Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flex your Twitter Muscles and Prep to Tackle the Diversity Challenge!

Are you psyched about this Thursday’s Diversity Twebevent? Betty Farrell, Cecilia Garibay and Lisa Sasaki, are primed and ready to tweet with you on Feb. 24, from 2–3 p.m. (ET), exploring how museums are tackling demographic change.

Full disclosure—this is a CFM experiment in the use of new media. Check out the Twebevent page we’ve set up--we will test the power of Twitter and see how well it does at:

Providing a real-time forum for you to lob questions and comments to our panelists about the challenges facing American museums, given the increased diversity of the public, and the difficulties we are having in expanding our core audiences

Serving as a platform where you can share diversity resources with your colleagues. Be prepared to tweet links to articles, program descriptions, web pages, research—anything that you can share with your colleagues to compile information and examples of how museums are working to better reflect their communities.


If you want to prep for the Twebevent you can revisit the AAM report “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums” to refresh your memory about Betty’s observations and recommendations. And listen to Betty, Lisa and Cecilia's session at the 2010 AAM annual meeting.

The Twitter hashtag for the event is #CFMTrends—include this in your tweets to:
• Let us know you intend to participate
• Share your links to resources
• Send your questions and comments to our panelists

I hope you will join us this Thursday. And please—spread the word to your twitter peeps!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Museums, Informal Learning and K-12 Education

Today’s guest post is by David Ucko, president of Museums + more LLC. David has long been immersed in the world of museums as learning providers. While acting as division director in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings at the National Science Foundation, David initiated the Nanoscale Informal Science Network, the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education, the Framework for Evaluating Informal Science Education Projects and a major study on Learning Science in Informal Environments. David’s post is an occasion for CFM to publicize the March 11 application deadline for the new Transforming STEM Learning program at NSF.

It should be no surprise to readers of this blog that most museums partner with schools to complement classroom learning and teaching. Based on a survey by the Center for Informal Learning and Schools, 90% or more of zoos, aquaria and science centers offer at least one K-12 program, and more than half offer at least one form of teacher professional development. An earlier IMLS survey found similar results more broadly, with 70% of museums offering K-12 programming. These museum activities enhance, enrich, and expand classroom learning, helping support what some characterize as a “learning ecology or “personal learning ecologies."

Less appreciated is the role that informal learning institutions might play in transforming K-12 education as currently practiced. Most museum practitioners take it for granted that learning can be fostered through exhibits and programs. Recently, that assertion has been supported by a major research synthesis carried out by the National Research Council, Learning Science in Informal Environments. Although specific to science, many of the findings are likely to be generalizable to other areas. Significantly, the report identified two proficiencies supported by informal learning: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world; and Think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science. These two outcomes were in addition to those identified in prior NRC report on K-8 education, Taking Science to School, which focused on the more traditional aspects of learning. Thus, the report documented strengths of informal learning that may exist to a lesser degree or even be absent in the classroom, along with those aspects of learning that are similar.

I have argued that as a result of this study and other factors, the field of informal learning is reaching a “tipping point” in terms of increased external recognition of its educational impact. The most recent indicator is an entry in the Education Week blog supportive of informal learning based on the assertion by John Falk and Lynn Dierking that most of what know about science is learned outside of school.

In terms of K-12 education, the potential impact of informal learning can be more fully realized not just by enhancing classroom teaching and learning, but by helping to transform it. Additional key influences are mobile technologies that enable learning any time, any place and the growing base of knowledge from the learning sciences and educational research. The challenge, of course, is developing strategies that take advantage of the most effective practices in ways that can be implemented and evaluated. One opportunity to obtain funding, at least for those museums involved in informal science education, is the new Transforming STEM Learning program at NSF, which has a March 11 deadline.

I would encourage museums of all kinds to explore ways to not only enhance classroom learning and teaching, but to work with schools, learning scientists, technology experts, libraries, and additional community partners to create innovative approaches that draw from both formal and informal learning. Certainly, museum-schools and virtual schools offer potential platforms, but other formats may be possible as well. In this way, museums can become key players in the national efforts towards education reform, one of the few areas of potential bipartisan cooperation expected in the 112th Congress.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let’s Help America Move!

How can museums change the world? Here’s an invitation to rise to one compelling challenge—helping our communities raise a generation of healthy, active kids.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) is working with the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) and the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) to create Let's Move Museums and Gardens as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative. Let’s Move rallies groups from all sectors of society—professional chefs, schools, faith-based organizations—to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. I believe that museums can help ensure that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.

Working with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), AAM, ACM and APGA have submitted a proposal to the White House to include Let's Move Museums and Gardens as part of the nationwide campaign. The response so far is very positive, and we’ll meet soon with representatives from IMLS and the Obama administration.

To prepare for this meeting, we’ve been asked for a headcount of how many museums and gardens are interested in signing on for the campaign, so I’m using today’s blog post to ask if your garden/museum is interested in becoming an early adopter of Let's Move Museums and Gardens.

Let's Move museums and gardens will be those committed to advancing recommendations found in the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President in five key areas:
  • Early Childhood: an example might be that museums and gardens will have exhibit spaces where children can be physically active and learn about the appropriate amount of physical activity vs. daily time spent using electronics.
  • Empowering Parents and Caregivers: an example might be that museums and gardens have programs or exhibits that help families learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy food choices and the impact those choices can make; or have cafes or restaurants that offer healthy choices for all ages.
  • Access to Healthy Affordable Food: an example might be that museums and gardens offer programs for children and families on how to grow, harvest and cook healthy, organic food.
  • Increasing Physical Activity: an example might be that museums and gardens provide inside and outside spaces and programs that use principles of universal design to create experiences that enable children and adults of all abilities to enjoy active engagement in exhibits and programs.
These are just a few examples of the types of programs that many of you already have in place that would be consistent with the recommendations in the report. By expressing your interest in becoming an early adopter, you are expressing your interest in becoming part of this future national effort; you’re NOT making a commitment of time or resources at this time. When the White House approves our proposal, we will have a more formal process for museums and gardens to make an official commitment, and you’ll have the opportunity to formally join the campaign.

You can help launch Let’s Move Museums and Gardens by expressing your interest in becoming part of this future national effort. Tell us your organization is interested in being involved by following this link. Please respond by March 15.

Stay tuned for more details as the project takes shape. I hope you are interested in joining this national effort to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CFM Training on Futures Studies in Houston--Register Now!

Are you psyched to come to Houston and envision the "Museum of Tomorrow?" I hope so, and to help you build this future CFM is offering an all-day forecasting workshop on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at the AAM annual meeting. It’s based on the hugely popular working session we presented last year in partnership with California Association of Museums, which got rave reviews from invited participants (and generated this guide to the future of California and its museums).

This intense (and intensely fun) day is a crash course in integrating forecasting into your strategic planning. The content's been
buffed and polished with feedback from last year’s forecasters, and the session is open to all. But you have to register, so if you’re filling out your Early Bird Registration (deadline February 18, folks) check off the workshop and join us for a fabulous day of forecasting and scenario-building. If you've already registered, you can add this event by going to the sessions & events page, select "add events" and add the Forecasting the Future of Museums: A How-to Workshop. If you have any questions or problems about your registration, email us at registration@aam-us.org.

Encomiums from attendees at last year’s session:
“Fantastic program, we're already using some of these ideas and methods in our work.”
• “Thank you for making this opportunity available! It is so key and such a terrific way to be more strategic in our planning/action AND connect with our broader community.”
• “I have not learned so much in one day in a great while and appreciate your efforts in this area.”

Need more details? Here is the official description of the workshop:

Museums’ traditional methods of planning are not suited to the rapid pace of change in the 21st century. In order to respond effectively to trends in the political, cultural, technological, environmental and economic landscape, museums must adopt new methods of preparing for the future. This one-day workshop will provide museum practitioners with a basic introduction to futures studies and the techniques of forecasting

Why is foresight important? Without someone playing the important role of futurist, we risk being mired in the present. Our planning is often focused on short term challenges and immediate needs. We have a tendency, when looking at only a short time frame, to defend old assumptions and choose narrow measures of success. We tinker with the edges of what we already do well rather than risking innovation. It’s all too easy, when faced with the need to change, to become paralyzed by fear, uncertainty, doubt and outright denial.

Futures-thinking breaks through this logjam by freeing peoples’ imaginations. It fosters a start-up mindset where anything is possible, people are willing to question assumptions, think broadly of how to measure success, discover or create new needs and try lots of things, fast, knowing that many of them will fail.

Professional futurists Garry Golden, Director of Strategic Foresight at Oliver Kaizen and Dr. Peter Bishop, Director of the Future Studies Program at the University of Houston will join CFM’s founding director Elizabeth Merritt to lead participants in a series of exercises on:
• Identifying and monitoring change, tracking the flow of trends, events and emerging issues
• Imagining different futures and testing new assumptions through forecasting and scenario building
• Communicating and responding to change

Building on the forecasting presented in the CFM reports “Museums & Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures” and “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums,” participants will create their own visions of the “preferred future” and take home tools to integrate this vision into their organizational planning.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Unleash the Power of Twitter to Tackle the Diversity Challenge!

On Feb. 24, 2–3 p.m. (ET), CFM will host the Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums twebevent, and you’re invited.

Have you ever attended a twebevent? Me neither, but that isn’t stopping me from throwing one! AAM released the trends report Demographic Transformation & the Future of Museums last spring. The report documents that despite museums’ dedication to serving a diverse public, the field as a whole is losing ground. The U.S. population is shifting rapidly and within four decades the group that has historically constituted the core audience for museums—non-Hispanic whites—will be a minority of the population. This forecast paints a troubling picture of the “probable future”—a future in which, if trends continue in the current grooves, museum audiences are radically less diverse than the American public, and museums serve an ever-shrinking fragment of society.

So what are we going to do to create a better future, one in which museum audiences reflect the American public? Well, this twebevent is an opportunity to hash that out with author Betty Farrell, as well as Cecilia Garibay and Lisa Sasaki, who joined Betty at the AAM annual meeting last spring in a session exploring the implications of her report. Neil deGrasse Tyson eloquently argued in a recent post on his personal philosophy of Twitter, 140 characters is plenty of space to exchange thoughts of substance. How do we plan to use the medium in this event? We will give you a platform to:
  • Lob questions at Betty about the report and her recommendations
  • Ask Cecilia and Lisa about their experiences grappling with issues of diversifying museum audiences
  • Share links, resources and references about how your museum (or others) are answering AAM’s call to action to get to know your communities better and serve their needs
Haven’t tweeted before? Not a problem—our brave twebpanelists (Betty Farrell) are new to Twitter as well. If they are willing to dive in and start tweeting, you can to! We’ll provide instructions and encouragement.

Follow CFM on Twitter (@futureofmuseums)! We’ll be tweeting (and posting) more information on the Twebevent as we prepare.
I’ll be tweeting you…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Foreseeing the Future through Fiction

Good fiction tells the truth about something that never happened. Good futurist fiction tells the truth about something that may yet happen. That being so, reading (or watching) futurist fiction is a valuable part of scanning and forecasting.

Here’s a great letter by futurist author William Gibson (he who coined the term “cyberspace”) reflecting on what he did, or did not, get right in his early fiction. This month marks the 25-year anniversary of the first computer virus. (Oh joy.) Gibson expected viruses to be designed and wielded by evil government and corporate entities for nefarious ends. He ruefully observes that what he failed to foresee was the absolute pettiness and banality of your average mischievous hack using code to grief computer systems.

This is one of the benefits of looking back in time (as we do in Museums & Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures): it reminds us of the pace and trajectory of change, and points out our blind spots. For example, I find it hilarious that in Gibson’s early fiction his characters, toting futuristic laptops and plugging into immersive virtual worlds that existed, at that time, only in Gibson’s imagination, run about frantically looking for a port where they can plug into the internet. He foresaw Second Life and Augmented Reality but not WiFi. Go figure.

I’m going to keep reading Gibson. Next up, the first novel in the Bridge Trilogy—Virtual Light—which deals the emergence of cyborgs—humans and human groups who have integrated technology into their bodies and their lives. With more and more visitors experiencing museums through virtual worlds, or enhancing their physical visits with augmented reality apps, sounds pretty relevant to our present, much less our future! (Besides, the novel is set in California, a state very much on my mind given all our work on Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California.)

So, budding futurists, you have your homework: buckle down with Netflix or a good paperback, and firmly tell yourself that it is not wasting time.

Please use the comments section below to share what you are watching and reading, and the nuggets of wisdom and insight you find there, with your fellow museum futurists.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Saving the Historic House—While Saving the World

This week’s guest post is by Laurie Ossman, director of Woodlawn, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As I pointed out in an earlier profile of an historic house, museums can use food to build community and tackle serious societal issues. As Laurie points out, such efforts might just be the salvation of historic houses, too.

Woodlawn came to the National Trust in 1952 as its flagship site, the very first property of the fledgling preservation organization. In the 59 years since then, the vicissitudes of Woodlawn’s fame and fortunes have served as a barometer of issues and challenges in the microclimate of historic sites and house museums. In those early days, Woodlawn was chiefly prized as the genteel home of Nelly Custis, the adopted daughter of George Washington. In addition to guided tours, then as now, the site offers teas, is rented for weddings and hosts an annual needlework exhibition (now in its 49th year). But, while Woodlawn’s connection to George Washington was its salvation, it has also been its limitation. With Mount Vernon a 5-minute drive away, what did Woodlawn have to offer its roughly 16,000 annual visitors except the coda to a greater story?

In 2008, I was charged by The National Trust with reinventing this lovely, yet overshadowed, deficit-operating and increasingly superannuated historic site. The conventional approach would have been to hire a consultant, create an ambitious master plan and then figure out how to implement (read: pay for) that plan. But I had inherited a stack of previous consultants’ reports which were, literally, gathering dust on a shelf. The consultants weren’t at fault, but the fundamental premise was flawed: let’s ask museum professionals to transform a historic site into something completely alien to their knowledge, skills and abilities. And then ask them to raise millions of dollars to do it.

The nice thing about being a downtrodden site is that while you are trying to figure out what to do next, everyone in the immediate world has a big idea. At Woodlawn, I listened to all of them, even when the idea was “beg Mount Vernon to take it back.” (I wasn’t too crazy about the water park idea, either). The most intriguing proposal I heard was, “what about sustainable farming?” Not only did this fit the Trust’s core value of sustainability, it had the added advantage of being true to the site’s history.

I knew just enough about farming to know that we, as preservationists and museum professionals, weren’t going to pull this off by ourselves. But letting people in my community know that we were open to ideas allowed for the intended miraculous effect: a sustainability advocate introduced to me to Michael Babin, co-owner of the Alexandria-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG). Michael had the vision—a nonprofit venture aimed at training young growers, educating kids about good food and scaling up the local food economy by coordinating sales and delivery of the area’s sustainably raised foods to restaurants, schools, groceries, not for profits and consumers—and Woodlawn had the land. On the practical side, Michael also provided (through his restaurants and affiliated businesses) a core market, a network of slow food advocates and culinary junkies, deep knowledge of the food industry and (drumroll) start-up funding. And so Arcadia was born. At our November launch event, over 500 people showed up to celebrate the mission, enjoy myriad forms of charred pig and experience a fine (if chilly) fall day at “the farm” 9 miles from the Capitol. Soon afterward, Woodlawn entered into an agreement with NRG’s Star Catering to become the site’s exclusive caterer, which will allow us to “brand” events at Woodlawn as part of a consistent sustainable-heritage-edu-culinary package.

In the first year, Arcadia will start by farming six acres, emphasizing heritage varieties, before branching into larger scale crops and a distribution hub as land is cleared and becomes available. The beehives arrived last week, and director Erin Littlestar has declared “there will be chickens!” (And, yes, my little curatorial heart skipped a beat). We will adapt existing interpretive programs and material to the story Arcadia supports to begin with, and develop new programs that allow us to complement the activities of the farm as it evolves. Within three years, Woodlawn projects a substantial increase in revenue from events, while The National Trust will continue to work with Arcadia to expand farming, educational programs and hospitality services slated to cover 100 acres of our 128-acre site in five years. Hopefully Michael will have his new restaurant at the site long before then.

Reinventing historic sites for the 21st century may require abdicating a lot of the absolute intellectual and material control we are used to having. Rather than invest in a vision based on a stakeholder and staff-driven process and then see if anyone out there is interested, we can also start by identifying the needs and opportunities in the community, and determine what role we can play in fulfilling them. Then we can begin to reposition ourselves as multivalent resources, working with partners who have the talent, knowledge and resources to help us to reach new audiences—even when it falls outside our usual conception of ourselves.

And, please: not every site should be a farm! Michael’s project is a great match for Woodlawn because the site was defined as a farm all the way back in Washington’s time (if not before). Arcadia allows us to align our history with today’s community.

I will trek out to Woodlawn, come spring, video camera in hand. Stay tuned for footage of the Woodlawn/Arcadia experiment, and an interview with Laurie and Michael!