearing ink.)

With all these newbies on the block, it may seem positively antediluvian that Guzel and I just set up a CFM Facebook page. Facebook launched way back in 2004, four years before CFM’s public debut. It took ‘til now for me to decide that Facebook occupies a niche left vacant by the sites & services CFM already uses.

It’s difficult to parse the nuanced differences between proliferating social media options-the strengths and weaknesses of each platform, demographics of its coreaudience, the likelihood it will reach a critical mass of users. Perhaps you are also picking your way through the process of choosing where you/your museum will establish digital outposts. So, in case it helps you with your decisions, I'm sharing the inventory of CFM’s current digital platforms (how I use them, and who they seem to reach) that I prepared in reaching the decision to add Facebook to the mix. This might also help you assess which CFM feeds best suit your preferences for consuming news.

Dispatches from the Future of Museums, I use CFM’s weekly e-newsletter  to share synopsis and links to recent news articles that fall into the categories of Trends, Projections, Museum Innovations and Tools for the Future. Strengths: timely, topical, widely read. Weaknesses: many interesting articles I find fall outside the weekly time frame or the topic headings.

The CFM Blog provides scope for medium length commentary and original essays by me and by guest bloggers. Strengths: flexible format, accommodates embedded pictures, video, even sound. Gives people various options for subscription (including RSS feed, Google “membership”—which makes new posts show up in their Google+ profile page, and email subscription. Weaknesses: there is a high bar to getting people to comment on the blog, which can be frustrating, especially for guest bloggers who want to engage with CFM readers.

Twitter is great for sharing links to articles and resources, and providing context (within the 140 character limit) for why I think a given story is important. Strengths: easy to post to Twitter from a variety of news sites and aggregators (like Flipboard). I don’t put time boundaries on the material I share on Twitter—so if I stumble across a story that falls outside Dispatches’ weekly timeframe, it may go out via Tweet. Weaknesses: some things just don’t fit in 140 characters. There are some stories that might seem baffling, or inappropriate, without accompanying (longer) explanation.

Pinterest is a place to park compelling inspiring and amusing images related to trends CFM follows, and the future in general. Strengths: provides a visual counterweight to CFM’s usually text-heavy exposition. Provides links to the photo sources, so people can follow the image back to the related stories. Serves as an idea board and illustration source for planning publications. Weaknesses: Not much interaction with other users/followers (other than seeing who “repins” my pictures).

YouTube was very important when we launched CFM, as one of our first project was video interviewing a wide range of museum folk about their hopes, dreams and fears about the future. It also gave us a place to share video recordings of CFM lectures and symposia (which gave us a broader reach than the original live event could ever have.) Strengths: if you find things that really work better on video (like demonstrating Google Glass) it’s great. Weaknesses: it turned out to be really hard to persuade people to video themselves and send us the recording. Which surprised me, given how many people post videos of practically anything on YouTube, but maybe folks feel a little more inhibited about putting themselves out there in their professional personas.

Where does Facebook add to this mix?
  • It accommodates commentary that falls, in length, between Twitter and even the briefest essay on the Blog.
  • It isn’t constrained to the Dispatches categories—giving me, for example, a place to share news about disruptive events (which are, along with trends, significant drivers of change shaping the future)
  • I hope it will be more interactive than CFM’s existing platforms. Even widely read posts on the Blog rarely generate comments. (And people pretty much ignore the Blogger “Reactions” check boxes. I’m thinking of just removing that widget.) On Facebook, people seem to be uninhibited about about “liking” posts, commenting and building on the comments of others. We will see!

Whew. Reading the list of the social media platforms CFM does use makes me feel a bit out of date—not very futuristic at all. Maybe I should sign CFM up for Snapchat? Or Sulia? Or Pheed? Or…dang. So many choices.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Face Lift

#3Dprinting #personalization 

Follow the link in the photo caption to find out more. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links to associated articles) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Won’t you be my neighbor?

By the time this post goes up, session submission for AAM 2015 will have closed. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with all the great proposals streaming into the site and look forward to seeing how many match topics on my wish list. You don’t have to wait until Atlanta for inspirational stories of museums working for social justice—CFM will continue to feature related stories leading up to the meeting. This week, Melissa Prycer, President and Executive Director of Dallas Heritage Village shares the story of how her organization became a valued neighbor for homeless children.

Summer 2012: Dallas Independent School District closes the historic City Park Elementary school. Located directly across the street from Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park’s entrance, staff were incredibly saddened that this hub of neighborhood activity was closing.

Summer 2013: Vogel Alcove, a non-profit that provides childcare for homeless children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, announces that they will be renovating City Park Elementary and moving their entire operation into the building by Spring 2014.

Summer 2014: Children from Vogel Alcove are visiting Dallas Heritage Village (DHV) a few times a month for specially designed field trip experiences

How did we become a go-to destination for homeless children? Dallas Heritage Village is located in the Cedars, a neighborhood just south of downtown that has been struggling for a long time. Over 90% of the students that attended City Park Elementary were homeless. There are many social service agencies near us, including the city operated homeless facility. For years, we’ve worked with these fellow non-profits in various ways, including providing free field trips, hosting special events, and providing job skills training through various building restoration projects. But these non-profit friends have never been located within walking distance of DHV.

Photo by Vogel Alcove

Shortly after Vogel Alcove’s big announcement, I sent their executive director, Karen Hughes, an email welcoming them to the neighborhood and asking her to lunch. My goals were pretty simple for that first visit: I wanted to find out more about their plans, and I wanted to make sure they knew what we had to offer. We’ve continued our lunch meetings, meeting about every other month. Through those conversations, our two organizations have begun working together in big and little ways, long before they moved into the building in March 2014.

Some examples:
  • Their kids made ornaments for one of the trees at our annual Candlelight event. Vogel Alcove staff and volunteers came to help us with activities, as well as share information about Vogel Alcove with our visitors.
  • Two of our staff members are now regular volunteers at Vogel Alcove.
  •  If either of us have big events, we borrow parking from each other.
  • They’ve taken some of our excess mulch for their raised garden beds. 
  • We’re in each other’s disaster plans.

My favorite part of our growing partnership began earlier this summer when I got an email from an old friend. Katie’s daughter had been an important part of our Junior Historian program until she left for college. And now, Katie was working at Vogel Alcove! Through our blog posts, she had learned about the organization, applied for a job and now coordinates all of the enrichment activities for the children—from a garden program to field trips. We met in May to discuss regular field trips at DHV. Because Katie already knew us so well, we didn’t have to waste any time explaining all that we have to offer to young learners. Education staff assist with the planning of each day, but the main ideas are coming from Katie and her team. A big bonus is that this began during the summer, so we’ve been able to utilize our Junior Historians to help out with each field trip.
I asked Katie to share her perspective on our partnership:

This summer, Dallas Heritage Village has opened its doors to provide a "home away from home" for the young children of Vogel Alcove who are experiencing homelessness. Walking back in time to picnic under the towering pecans and play yard games in the picket fenced backyards of the historic homes has provided our young children a connection to the past as well as a respite from the speed of urban life.

Working in close partnership with the museum staff, we have created customized experiences that accommodate the specialized needs of trauma-informed care while providing developmentally appropriate cognitive, physical, social, and emotional learning opportunities for our infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. 

Photo by Vogel Alcove

Hearing stories told by grandparents; feeling soft, raw wool as it is spun into yarn; smelling fragrant herbs grown for made-from-scratch cooking; tasting sweet, juicy watermelon under a tree at a holiday picnic; and watching the chickens, donkeys, and sheep, the children have received authentic sensory-based learning experiences that develop emerging social, reasoning, and language skills in a historic context that is both supportive and calming. They will be able to continue to draw from these positive experiences as they transition to their next settings.

It may be unlikely that a social service non-profit will move in across the street from your museum. But all museums have neighbors, and it’s crucial that museum staff get to know them. When I first met with Karen a year ago, I had no idea where things would lead. Though this partnership has definitely made our summer busier than anticipated, we have all learned so much from each other. Stay tuned—we’re just getting started!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Update on Philanthropy

One of the topics we examined in TrendsWatch 2013 was the “Changing Face of Giving.” Though the economy, and giving overall, continues to rebound, there’s wide agreement that we aren’t going to return to the world that existed pre-2008. We are seeing a fundamental shift in who has money to give, the criteria used to select who to give to, and what causes actually get support. Here are a few recent reads exploring the shape of the new philanthropic economy as it takes form.

Callahan takes a look at out one trend transforming philanthropy: “the way that relatively young people are making great knowledge economy wealth in a very short time and then cashing out, leaving them with both the resources and time to be large-scale philanthropists -- living mega donors -- for many years to come.”

Starting in the 1990s the tech boom spawned huge fortunes, but the people catapulted into the 1% by technological-generated wealth have backgrounds and mindsets strikingly different from the Carnegies, Fords and MacArthurs. For one thing, people like Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll (eBay) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) made their fortunes at a younger age, so they will exert hands-on control of their foundations for a far longer period than their 20th century predecessors. Citing Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who sold their startup, WhatsApp, to Facebook for $19 billion this year, the article suggests “let's just ponder the weird reality that either of these guys, who nobody had ever heard of before last week, could now create foundations bigger than Rockefeller, Carnegie, or MacArthur if that's what they chose to do -- and instantly be major philanthropy power players.”

Callahan suggests that some of the practical effects of the entry of relatively young tech billionaires into philanthropy are:

Increased expectations for outcomes-based measurement of the effects of their giving
More focus on spending down a foundations wealth in return for quick, tangible results
A desire to influence policy through political giving

Also on my short list of good reads  on this topic, an article in The New Yorker by Russ Juskalian askingWas Carnegie Right About Philanthropy?” Juskalian presents a brief, cogent overview of the effects of soaring wealthy inequality on giving. As he points out, rich donors are less like to support causes that directly address poverty, and more likely to give to established foundations as well as colleges, universities and hospitals. While this charity may trickle down, indirectly, to the poor, Peter Buffett, a young philanthropist bucking the prevailing tide, is quoted as saying “as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.” Many of the top 50 US philanthropists, Juskalian observes, use their wealth in ways that “keep current power structures in place—for instance, by supporting political candidates who prefer lower taxes for the rich and smaller government spending on social programs—which ultimately hurt the poor.”

I also recommend the Giving USA report that came out this spring, reporting the figures for 2013. The good news is that giving to Cultural, Arts and Humanities (which included museums), increased over 7% last year. That is twice the average increase for giving overall. So not only are museums rebounding, rebounding, we are rebounding faster than others in the nonprofit sector. Indeed, The Alliance’s annual “Conditions of Museums and the Economy” report confirms the continued improvement in the field's vital signs (attendance, financial stress) since 2008, and most museums reported an increase in philanthropic funding. However, more than one director noted “fundraising continues to be very difficult." As the 2013 report says “even those [museums] that experienced notable increases in donations last year argued that philanthropic support has become less predictable.” Museums need to understand and adapt to the new shape of giving, and/or place less reliance on philanthropy and more on other income streams. 

Museums can also take an active role in shaping the expectations of donors. Last year GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance published an open letter to the "donors of America" combating what they dubbed "the Overhead Myth"--the undue importance granted to the ratio of administration and fundraising expenses to program delivery. As the Myth campaign pointed out, too much focus on this one ratio devalues other critical measures of performance. And in fact many nonprofits spend too little on overhead--underpaying staff and failing to invest in critical infrastructure. Obsessing on their overhead ratio is as counterproductive as asking someone with anorexia about their weight. Now the Overhead Myth coalition is preparing to launch a second letter, this time directed at nonprofit organizations, calling on them to be "more proactive about communicating the story of their programmatic work, their governance structures, and the real costs of achieving results...[and] to recruit nonprofits to help us retrain donors to pay attention to what matters: results." When this letter is released, I hope the director of your museum will share it with your board of trustees, and lending your support to the campaign.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Woodn't it be Loverly?

Coming Soon to a Billboard near You?#Pop-Up #Blippar 
Follow the link in the photo caption to find out more. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links to associated articles) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Update on the 2014 Trends: Robots!!!!

Previous mid-year updates on social entrepreneurship, big data and the sharing economy were pretty text heavy. As a bit of relief from all that reading, I’m going to go with very short text this week, and give the bulk of the update via video. 

(Remember you can download a free PDF copy of TrendsWatch 2014 from the web, a free app version (with embedded videos) from the iTunes store, and purchase print copies from the AAM Bookstore.)


Notable developments
  • A recent poll of experts by the Pew Research Internet Project showed that nearly half expect a future in which robots and digital agents (such as the artificial intelligence Watson created by IBM) displace significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers.
  • Ethicists and judicial scholars are speculating whether robots, like corporations, should have rights and obligations, while the United Nations debates what boundaries need to be placed on robotic warfare
  • The past few months have seen articles on robot security guards; on the effect of increasingly sophisticated robots and AI on professions like lawyer, doctor and architects; and on robots that can assemble themselves.
  • The debate rages about how to regulate and legalize commercial drone use in the US. (Here are some arguments for free and open access to this technology, as well as arguments against.)  but meanwhile
  • Police departments in Seattle and LA are using drones equipped with night vision video cameras for surveillance (maybe I should have saved that article for the Privacy update)
  • Aloft Hotels just announced that their first "cyber associate" has reported fro training in Cupertino, California. The Botlr, as it is known, will deliver amenities to guest. rooms and port linens and towels around the hotel.  (Cute detail: instead of tips, Botlr asks for tweets.)
  • On the museum front, Robot Linda debuted at London’s Natural History Museum, demonstrating its ability to map its environment and operate autonomously. Last week the Tate Britain invited members of the public to queue up online and take turns controlling four video-equipped, flashlight-wielding robots that roamed the museum in the project After Dark

Recommended reading

An interview with accessibility advocate Henry Evans, who joined attendees at the Alliance’s annual meeting in Seattle last spring via telepresence robot. Henry, a non-verbal quadriplegic, relates how he has been using remotely controlled robots to visit museums like the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. The article includes some discussion of whether telepresence robots could become a universally required accommodation for the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act or other legislation.

And now, to the videos!

How can museums use drones in their operations and research? All sorts of ways: advocacy, PR, emergency response, and field research to name but a few. Here are some illustrations.

First, cool drone footage of Cincinnati Museum Center.  Includes incredible images, inside and out, of the main rotunda, which is the largest free standing half dome in the Western hemisphere. I believe they are using this as part of the local “Save our Icons” campaign. What better way to muster taxpayer support for renovations than to remind folks how drop dead gorgeous your building is?

Want to give people a drone’s eye view of your museum construction site? The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science did just that

Worried about risking drone flights around collections? The Air and Space Museum of Paris (appropriately enough) felt confident of their piloting skills

Remember the sinkhole that opened up at the National Corvette Museum, swallowing eight vintage cars? The museum recruited a drone from the University of Western Kentucky to check out the extent of the damage.

On the conservation front, researchers from the South Australian Museum worked with ConservationDrones.org to use drones for surveying bat biodiversity . What better to track nocturnal flying organisms than robotic nocturnal flying organism?