I can make a credible argument that natural history museums have the greatest potential, among their brethren in art, history, science, to play global superhero, if only because the need is greatest.
Want an example? The Mapping the Biosphere project aims to document 10 million new species in the next 50 years. The project’s vision is nothing less than saving the planet’s biodiversity (and therefore, perhaps, our own species). Key players include museums, of course, The Natural History Museum in London among them.
But to change the world for the better, natural history museums must first change themselves. In the next century, they will have to adapt to shifts in traditional funding sources, increased demands for online access to their resources and changing tastes among visitors and donors.
To explore the selective pressures shaping the evolution of our natural history museums, I will be leading a day-long forecasting exercise on June 16, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections in New Haven, Conn.
I’m trying to design the workshop to benefit the field as a whole, as well as being an immersive primer on forecasting for attendees. Participants will receive a lightning introduction to scanning & forecasting, and then flesh out scenarios (stories) illustrating potential futures that may face their institutions. These scenarios, and the reasoning behind them, will be disseminated by SPNHC and by CFM as a starting point for thinking, and planning in natural history collections around the world.
I’ve recruited a talented crew of natural history geeks (hints to their identities embedded in links) to sketch the beginnings of stories about alternate futures that participants will elaborate and explore, but I need your help to get our authors started.
Each proto-story will be built around a few specific drivers of change: existing trends or potential disruptive events that may shape the museum environment in coming decades. I would like your help in generating a list for authors to choose from.
I’ll prime your imagination by naming just a few of these drivers of change:
|Trends||Potential Disruptive Event|
When thinking about trends, focus on things you see changing now, in a particular direction and at a particular speed: increasing or decreasing, slowly or quickly. For example, museums are ramping up digitization of records and specimens at an ever accelerating rate, which has enormous implications for accessibility and utility, and equally large implications on budget and infrastructure to support those databases over time.
When thinking about disruptive events, imagine newspaper headlines: you bring up the NYT on your tablet on April 24, 2015, and read “Congress votes to increase NSF research funding ten-fold.” Wow—gamechanger. How might this one stroke of a pen change our world? Imagine a specific event and give it a specific date (year).
When thinking about both trends and events, consider all the arenas in which important trends and events can occur: cultural, technological, environmental, economic and political.
Here is a short post illustrating how trends and events are combined to create the seed of a story of the future that can help us decide what actions we need to take now.
You can register to join us at the forecasting workshop.
And in any case, please use the comments section, below, to help me brainstorm trends and events that can jumpstart our thinking in June.