Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Watchful Museum

I had the pleasure of contributing to a symposium at the National Museum of American History’s Lemelson Center last Friday. Inventing the Surveillance Society looked at the evolving balance between privacy and security in a world increasingly saturated with sensors. Speaking of surveillance, the Lemelson Center videoed the proceedings and you can watch them on UStream. (You will need to set up a free account.)

I start at time mark 1 hour 6 minutes into the morning session, and my segment runs 20 minutes. (I recommend you watch the presentations of the two gentlemen who came before me, as well: security expert Steve Keller and Sam Quigley, chief information officer of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

In case you are not in the mood for a video fest just now, here is a summary of my concluding remarks about emerging and prospective uses for surveillance in museums:

Delivering location-appropriate content: Indoor GPS systems mean that we have the ability to tell, to within 3 to 10 feet, depending on the system being used, where a visitor is in our building. Museums are already using indoor GPS in conjunction with apps to push location-appropriate content to visitors, tailored to the exhibit they are in. This is already becoming so common it barely rates a blink.

Monitoring (& responding to) real time tweets & location data: also already going mainstream. See, for example, how the Tate Modern used Twitter for “sentiment analysis” at “The Tanks: Art in Action.”

Tracking real-time traffic throughout the museum, and measuring physiological response of visitors to the art they are viewing: Now things start to get creepy, and interesting. This capability is already here in experimental form--see the eMotions research project conducted by Dr. Martin Tröndle of the Institute for Research in Art and Design, University of Applied Science Northwestern Switzerland, Academy of Art and Design.

Repurposing the feed from existing video cameras to do more things: anything from programming the video feed with security perimeters, effectively making a video camera into a guard that warns when people get too close to a sensitive object (already being done); to using facial recognition software to assess how people are responding to what they are viewing (not here yet, but may very well be coming soon to a museum near you).

Cameras could be used to track eye movements to see what people are looking at, for how long, how they are responding emotionally (e.g., pupil dilation). They might even track how much of a label visitors actually read. Think I am making that up? The application, yes, the technology, no—eye tracking software is already being introduced into mobile devices as well as gaming software.

We already have the prospect of visitors using wearable heads-up displays like Google Glass to choose content that suits their interests, history, preferences. Using eye monitoring software and other biofeedback, we could eventually skip the need for users to actively specify preferences, and go straight to feeding them content shaped by their reactions, the biometric equivalent of the Amazon “you might like” suggestions.

Finally, there is what I called the Holy Grail: the ultimate potential payoff for gathering and analyzing large amounts of information on visitors and digital audiences. This kind of analysis is already being used inside health care systems, and there is a push to explore its applications in education. If we can integrate museum data collection on visitor behavior and interactions with “Big Data” on health and education, we may finally be able to measure the impact of using the museum’s resources on people’s behavior, learning, health, happiness

One speaker later in the day expressed dismay that the museum folk (like me) were so gleeful about the prospect of what we could do with “creepy” surveillance data, but we all agreed these technologies raise important questions museums will have to tackle. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt famously said that Google’s policy is to “get right up to the creepy line” but not to cross it.  Face it, being creepy is not a good business strategy. As trusted public institutions, museums have an obligation to wrestle with the following challenges if we harness the power of new surveillance tech:

Transparency—the need to disclose to people what data we gather, and how we intend to use it, so they can make informed choices about whether to opt in or out. An even bigger challenge is how to make these disclosures more usable than the usual “read these 16 pages and then click accept” you find on commercial sites now.

Privacy/Data security: museums are not hacked (very often) yet, because much of the data we have is not of commercial value, or there are better places to steal comparable data. If we become repositories of significant amounts of personal information, we become targets. Are we ready for that?

Value of data exchanged for money: increasingly we are moving to an economy where data, rather than cash, is the medium of exchange. See, for example, the Dallas Museum of Art “free” membership model in which the cost of that free membership is, in effect, personal information. What is the value of data, how will it be determined, influenced by what markets?

Data is a tool: but what will we do with it? There is always a danger that we measure what we can measure, and that measurement ends up determining our priorities. That’s already been a problem with everything from the “overhead ratio” approach to financial accountability, and now the emphasis by donors on measuring impact of specific programs. How do we approach the data generated by the Internet of Things in a thoughtful way, and make it measure what we actually want to produce?

Altogether it was a very stimulating day, and I will integrate what I learned from other speakers into future writing. For now, I will direct you to these resources from the symposium:

Symposium website
Archived webcast
Some photos (more coming)
Symposium blog posts
Symposium podcast (with Adam Harvey—designer of some of the “stealth fashion” I mention in my talk)
Storify (gathers various Social media):
Twitter: (scroll to Oct 25 and follow #surveillance)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Resources for the Future

I share a lot of resources, links and information here on the Blog. There is even more good stuff compiled in the Alliance’s newly rechristened Resource Library (which used to be called “Professional Resources”).

The Resource Library is an Alliance member benefit, but here’s your chance for a free peek :  For this week only (Oct. 28–Nov. 3) the Alliance will pull back the curtain giving free access to 2,000 how-to guides, articles and tools about museum operations, standards and best practices.

Browse as much as you want during the trial week and if you want to keep mining the Library, join the Alliance and access this resource 365 days a year. We are continually adding to our digital shelves, so there will always be new materials to check out.

Here are a few of the Library materials related to trends and issues that CFM covers:

  • Apropos of getting a job in the museum of the future, there is a section devoted to Career Management Resources.
  • The future of repatriation, both legal issues and societal attitudes, is an important issue for museum foresight. The section on Cultural Property provide a solid grounding on current standards, laws and regulations on which to base your futures-thinking.
  • The US faces a future in which museums serve an aging population, with associated challenges to mobility, perception and mental acuity. In addition, an ever-greater number of Americans cope with physical or cognitive disabilities. The section on Accessibility covers a range of topics, including universal design, addressing the needs of kids with autism, visitors with visual impairment, and other populations with specific needs regarding accessibility.
  • If your museum is still feeling its way into the world of Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and (well, you get the idea) check out the section on Social Media and Online Communications.
  • And if you and your organization find it necessary to adapt to your rapidly changing environment (that would be almost everyone, yes?) you may find help and guidance in the section on Change Management. That includes material on mergers and consolidations, museum closures, changes in leadership as well as general advice on leading museums through major transitions.
Use the comments sections below to let us know if there are topics you don’t see addressed in the Library you would like to see addressed with new resources. Happy browsing!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fostering Innovation part 3: focusing on diffusion

 In the introduction to this series I shared my working definition of “innovation,” and in part two I shared observations on Who are the Museum Innovators based on the Alliance’s experience with Innovation Lab for Museums. In that post, I also pointed readers to Everett Rogers’ theories on the diffusion of innovation: how new practices spread from the 2.5% of the population who are the actual innovators, to the 13.5% who are early adopters, and then on to the early and late majorities (each about 34% of the population) and, eventually, the laggards. In this post, I consider where resources can have the biggest impact on innovation overall—what stages of Rogers’ model most susceptible to intervention?

The Alliance has been focusing on fostering innovation per se. —helping create and fund a museum version of EmcArt’s Innovation Lab to find and foster budding innovations through intensive mentoring and facilitation. That has been a rewarding process, but resource-intensive: MetLife’s generous support of the program has funded a total of nine museums in three rounds of the lab.

What if training and mentoring won’t significantly budge the number of organizations that are, themselves, sources of innovation? I doubt Rogers’ 2.5% is a magic figure, but the modest volume of applications for Innovation Lab for Museums (about 30-35 per round) suggests that beating innovators out of the museum brush isn’t easy. Perhaps the diffusion of innovation can be accelerated more efficiently by tackling the next stage in Roger’s model: diffusion to the early adopters. Maybe the most effective way for associations like the Alliance to foster innovation is to focus on increasing the rate at which innovations diffuse through the nonprofit community.

I’ve long joked that bringing “new” ideas to the museum world is relatively easy—things the business sector was doing a decade ago or more often look cool and revolutionary in the nonpo world. We’ve been late to the table in areas ranging from management theory to technology. The use of futures studies/strategic foresight to improve planning is a case in point:

  • Futures studies had its origins in the 1930’s, as the US government looked at how demographic trends might affect society
  • In the 50’s and 60’s, Herman Kahn used scenario-based decision making to explore the potential consequences of nuclear war
  • Industry, particularly energy industries, brought the techniques of futures studies to bear on their own planning and operations. (Shell Oil launched its “Long Term Studies” initiative in 1965.)
  • In the 70’s, the environmental movement embraced systems-based forecasting as a way of envisioning the way man was affecting his environment in unsustainable ways. This decade also saw the founding of related academic programs at the University of Houston, and the University of Hawaii in Manoa.
  • By the 1980’s and beyond, the “trends industry” was mainstream. It had generated its own professional associations (the World Future Society in 1966, the Club of Rome in 1968, the Association of Professional Futurists in 2002), as well as breaking out into popular literature. 

You could argue the 2008 launch of CFM represents a fairly typical lag time for the nonprofit field. Now the American Library Association is developing its own center for the future of libraries—maybe the twenty-teens will be the decade when an “early majority” of nonprofits adopt strategic foresight.

How can we reduce that lag time? Let’s go back to Rogers’ model of diffusion. He postulates that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system.

The Alliance has been focusing on innovation itself, and on creating communications channels to spread the word: on this blog, in Museum, at the annual meeting and other conferences. In the interest of shortening the third variable (time), what can we do to optimize the last variable—social systems?

I mentioned in part 1 of this series that a great innovation (like the Concorde, or the whole technological & logistics apparatus it took to send men to the moon) won’t catch on unless there is a system to support it—Rogers’ “social system.” I also pointed out that sometimes what look like innovations (like Edison’s first commercial light bulb, or Ford’s Model T) aren’t actually new—they are iterations of technology that has been around for decades, waiting for someone with the ability to create a system capable of scaling the innovation and taking them mainstream.

With that in mind, here are the questions I am working on now, as I watch the innovative projects of our nine Innovation Lab museums unfold:

  • Do the “social systems” needed to support wide adoption of these innovations exist? And if not, what can the Alliance do to help create these support systems—what is the museum equivalent of building airports that can handle the Concorde? The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Re-imaging the Historic House” aims to fundamentally change their approach to engaging the public with historic properties. As part of a larger reexamination of their operations, NTHP is examining what kinds of historic properties are suited to being a house museum, and when other, non-traditional approaches might better achieve their preservation goal. The historic site field has already taken several abortive runs at this thorny problem (see, notably, the Kykyuit II Summit report on the Sustainability of Historic Sites.) What can the Alliance and other museum associations, and funders, and policy makers do to create a social system in which these innovative reforms can actually spread?
  • How can we help promising innovations scale to the point where they are widely adopted because their economic benefits are clearly documented, and their business model replicable? The Mississippi Museum of Art is experimenting with new membership models. What can we do to encourage early adoption of any promising prototypes generated by their project? The Museum of International Folk Art is questioning the traditional boundary between art museums and the commercial art market, forming a strategic alliance with for profit and nonprofit partners in Santa Fe to help the local arts community and the local economy. Can we quantify the effects of their project, and give museums tools to assess how this approach might produce similar results in their own communities?
Your thoughts on these questions most welcome, and as I work out ways the Alliance might tackle these challenges, I will share them, for your comment and input, on this blog.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

As Goes Kansas, So Goes the Nation?

Every time I travel, I come back with new perspectives to bring to bear on my forecasting. Case in point—last week I was speaking at the Kansas Museums Association Meeting, and in the course of prepping for the talk and schmoozing with attendees, I saw signals that reinforce my existing worry about changing attitudes towards nonprofit status.

Remember—any plausible future has a toehold in the present. If you are concerned (or hopeful) about a potential future, look around to see whether there are hints that it may already be taking root in the present. Just as California leads the US into a future of majority-minority populations, water scarcity and the debate over same-sex marriage, Kansas may be giving us a glimpse of a future in which nonprofit status is not guaranteed, nor is it a guarantee of traditional tax exempt privileges.

Here are some of the challenges Kansas museums face:

  • A multi-year trend of cuts to the Kansas State Historical Society budget and layoffs of staff. The 16 historical sites funded by KHS are being encouraged to become more self-sufficient, and other museums in the state lack the field services support traditionally provided by a state historical museum. 
  • In 2010, the state nonprofit sector narrowly averted a proposal to eliminate exemptions to the sales tax, in order to help eliminate a state budget shortfall.
  • In 2011, elimination of funding for the state arts commission, which was then reconstituted as the “Creative Arts Industries Commission,” focused on the potential for the arts to create jobs and fuel community revitalization. (The most recent grants from the new CAIC still fund nonprofit arts initiatives, including public art and arts festivals. It’s difficult for me, as a non-Kansan, to assess to what extent this is a culture war over turf and terminology, but it is a development cited by many KMA attendees with dismay.)
  • This past spring, a debate about the tax exempt status of the YMCA versus for-profit health clubs led to talk of repealing tax breaks for non-profits that “compete with private businesses,” as well as a statement by the Senate Minority Leader that he would “welcome a tax review in which the Legislature ends all tax exemptions ‘that do not relate to people’s survival.’”

These trends and events are troubling reaffirmations of CFM’s observations in TrendsWatch 2012 about the barrage of threats to nonprofits, from the IRS purging noncompliant nonprofits from its roles, to cities actively exploring ways to levy service fees, licensing costs and Payments in Lieu of Taxes on nonprofits. While these actions have largely been targeted at big organizations like universities, hospitals and on occasion major museums such as the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, this recent update points out that the trend is reaching deeper into the ranks: the mayor of Reading, PA recently asked “any and all nonprofit property owners to help the city out with cash.”

I wonder if all these signals, taken together, foreshadow a closer examination of who we excuse from the tax rolls, in these tight financial times, and what constitutes a “social good.” Some people seem to feel that only social service agencies deserve the public support afforded by nonprofit status, while others feel that essentials like housing the homeless and feeding the hungry are a shared community (i.e. government) responsibility that shouldn’t be left to “charity.” Some feel that the arts should be a shared and accessible public good, while others agree with Congressional Republicans’ characterization of support for the arts as a “a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”)

I fear these trends could lead to the fragmentation of the way we treat nonprofits at the state and the federal level. If social service and cultural nonprofits get put into separate tax and policy buckets, I worry we will drift apart into separate, walled interests and no longer present a united front in the face of threats to the broader sector.  

I also think it entirely within the Cone of Plausibility that states, and the federal government, may start raising the bar on what qualifies an organization for nonprofit status. There was a StoryCorps conversation on NPR earlier this month, between the husband and wife who founded the Rat Retreat in Idaho, the country’s only “rat sanctuary.” I’m not saying these guys would pay anything significant in taxes if they weren’t tax exempt. (To the contrary, I got the impression caring for 72 rats in their house is a strain on their finances.) The story was cute, and the people running the organization are clearly dedicated and sincere, and at some level I recognize this is only one step removed from the SPCA. But how many people listening to that story wondered why their taxes are supporting someone else’s pet rats*?  The tax status of larger organizations like Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club is increasingly politicized as well. Whether it is a judgment based on how much good an organization does for society, or whether you agree that impact is “good” at all, once we as a country enter into these discussions, we begin to change the very nature of the “third sector” and the role we allow it to play.

Next week I’m training up to NYC for “At a Crossroads: What’s Next for American’s Nonprofit Sector, and event at which Johns Hopkins’ Lester Salamon, head of the Center for Civil Society Studies, will discuss three scenarios for the future. (I missed the DC version last week because I was in Kansas. Irony.) I hope that Crossroads helps me organize my thinking on this matter, and look forward to sharing what I hear on this blog.

 *At time of posting, the Rat Retreat’s website notes “we have had our 501(c)(3) status temporarily suspended until we get caught up on taxes,” so that isn’t, in fact, an issue right now.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Engaging with a “Director of Audience Engagement”

Earlier this month I blogged about Museum Jobs that Didn’t Exist in 2003, and what they tell us about the evolution of our field. Evidently the essay hit a nerve, as it quickly became one of the most read CFM posts ever, (about 5000 page views and counting). It also generated passionate comments (ranging from the reader who dismissed new media specialists as “pixie girl presenters,” to the “constantly curious” visitor who said “museums are boring…Thank goodness for these new audience development pros!”) Given this level of interest, I am following up by interviewing some of the people occupying the “new positions” mentioned in the blog. First up, Adam Rozan, director of audience engagement at the Worcester Art Museum.

CFM: So, Adam, what is “audience engagement” anyway and why did WAM feel it needed someone to direct that function?
Adam: At the Worcester Art Museum, the Division of Audience Engagement was formed to help align the various visitor-focused departments and, in so doing, to create a team that thinks, talks and works to more effectively engage with our current and future audiences. We are advocates for the visitor and our goal is to champion their needs, wants and ways of engaging with us. By doing this, we can make the necessary decisions and plans to better reach and provide for such audiences now--and to grow our audiences for the future.

I tagged your position as one that didn’t exist ten years ago. Did I get that right, or is it really an old job with new clothing?

Audience Engagement may feel like a new concept for museums, but it shouldn’t. Born out of the need to better connect with and meet the interests of our current audiences, this approach was missing for a long time from the work that was happening in the field. Sure, web and other online efforts grew by leaps and bounds, moving rapidly into email, social media, and now mobile platforms, while other museum functions like marketing, membership or development have and will continue to lead the pack in understanding our audiences. But, for the rest of us in the field, our strategies and work too often did not go beyond the admission desk. The visitor came to the museum and chose his or her ticket based on their age and/or group that they were with, and that was the extent of how we "partnered" with our audiences. Fortunately, it is now becoming almost mandatory that we at least try to figure out how to better engage our visitors, and to do so in ways that embrace their experience before and after visiting, as well as onsite.

Do you think your position signals a trend in museum staffing? Might the Alliance of 2023 have an “audience engagement professional network?”

I am hoping that the smart museums will toss up their hands and realize that our futures depend on a new model, one that allows museums to play a role in contemporary society that balances the visitor's needs and wants with the safety, preservation and engagement of its collections. If we can adopt and implement more of this kind of thinking today, than we can move toward the bigger work, addressing how to sustain these institutions in the future, and enabling continued improvements in the work they do and how do they do it.

Tell me one thing that the Worcester Art Museum is doing now, that you think happened because they created your new division.

Norm Eggert photographer, Courtesy of Worcester Art Museum
Audience Engagement—along with an institutional focus on visitors—has opened dialogue and activities at the museum that may have happened sporadically in the past but are now happening daily, both programmatically and exhibition-wise. An example of how this is working can be found in our current exhibition [remastered], which is a re-hanging of our old masters collection. These three [remastered] galleries have been transformed into laboratory/gallery spaces, where active prototyping and sense of experimentation have become part of our exhibition presentation. For example, we are rethinking WAM’s library, so for [remastered] we are experimenting with having relevant books in the gallery space with the artworks. And these books are not just art history books, but books on religion, history, literature and books for children, to name a few. Another fun example is how we’ve asked a variety of people, including community and academic partners as well as local students and clergy, to write labels for artwork. And most importantly, we’re encouraging our visitors to write their own labels and interpretations on iPads in the gallery.

It’s entirely possible that WAM would have come to these conclusions over time, but an audience-focused institution places the visitor in each and every conversation about the art. So, wondering what the visitor will think is now only as hard as asking the visitor for his or her input.

What do you wish people knew about your job, that would make it easier to do your work?

I really believe that we are further along the path of where we need to be than we sometimes think. Museums are not isolated from the economic and topical challenges with which our competitors—both those inside and outside our fields—are faced. The visitor is equal to our collection, and the experience at our institutions is now paramount. A sustainable, viable museum is one that opens each day with visitors visiting, using our facilities and engaging with our collections, programs and various offerings. We need to realize that museums are businesses that need to succeed and be relevant, like any other business; even if how we define “success” is different. And, of primary importance, audiences are why we open in the morning. Audiences are what make the work we are doing so exciting.

You can use the comment section, below, to follow up with your own questions for Adam. Also, please offer suggestions for other people in “new positions” I might interview for the Blog. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Staff the Future

I've been spouting off for years about how museums need to change the way they recruit, select and train staff. Why? Because
  • Museums say they want a more diverse workforce, but the major pipeline for future professional staff—museum studies and related graduate programs—are overwhelmingly white, female, and from relatively affluent backgrounds.
  • The skill sets needed for museum jobs are changing (indeed many of the positions are entirely new) and the people with the requisite skills may not be looking at museums as potential employers—museums have to seek them out.
  • The educational landscape is changing. As more people turn to microcredentialing as an accessible, affordable and effective way to build their resumes, employers need to figure out how to validate and assess qualifications documented in non-traditional ways.
Time to practice what I preach.

I have the opportunity to hire someone to backstop my work with CFM—share some of the research and writing, hit the road so we can cover more ground with presentations, and project manage events like the CFM lectures or demos at the annual meeting, convenings and publications. I could simply post an ad on the Alliance’s JobHQ, and probably would be inundated with applications. (When the Alliance recently advertised for a meetings and events position, we got a couple hundred resumes.) But I don’t think this method of hiring would align with principles I outlined above—actively trying to diversify the pool of applicants; seeking out people with diverse skills sets; recognizing and valuing non-traditional training & credentialing.

So I want to run the job search as a game: a game that challenges applicants to demonstrate skills related to the work; values creativity, collaboration and initiative and (in so far as possible) masks their identities for as long as possible.

Bear with me here—I am still working out the details, and one of the reasons I am sharing my formative thoughts in this post is that I value your input. Here are some of my jottings as I work this out:

Where could I look for qualified candidates who might broaden the applicant pool beyond the usual suspects? E.g., groups such as military veterans and people with disabilities who seem to be routinely disadvantaged in hiring, despite legal protections. What other professions or training tracks foster the skills I am looking for?  

What challenges in the game could enable any applicant to demonstrate the requisite abilities, rather than relying on traditional signifiers of those skills? E.g., why does a job require a graduate degree? Aside from subject expertise (which is arguably moot in this case—am I really going to find a trained museum futurist?) a degree presumably signals that the degree holder has some facility with critical thinking, writing ability, and self-discipline. But a graduate degree doesn’t guarantee any of those qualifications, and someone without a graduate degree might possess all three. How can I give the applicants the chance to show, rather than just tell?

Could the game generate value for applicants whether or not they are offered the position? For example, could they earn a credential, such as a digital badge, for successfully completing all the challenges, much the same way a student may be designated a Merit Scholar Finalist without being offered a scholarship?

By masking the demographic and personal characteristics of applicants until the final stages, can the game help me avoid the unconscious bias that research has demonstrated influences hiring in fields from science to business?

Here are some of the steps I am taking to bring this idea to fruition:
  • Recruiting people with expertise in games design to offer advice and support. (Fortunately, I’ve met a number of interesting folk in the games design world, as I’ve kept an eye on what games design can teach museums ever since Jane McGonigal’s inaugural lecture for CFM.)
  • Looking for examples of how games have already been used in hiring. Marriott has a social media game—My Marriott Hotel™—that uses a virtual restaurant/kitchen to attract applicants. L’Oreal India has created a game called Reveal that simulates their work environment, presenting players with challenges in finance, sales, marketing, operations and research and innovation. Domino’s Pizza Hero game for the iPad includes a training & hiring component. The US Army has long used video games as recruitment tools. Of course, all these guys can sink major amounts of money into developing enduring platforms, I will be designing this game for one-time use, and trying to make as much use as I can of free online tools, such as social media, much the way that MMARGs (Massive MultiPlayer Alternate Reality Games) do.
  • Researching other fields of endeavor, looking for professions that require an equivalent or significantly overlapping skill set. As I’ve pointed out, many outstanding people in the museum field came from alt backgrounds—engineering, music, journalism—how can I tap into those labor pools to find folks who might like the idea of becoming a museum futurist?
 Does this sound just a little crazy? I hope so—because part of my job is exploring trends that are just beginning to touch our lives. This may not work, and that’s fine—failure is a necessary part of risk-taking and innovation. Hopefully whether this “games for hiring” experiment succeeds or not, what I learn from the process will help the Alliance, and museums, explore the workforce of the future.

Keep your eye on this blog for periodic updates on my adventures in the hiring game. Ditto if you are interested in the position yourself—please do not send resumes or letters of interest...yet!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Inventing the Surveillance Society

When Eric Hintz called to ask if I would speak on a symposium about “surveillance,” I thought at first he had my number confused with the NSA. Eric is an historian with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the coordinator of the Center’s upcoming symposium, Inventing the Surveillance Society, to be held Oct. 25 at the National Museum of American History and via live webcast. Eric explained to me that “surveillance” in this context encompasses the massive amounts of data that our environment is actively or passively collecting about us via ubiquitous sensors and networked devices. The symposium includes a session on “Surveillance in Museums and Cultural Attractions,” (that’s when I add my two bits).

In a blog post announcing CFM’s Trendswatch 2013 report, Elizabeth Merritt speculated that a future museum visit may go something like this:
  • On the way in, a staff member asks if you want to borrow a “digital disconnect” pouch for your mobile device, to help you go offline for a stress-free visit.
  • But you decide to opt for the fully immersive digital experience. You authorize your mobile device to track your progress through the museum, pull information from exhibits as you approach, synch with your bio-monitor wristband to assess your reaction to the experience and suggest what other galleries you might enjoy.
Depending on your point of view, this future museum visit might seem Orwellian in its level of surveillance or really cool with lots of individually-tailored content delivered right to your iDevice. But if you’ve been paying attention to Edward Snowden and the revelations of the NSA’s domestic spying, you realize that this “future” scenario is already here. We are being watched—anytime we enter a building, place a phone call or visit a website. This is especially true in museums—with metal detectors, bag searches and lots of security cameras, museums are places where we interact with surveillance in a very direct way. So it’s worth asking: how did our surveillance society emerge, and what is the effect of ubiquitous surveillance on our everyday lives?  More specifically, what is the current and future role of surveillance in museums and cultural attractions? 
The symposium banner image was assembled by Joyce Bedi
using a camera image from Silver Spoon (Own work)
 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
To tackle these questions, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center is presenting Inventing the Surveillance Society, a symposium exploring the role of invention and technology in a modern world where our actions (and transactions) are constantly being monitored. The symposium will bring together scholars, inventors, policymakers, members of the media and the public to discuss the historical evolution of surveillance technologies, and their contemporary societal implications. Assuming an end to the current government shutdown, the symposium will take place on Friday Oct. 25 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. All events are free and open to the public and will be available via live webcast.

We invite the museum community to attend or tune in to our daylong symposium, especially our session on “Surveillance in Museums and Cultural Attractions.” Because of the treasures they hold, museums have always been sites of intense surveillance, but the scope of that surveillance is expanding. At museums and other cultural attractions, surveillance cameras help ensure the safety of thousands of visitors whiles securing priceless artifacts and works of art. However, those same cameras (with the right facial recognition software) can also be used to count visitors and analyze their demographics. And as the Trendswatch report suggested, visitors’ smartphones can already deliver rich, location-specific content to complement in-gallery experiences. Meanwhile, mobile apps also provide the museum staff with a trove of data about visitor behaviors, from walking paths to dwell times. Again, depending on your point of view, this is either really exciting, a little creepy, or both.

Thus, in this session, we’ll examine the emergence of surveillance technologies in museums and cultural institutions, and their potential to transform the visitor’s experience and visitors’ studies. We have three terrific speakers. Steve Keller, a leading security consultant (and a member of AAM’s Centennial Honor Roll), describes the various surveillance technologies in place at museums around the world, while explaining a paradox: additional surveillance technologies can actually introduce more potential vulnerabilities from hackers and cyber-thieves. Sam Quigley, chief information officer at the Art Institute of Chicago, describes how his museum implemented comprehensive WiFi coverage throughout the museum to power content-rich mobile applications. He also addresses the touchy questions that arise from the wholesale acquisition and analysis of data revealing visitors’ movements and usage. Finally, CFM’s own Elizabeth Merritt speculates on the future of museum surveillance and asks some tough questions: Will visitors embrace or reject the increasing use of surveillance technology in museums? Can museums enforce security and serve their patrons while respecting the privacy of their staff and visitors?  Nancy Proctor, the head of the Smithsonian’s mobile strategy and initiatives, will serve as the moderator of the session and lead what we hope will be a vigorous Q&A session and discussion with our friends from the museum community.

We hope you’ll join us on Oct. 25, in person or over the web!  And you can follow the Lemelson Center on Twitter @si_invention. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Makes the Best Advocate for the Future of Museum Funding?

Good futures scanning should include all the STEEP categories. As I’ve confessed before, I sometimes have trouble with the P—political/policy trends. Today, Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied, the Alliance’s vice president of government relations and advocacy, helps out with a glimpse into the future of government policy & philanthropy, and a call to action on helping to shape that future.

First, a fact: Congress and President Obama are considering limiting the deductibility of charitable gifts, and there’s an advocacy effort afoot to demonstrate why this would harm charities of all types.

Now, a question: Who is the most compelling messenger to make this case to Capitol Hill and White House?
A) a nonprofit executive
B) a nonprofit donor
C) a person in the community being served by the nonprofit
Certainly, all could effectively make the case, and all of them should. In an ideal world, all three would make the case as a group, because each brings a valuable perspective and message. But the most compelling case to be made? Let’s examine the case for each answer:

The nonprofit executive can talk about the organization’s community efforts and the ways it is serving the community. Likely the executive can also share a compelling reason why he or she came to work at that nonprofit (personal connection to the issue, etc.). But A is not the best answer.

The donor can also make a compelling case. After all, the donor has, literally, put his or her money where his or her mouth is. But in an age where charitable giving incentives are seen by some as just another tax loophole benefiting the wealthy, the donor may not be the most compelling advocate at this point. So it’s not B.

In my view, the person in the community who has been helped by the nonprofit can make the most compelling case on this issue. He or she can tell the story, on a personal level, about how the nonprofit played a transformative role in their lives. It’s hard to look into the eyes of a person who got job training, or escaped domestic violence, or was able to feed his or her family and not be moved by the power of the nonprofit that made it happen. Good for you if you chose C.

How does this translate to advocating for our field—who can tell the most compelling story about your museum?
A) a museum director
B) a museum donor
C) Someone in the community whose life was altered by visiting the museum.
Again, certainly one can make a compelling case for each of these options, and indeed we invite the entire museum field—directors, trustees, staff, graduate students and independent professionals—to join us in Washington, DC, for Museums Advocacy Day on February 24–25, 2014.

I think the best answer, for the reasons outlined above, is C—someone in the community whose life was altered by visiting a museum.

That’s why the American Alliance of Museums has launched a search for the Great American Museum Advocate. Through this campaign, we are looking for the member of your community who can tell the most compelling story about your museum.

We’ve already heard about life-changing moments—a child on the autism spectrum who spoke for the first time after visiting a museum, a teenage who was inspired to become a scientist after visiting a museum and a the story of a Desert Storm veteran who was battling terminal cancer and had a healing experience at the museum.

What’s the most life-changing story that one of your museum visitors can tell?  Email us to share your story. Entries are due by Nov. 1.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fostering Innovation Part 2: Who are the Museum Innovators?

You can read part one of this series here.

Lately, I’m taking inspiration from a researcher in the ‘60’s: Everett Rogers, and his book “Diffusion of Innovations.” (Hat tip to Richard Evans of EmcArts for bringing Rogers to my attention.)

This is the diagram that hooked me:

Roger’s diagram of the diffusion of innovations. As successive groups
of consumers adopting a new technology (blue), its market
share (yellow) eventually reaches saturation.
borrowed from Wikipedia.

According to Rogers, only 2.5% of a given population are actually innovators. Over five times as many (13.5%) are early adopters, leaping on an innovation once they see what it can do. Another 34% are the “early majority,”—an innovation transitions to a mainstream product or practice as it reaches this group. The late majority (another 34%) will pick up on the trend eventually, and the last 16% Rogers tags as “laggards.” (I find myself calling them ‘dinosaurs,” –that’s my natural history background kicking in again.) Diffusion is the process by which an innovation (whether a piece of technology, a social convention or a system of thinking) moves through these successive cadres of adopters until it has saturated the population.

Rogers postulates that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system.

The Alliance’s efforts to date around innovation have centered on the first element by helping fund and manage a museum version of EmcArt’s Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts, in order to nurture budding innovations through intensive mentoring and facilitation. When we announced the grants, I braced for a flood of applications, but as it turned out we only received about 30-35 applications per round. Rogers’ framework put that number into context for me. If our PR about the program primarily reached museums that are members of the Alliance, 2.5% of 3000 members would equal 90 museums—close to the total number of applications we received. (Or maybe I’m just rationalizing.)

So, when it came to museums, who are the 2.5% who are innovators? Based on reading the Innovation Lab applications, as well as my observations of museums in the Accreditation and Museum Assessment Program, I see innovation originating primarily from three places in the museum world:

Small museums. I suspect this is because usually:

  • They don’t have rigid policies and procedures.
  • The staff interact with each other intensively and fluidly across “departments” (to the extent that truly small museums have departments.)
  • They aren’t taking a big risk by innovating—they can try things with relatively small amounts of money or staff time that could have a big impact, if they work out, without being a serious embarrassment if they fail.

Big Museums, when they are SO big they spin off little pockets and backwaters where staff can be innovative without rising so high on the radar they get shut down. Sometimes one or two really visionary people, in a small office with bits and pieces of equipment and a license to experiment, can come up with really cool stuff. The problem tends to come when an innovative project takes off and comes to the attention of higher-ups, at which point bureaucracy can kick in and slow down development and adoption of the prototype.

Medium-sized museums that realize that they are in deep trouble, and HAVE to innovate or else they are going to fail. This may be because of immediate financial pressures, or the stark math of changing demographics in their communities. Innovators in this category are drawn from the ranks of museums that suffered the steepest declines in admissions since 2008: those that are too small to compete for regional or national tourists in the age of the “staycation,” but have not built a hyper-local niche for themselves as beloved community hang-outs. Under a visionary leader, museums like this can have the organization and capacity to tackle innovation as an institutional goal, while being small enough to have a shot at changing entrenched assumptions and institutional culture that gets in the way of radical change.

See how this accords with your observations of the museum world of innovation. Which museums do you regard as highly innovative, and what factors helped them to innovate?

Next up in this series: what is the most effective way to accelerate the diffusion of innovation?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reflections on a MOOC: One Museum Educator’s Journey in the Unknown

 From the moment I read that MoMA was launching the first museum MOOC, I wanted to cover it on the Blog. And not just because “MoMA MOOC” is so fun to say—these huge, virtual courses are a hotbed of experimentation, with some hailing the format as a revolutionary development with the potential to transform education. This week Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director, School and Teacher Programs at The Museum of Modern Art, kindly fulfills my wish by blogging about the MoMA project, which was her first foray into the world of Massive Open Online Learning.

If you work in the field of education there is no avoiding the topic of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). Until recently, the discussion about MOOCS has been exclusively within the context of higher education. This past spring that changed when MoMA teamed up with the MOOC provider Coursera to offer professional development for K–12 teachers all over the world.

I have to admit I had a hard time embracing the idea of MOOCs. Although I had been following the increasing popularity of this learning format fairly closely, I had never participated in one.  I’ve come to realize, however, that MOOCs and museums are not such strange bedfellows. Both embrace informal, free-choice, lifelong learning. Given the accessible nature of a MOOC (massive, open to anyone and online), it is a good way for museums to expand their impact beyond the museum walls. Nonetheless, I proceeded cautiously, with lots of questions and not that many answers.

After some research, including attending a few MOOCs on Coursera, I decided to keep the topic of our course broad and focus on concrete skills and strategies that teachers could easily integrate into their teaching. In keeping with the interactive and collaborative nature of our on-site professional development, I decided that testing could not be the only metric for achievement in the MOOC and that I would require engagement through discussion forums.  

 Usually, I customize my course content based on the audience, but given the volume of students in this course (over 17,000 people registered) I had to do some research before producing content.  We used a pre-course survey to guide planning, as most MOOC instructors do.  We learned that the students (primarily women in their 20’s and 30’s) represented over 110 countries and all 7 continents. Sixty percent of the students self-identified as teachers, while the other 40% identified with a wide range of other professions including medical, design and business related fields. The teachers represented K-12, college/university as well as home school and informal learning environments such as museums and community centers. These demographics reinforced my feeling that the exchange of ideas and interaction in discussion forums had to be a key component of the course, not only to support our pedagogy, but also to help bridge the gap of language and context amongst this diverse student body. 

To encourage students to engage with each other, we required them to post in the discussion forums, and this participation was factored into their final grade for the course.  Requiring students to post to discussion forums is atypical of most MOOC’s, but I felt strongly that if we linked each week’s content  (video lectures, readings, online resources) with a required discussion prompt that invited teachers to share their ideas (and questions), it would garner rich content in a variety of contexts. For years I have heard from teachers that they don’t like working in isolation—here was the opportunity to change that on a grand scale.

I wasn’t convinced that, even when motivated by a grade, students would engage in deep discussion, but the quality of participation in the discussion forums far surpassed my hopes. Even the forums in which participation was not required saw a flurry of activity and resource sharing.

The MOOC allowed MoMA to share best practices and online resources with an expanded audience of self-selecting participants. Eighty-one percent of respondents to our post-course survey said they felt engaged throughout the course and 92% said that they gained strategies that they could easily integrate.  The MoMA Learning site was one of our major resources for the course. Even though it was not designed for that purpose, 94% of survey respondents rated the site as “significant to supporting student learning”. This shows how the MOOC served an unintended purpose, and helped us gauge the effectiveness of our web resources in a non-traditional context. The MOOC also gave MoMA a forum to experiment with social media, incorporating Twitter (#artinquiry) and Google Hangouts On Air.  

Overall the feedback we received about this first MoMA MOOC was overwhelmingly positive. For me personally, this was one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have worked on. I plan to continue to explore this platform and its potential.

While it remains to be seen how important a role MOOC’s will play in education, I think they provide museums with valuable opportunities for education, community outreach and multi-disciplinary collaboration, beyond the museums walls. In her "MOOCS and Museums" post, Elizabeth Merritt astutely points out that Coursera’s decision to bring Museums on board as content providers allows us a great opportunity to share our content within a larger context, but it also elevates museum-based teaching strategies and raises the profile of the field as a whole.

For those of you are considering entering into the realm of MOOCS, see these tips I included in another recent blog post about the making of the MOOC.  I think my most important advice is to embrace discomfort and not be afraid to step into the unknown.

Readers—any questions for Lisa about her MOOC experience? Any experiences with making (or taking) a MOOC you would like to share? Weigh in using the comments section, below.