Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hot, New Trends Deliberated in Wine Country

I hope you've had a chance to delve into TrendsWatch 2014 (now available as a free app, with embedded videos!) and are using the report to fuel discussions inside and outside your organization. This week's blog post is by fellow museum-futurist Lisa Eriksen,  Principal of Lisa Eriksen Consulting. Lisa is the project director for the California Association of Museums’ Leaders of the Future training project, a member of the CAM Foresight Committee, and led a workshop exploring the report at the recent CAM conference.

There was copious conversation at the California Association of Museums (CAM) Annual Conference in Napa, but the chatter was not about the newest Syrah, Merlot, or Chardonnay. This dialogue focused on the intoxicating new trends offered up by the Center for the Future of Museums in TrendsWatch 2014. 

At the March 5th workshop, “Using Strategic Foresight to Plan for a Preferred Future,” sixteen museum professionals and six members of the CAM Foresight Committee explored trends that will impact the future of our institutions. The workshop (to be offered again at the AASLH and WMA conferences this fall) was designed to teach techniques to identify and monitor change and encourage the integration of futures thinking in strategic planning for museums as well as in the personal practice and daily activities of the people themselves. The TrendsWatch 2014 conversations were facilitated by CAM Foresight Committee members: Megan Conn (Development Manager at Turtle Bay Exploration Park), David Bloom (VertNet Coordinator, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley), Ruth Cuadra (Application Systems Analyst, Getty Research Institute), and me.

Megan’s group discussed “For Profit, For Good: The rise of the social entrepreneurs,” which focuses on the trend of for-profit businesses becoming increasingly mission-based, primarily driven by millennials and the desire for their work and philanthropy to have social impact. Many in the discussion group are already seeing some competition from for-profit businesses that are providing services similar to those offered by museums. Examples include a computer-programming company offering technology-based summer camps and birthday parties for children, and art galleries offering educational programs. Some noted their institutions are experimenting with incorporating for-profit business models into their operations, such as forming a for-profit arm to operate a hotel on campus with proceeds going back to the museum. The group concluded that the lines are blurring in this competitive world where non-profits and for-profits both have things to learn from each other!

Dave’s group explored the trend, “Synesthesia: Multisensory experiences for a multisensory world.” This trend focuses on how the five senses (smell, taste, sound, touch, and sight) can influence the visitor and educational experience in museum spaces and during programming. Discussion began with an exploration of the current practices at their own organizations and the use of sensory tools, such as sound to portray the intensity of drag racing, a moving floor to mimic the feel of an earthquake, and the way the senses are integrated into public programming. The conversation quickly moved to the potential uses of the senses both within and beyond the museum settings including everyone’s favorite: a coffee-scented alarm clock. Of greatest interest to the group was the recommendation that museums might want to (or even could) “[c]onsider their role in preserving a sensory patrimony that exceeds traditional collections boundaries” (p. 22). This idea generated a lot of enthusiasm about the opportunities presented to the museum field.

Ruth's group discussed the "A Geyser of Information: Tapping the big data boom" trend, which focuses on the increasing availability of large data sets and the myriad analysis tools currently in use or being developed. Everyone in the group was well-aware that commercial marketers are using "the digital footprints we leave via social media" (p. 25), plus how companies use publicly available census, transportation, weather, and other data to figure out what we want, when we'll want it, and how to get us to buy it from them. At the same time, all felt that their museums were under-equipped to analyze their own data about visitors in the context of their community—much less in any larger context. A lot of the conversation focused on how small museums could collect more data and what they should be collecting in order to begin to participate in the kinds of big data analyses described in this section. The TrendsWatch 2014 suggestion (via GuideStar) that museums begin to master "medium data" (pg. 28) struck everyone as a good starting place.

Very much in sync with Ruth’s group’s conversation was the discussion I participated in on “Privacy in a Watchful World: What have you got to hide?” This trend indicates that companies and governments are increasingly tracking vast amounts of our personal information to learn about our behavior, habits and even our thoughts. While many enjoy the benefits of social media and other big data, people are beginning to question if we have crossed the “creepy line” in personal surveillance. Members of the group acknowledged both the benefits (suggestions for movies on Netflix) and the drawbacks of personal digital data collection. As the big data group discussed, not many museums have the ability to track, let alone analyze, personal data on their current or potential visitors. Yet, as museums begin integrating more technology onsite in exhibitions and programs and as data collection becomes more ubiquitous, we could soon see a time where this data collection will help us better serve our visitors and customize their experiences. We agreed it will be important for museums to be transparent about what type of data they are collecting and why, so that our institutions maintain their strong reputations and the public trust.

As our discussions were “shared out” to the entire group, we agreed there were many connections between these four trends and that museum professionals need to pay attention to all of them. Due to limited time at the workshop, we just had a small sampling—or tasting—of these trends, but we will continue to discuss them in our online Museum Futures Community* and at our upcoming futures meetups. 

*If you are already a member of the CA Museum Online Community, click here to sign in and join the group. If you are not a member of the CA Museum Community Online, you will need to sign up first before joining the Museum Futures Community. It is free to join the online community and the group. 

Hi, it's me, Elizabeth, writing again. If you are attending the Alliance's annual meeting next month, note I'll be leading two sessions related to TrendsWatch: one on Monday   8:45-10 a.m, giving an update on all the trends; and one Monday, 1:45-3 p.m, delving more deeply into how museums can use big data. I hope to see you in Seattle, at these sessions or at the demos CFM will be running in MuseumExpo--more on that in next week's post! 

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