Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bring the Future to Your Museum in 2018

One of my resolutions for 2018 is to be more proactive and intentional in the work I do with individual museums, companies, and conferences. This starts with being more transparent about the fact that I even do work like this. Most of the fee-based engagements I’ve had over the years have been serendipitous, resulting from word of mouth recommendations, or from people thinking “hey, I wonder if Elizabeth would talk with my board?” It’s kind of been a secret door, there if you knew where to knock. It seems like the door shouldn’t be secret. And if hanging a sign on that door results in more invitations, I can be more strategic in the ones I accept—looking for opportunities to share CFM’s work with diverse audiences; to engage in mutual learning we can share with the rest of the field; and to generate income to underwrite and expand the free products and services which constitute the bulk of CFM’s work.

Being “proactive and intentional” about this work also pushes me to define what I will and won’t do. These arrangements are already a significant part of my work: since 2008 I’ve given over a hundred keynotes, workshops, and public lectures, and a dozen or so museums have brought me in to work with their board or staff committees. But for every invitation I accept I turn down two or three, often directing folks to the many excellent consulting firms and independent professionals out there with expertise in planning, board development, etc. While I feel good about the case-by-case decisions I’ve made, I think it’s time to be more systematic about sorting through opportunities. With the right criteria, I’m confident I can find those for which CFM involvement seems particularly suited, and which would help achieve the goals set forth in the Alliance’s strategic plan.

CFM’s work supports the goal of thought leadership in the AAM strategic plan by helping museums integrate futures-thinking into their planning and operations. We’re also guided by the plan’s three focus areas: diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion; P-12 education; and financial sustainability. CFM’s first fellow, Nicole Ivy, has become AAM’s first director of inclusion. Sage Morgan Hubbard, our Ford W. Bell Fellow for P-12 Education, is developing case studies of successful museum schools. Me, I’m framing my work around the third goal—financial sustainability. So as I apply a selective filter to the invitations we receive, I’m particularly interested in opportunities to help museums understand how traditional sources of support are changing, and to explore new income streams and business models.

Here’s a first pass at a menu of what I do that might be a good fit for museums, conferences, and companies wanting input on strategic foresight, with an emphasis on the financial future.

Speaking engagements
These are lectures I’ve already developed and tested. I update them before each engagement, and when appropriate can tweak them to align with the particular interest of the host. (Side note: when a museum brings me in to work with their board or staff, I encourage them to host a free public lecture as well—like this one organized by the Clyfford Still Museum and hosted by History Colorado.  Adding lectures such as this to an engagement , at no additional cost to the host, is one more way CFM can provide free content to the field.)

General trends and forecasting:
TrendsWatch—an exploration of trends shaping our field, framed around the most recent forecast (TrendsWatch 2017) or previous reports of particular interest to your audience.

Museum 2040—an introduction to using scenarios in museum planning, illustrated with a guided tour of the recent “future fiction” issue of Museum magazine.

Financial sustainability:
Peering into the Financial Future— an overview of the philanthropic, policy and cultural trends shaping the nonprofit economy, with a look at new business models being tested by museums around the world.

Other thought leadership:
Museums and Inequality—using the framework of Universal Basic Assets developed by the Institute for the Future, this talk explores how museums can help their communities combat inequality in significant, measurable ways.

The 10,000 Year Museum— a playful, provocative look at museums’ promise to preserve their collections for future generations. How long is that covenant is supposed to last, and how does a museum balance its responsibilities to current and future generations? What implications does long-term guardianship have for how a museum plans for the future?


Strategic Foresight for Museum Planning
Building on CFM reports and scenarios, participants create their own visions of the “preferred future” and take away tools to integrate this vision into their organizational planning. Participants will learn how to; apply strategic foresight within institutional setting; set up organizational and personal systems for collecting and analyzing new information; imagine different futures and test assumptions through forecasting and scenario building. This can be a half or full day workshop, depending on how deep a dive you want to provide for participants.

Building Sustainable Income Streams
This workshop leads participants through the process of conceptualizing new mission-based income streams. I piloted the agenda in collaboration with the Ecological Society of America and the Peabody Museum of Natural History, with funding from the National Science Foundation. That first iteration, a two-day workshop with several instructors, focused on natural history research collections, but the format can be adapted to other disciplines.

Using Museum Assets to Combat Inequality
Using the Universal Basic Assets framework developed by the Institute of the Future, participants will inventory their organization’s tangible and intangible assets (e.g., space, digital resources, reputation, and reach), and identify how these assets can be used to support fair, equitable, sustainable development in their communities.  This workshop is currently in development –let me know if you would like to be the first host.

Deeper Engagements

Some museums have involved me more deeply in their planning processes by aksing me to assist with a series of meetings or serve on a committee. I’m still figuring out how to tell when this is a good fit for both parties. I value the opportunity to make a contribution to the outcome of planning and the success of new ventures. That said, sometimes the existing team is already so well developed, or so many decisions have already been made, that I’m not sure my presence will make a significant difference. I welcome the chance to explore about how CFM might contribute to such work.

I see these engagements as a way to maximize the impact of the cumulative work of CFM, as we enter the tenth year of operating the Alliance’s “think tank and idea lab.” During the past decade we’ve generated a lot of content, started numerous discussions and built an impressive reach. Posts on the CFM Blog have received over 2.2 million page views. The six editions of TrendsWatch  have been downloaded about 28,000 times and used to inform strategic planning, educate board members, and fuel staff discussions. CFM’s weekly e-newsletter, Dispatches from the Future of Museums, has over 57,000 subscribers (more than once, I’ve been told “it’s the one email I make sure I open and read when it lands in my mailbox.”) Working with people face-to-face is a great opportunity to deepen the impact of this content.

So the sign is officially on the door: the Museum Futurist is In. If you’d like to talk about bringing me out to work with your museum, conference, or company, email me at emerritt (at) aam-us.org and tell me what you have in mind.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Artificial Intelligence in Accreditation

One of CFM’s goals is to help museums learn from other sectors, and help other sectors learn from us. For that reason, my colleagues and I cultivate a diverse audience for our work, drawing futurists, games designers, technologists, educators, librarians and many others into conversation with museumers. In today’s post Rhea Steele, COO at the organization that accredits P-12 educator preparation programs, offers some thoughts on how artificial intelligence, our tech focus in TrendsWatch 2017, may transform the work of accreditation programs.

When I read the November/December issue of Museum magazine: Museums 2040, I was energized and excited by the not-so-far-fetched opportunities presented to future museums. Reading the Accreditation Spotlight, I recalled a session focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the American Society of Association Executives Technology Conference. Not just the stuff of science fiction, AI takes computing beyond algorithms and human-created code. AI allows computers to learn from experience, adjust “behaviors” (outputs) to match new stimulus (inputs) and perform tasks of increasing complexity. This type of learning is referred to as machine learning. During the session, we discussed how AI can assist with repetitive tasks, quickly parse large data sets, and “multitask” by monitoring and responding to multiple systems and inputs simultaneously. I began to wonder what would happen if we applied machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to accreditation activities.

The purpose of accreditation in higher education is to improve program quality and assure public accountability, whereas in the museum space, it is to recognize adherence to the standards in the field. In both cases, accreditation systems are dependent on clearly defined rubrics to help volunteer peer reviewers make judgments on the institution’s demonstration of meeting standards. At my organization, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, as well as at other accreditors, our process is built on is the evaluative judgments of volunteers who are applying our guidelines and decision criteria. A significant amount of time, effort, and funding goes into ensuring volunteers are sufficiently trained and able to interpret evidence both broadly and within institutional context. As you can imagine, the quality assurance processes, including establishing interrater reliability, result in the need for many, many volunteers and a well-informed, detail-oriented staff.  

There is general consensus that the process of accreditation is best conducted by volunteer peer reviewers due to the depth of their knowledge of the field and the nuanced understanding needed to connect disparate pieces of evidence in the context of an individual institution. Can human peer review alone meet the demand for accreditation services? Currently about 1075 museums have been accredited by AAM, compared to the 4000 that have taken the Pledge of Excellence and the estimated 35,000 museums in the US identified by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Slightly more than 1000 people serve as peer reviewers for AAM Accreditation, and a nine-member commission makes all the final decisions regarding accreditation. Could AI enable the AAM program to increase the number of museums served, without a proportionate increase in cost?

AI could help with the quality, as well as the quantity, of reviews. The challenge faced by volunteer peer reviewers is to approach each organization with true objectivity - a peer reviewer who works at a large well-funded institution must surface and set aside his/her implicit biases when reviewing an institution with a different profile. While this system has worked well in the past, can we make it work better with the application of AI?

Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are all able to interpret natural language commands, IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy, and Netflix makes eerily on-target recommendations for movies and shows I will like. It’s all just algorithms, you might say, and you are correct.  But these algorithms are increasingly complex and sophisticated. Today’s AI-based programs use machine learning techniques (including rubrics and rules) to acquire information and adapt through experience. Our peer reviewers do the same. What if we shift our model and use AI to do what it does best - parse through reams of qualitative and quantitative data submitted for accreditation and provide peer reviewers with an initial assessment of alignment to the standards? How would this all work?

In the same way we currently train peer reviewers, an accreditation AI would be trained using data elements, evidence, rubrics and decisions made by past peer reviewers. We would then run simulations to enable the AI to learn alongside the peer reviewers currently auditing institutions and compare the AI’s recommendations with those of the peer review team and make adjustments. Eventually, the AI would be able to provide absolute consistency in the identification of areas for improvement and misalignment with standards. It could also identify practices that correlate with positive outcomes, thus improving the flow of information on best practices throughout the field. As in many fields beginning to adopt AI (medicine, engineering, customer service), I believe the technology would supplement, rather than supplant, the human role. Peer reviewers will use the AI’s recommendations to collect and refine information requested and reviewed during the on-site visit and use the algorithm’s analysis to inform their recommendations and the decision to grant or not grant accreditation.

As we move further and further into an AI-enabled future, we have an opportunity to review and reframe how we leverage technology to improve our industries. Application of AI to assist in the peer review process of accreditation is one way we can leverage the power of technology and help humans focus on high-value activities. How else can museums benefit from the novel application of technology?

Rhea Steele
Rhea M. Steele, MS, CAE is the Chief Operating Officer for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Throughout her career, she has had extensive experience in museums, non-profits, and universities with key focus on the integration of strategy, operations, and technology. Find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rheasteele/

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Envisioning the Accessible Future of Peer Review

One of my favorite parts of putting together the recent “future issue” of Museum was asking my colleagues at AAM to imagine how their work, and the programs they staff, such as accreditation and advocacy, might be different in the year 2040. This week Danyelle Rickard, program officer for the Museum Assessment Program, talks about how she put together her story for the Around the Alliance column, announcing the launch of TEAL—AAM’s Telepresence Excellence Assessment Liaison. Her story is a good example of a possible future that might lead you to ask, “does this have to wait until 2040, or can I make it happen now?”

For Museum 2040the recent special issue of Museum—Elizabeth invited me to think about the future of peer review, since it is a vital part of both the Museum Assessment and Accreditation Programs at AAM. When writing my piece of future fiction, I considered how we could make peer review accessible to as broad a group as possible so that our institutions in MAP and Accreditation would benefit from the largest possible knowledge bank of peers in the field, and more professionals would be able participate in this highly valued form of service.

I decided to frame my story around telepresence via robots that enable users to navigate throughout a museum by remote control, hearing and seeing everything as if they were there. Telepresence robots exist now: while not widespread, they are beginning to be used in schools, hospitals, and museums. In 2014, you may have chatted with accessibility advocate Henry Evans who attended our annual meeting in Seattle via a Suitable Technology’s Beam robot. I think peer review is another natural application for telepresence robots. We need to start thinking about ways this and other technologies could help overcome barriers that cause peer reviewers to turn down visits, like limitations of time or ability and the hurdles of travel. This will allow a more diverse and inclusive opportunity to our peer reviewers and museums alike. And as AAM’s Green Professional Network would point out, as we try to create a carbon neutral future, anything that reduces the considerable carbon footprint of travel helps build a sustainable future.

Accessibility advocate Henry Evans visits the
de Young Museum via Suitable Technologies Beam
telepresence robot
The Alliance’s roster of 1,583 peer reviewers includes working and retired museum professionals. Both these groups have the opportunity to engage but are often limited by different factors. Currently employed professionals may have busy work or family schedules to contend with while retired professionals may have limited physical or other health restrictions. People in either group may have mobility limitations. And I expect mobility issues will be an even bigger issue in 2040, when over one in five Americans will be over the age of 65. Currently, one quarter of the Baby Boom generation intends to work until age 70, and the age of retirement may keep rising because people need the income or because they want to stay active. How can we help peer reviewers remain mobile as they age?
Some of the museums that receive peer review visits through our programs are in remote areas and traveling to them can be challenging. Recently an experienced reviewer turned down a visit, not due to time restrictions or willingness to participate, but due to how complicated the travel would have been. They would have had to use a personal vehicle, take three flights, and rented a car for the last leg of the journey, spending two full days on travel in addition to the site visit itself. Not only are travel costs high in cases like these (paid for either by the museum itself or MAP grant funds) but the sheer logistics of a trip like this can become overwhelming for anyone.

Of course, while the mobility afforded by a robot is cool, there are many free technologies that support remote conferencing. Some, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, support real time video connections as well as voice. Heck, you could walk your peer reviewer through collections storage using Facetime on an iPad. But telepresence robots do add an extra dimension to remote participation. Besides the autonomy they provide to someone who may be mobility impaired, when folks interact with people via telepresence robot, they quickly get over the novelty factor and start treating the robot as a real proxy for the person it projects. And by 2040, telepresence robots may be as common and affordable as a laptop computer is today.

Some museums are already using telepresence robots to host school groups or individual visitors (see links below). I challenge the museum community and companies that manufacture these robots to think about their applications beyond tours. They could give small museums access to a great consultant who is too far away to visit in person, if we can find a way to make the robots themselves affordable for the smaller institutions. Could a group of small museums share a robot? What can we in the museum community do to make the opportunities more accessible?

You may know Danyelle from her work in MAP or in peer review where she works to help museums meet their institutional goals by going through the Museum Assessment Program, helping them access the most up to date resources and by working to ensure that AAM continues to grow and cultivate our group of volunteer peer reviewers. If you are interested in finding out more about the upcoming MAP deadline or about becoming a peer reviewer feel free to check out AAM’s website or drop Danyelle an email: drickard (at) aam-us.org.   

More coverage of telepresence robots in museums:

A Quick Reminder That Technology Can Be Wonderful: Telepresence robots make it possible for people with disabilities to visit museums.

Remotely tour a museum (at the National Museum of Australia)

Museum at your fingertips: telepresence tours for schools

How robots bring the mob life to you: Special telepresence bots let people with physical disabilities explore cultural venues, such as Vegas' Mob Museum, just like everyone else.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How I Rewrote the Future of the Anthropocene

The digital edition of Museum 2040 has been downloaded over 2000 times, and I’m tremendously encouraged by the feedback I’ve received from readers. As I’d hoped, museum people are using this exercise in immersive future fiction as a catalyst for discussions around museum planning, in board presentations, even as background material for grant proposals! I think the story of HOW our 2040 authors came up with their narratives is as informative as the stories themselves. In today’s post, Sarah Sutton (who authored her 2040 opinion piece under the name “Ocean Six”) shares how she went about envisioning the green work of future museums. (And if you haven’t snagged your copy of Museum 2040, access a free digital download here.)

Earth’s current geologic time period has been dubbed the Anthropocene because the primary forces shaping this period are “human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric, and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.” These altered systems are making it harder for humans to live here comfortably, hence the era’s bad reputation. Logic would suggest, though, that what we have altered already, we can alter again, this time with a positive spin.

Writing My Take for Museum 2040 was a chance to show how museums might help reform the Anthropocene’s bad reputation.  

I used the opinion piece to examine my greatest frustration: “Why aren’t museums doing more about environmental sustainability and climate response?”, then visualized my greatest hope: “Museums are recognized as indispensable in a thriving community.” Here’s how my thinking evolved:

“Why aren’t museums doing more about environmental sustainability and climate response?”

I believe it’s because museums leaders think there is no clear path or mandate for doing more. I see a path, though. Mission and community needs create those paths if museums leaders stop to look. The ways in which mission and need align are often easiest to see in an urban setting where the combined needs of many people intersect with the varied content and knowledge found among museum staff. So I began My Take in the cities, imagining a future in which museums help cities reach their carbon-neutral goals. 
Cities are currently setting goals to reduce carbon-producing energy consumption, but they are making a big mistake trying to meet these goals without their best potential allies: museums. There is a lot of acreage in museums’ landscapes and parking areas, rooftops and exterior walls that could be used to generate carbon-free power. Cities can also use museums’ public outreach, awareness, provide knowledge, and build skills that can lead to public behavior change and advocacy around a low/no-carbon future. Cities can’t build energy infrastructure without public support, and an uninformed public may not support cities’ efforts. Museums, as a trusted public resource, can help bridge the gap of understanding. Museums can support public engagement and fill physical infrastructure needs simultaneously.

Since I know how committed and powerful the museum field can choose to be, I projected that museums will produce so much clean energy that certain parties might actually become alarmed. I can imagine that an energy provider or regulator, or a neighbor, may feel threatened and try to regulate these efforts by reclassifying museums as a utility. In my story, the specter of reclassification is a minor but nerve-wracking blip--I am confident the fundamental construction of museums as NGOs will protect them from this kind of regulation. In the end, decision-makers will recognize the bottom-line advantages of clean energy, and design and planning professionals will understand that sustainable solutions require integrated approaches. City planners know they need help addressing environmental issues and climate change response. I want them to know their best help can come through museums.

“Museums are recognized as indispensable in a thriving community.”
My vision of museums as energy providers is still limited and limiting compared to all they are capable of contributing. My hope is that museums are naturally integrated into the fabric of future communities, and that they help their communities thrive. So, what role can a museum play that is greater, more pervasive, than serving as an energy producer?
Last year, in an article for Curator, I wrote that “Museums hold in one body the diverse physical and intellectual resources, abilities, creativity, freedom, and authority to foster the changes the world needs most.” I believe this with every fiber of my being. If each museum uses its mission to determine which issues it is most effective at resolving, then our collective resources can support a broader variety of effective responses to climate change. So maybe, by 2040, in addition to the examples I give in My Take,  
  • aquariums will have contributed so significantly to coral reef rehabilitation that any surviving island communities can safely fish and sustain themselves again, and fish populations around the world with be healthier and more productive 
  • a consortium of archives and historic sites will have recovered cultural ways of climate coping so that traditional and nature-based communities can continue to thrive in place despite the altered climate
  • zoos and gardens will have perpetuated many threatened species of plants and creatures enough to enable us to create environments in which they can be re-established in the wild
  • museums will have documented and shared the story of the destructive first stage of the Anthropocene so well that stage two becomes the story of how humanity repaired the world. 

My Take acknowledges that, in the future, the benefits of climate response may be unevenly distributed. They certainly are now. Poorer people are overlooked for services and support when wealthier people are not. People living in less-developed countries and with more dramatic climate impacts such as tsunamis, droughts, fires, and mega storms are suffering at a greater degree than most others. People living in rural communities are isolated by distance from research and resources, and the positive impacts of change seem less significant when serving fewer individuals. This is where the example of international sister-city, sister-museums partnerships will be important. Just as museums can be great allies to their cities, those partnerships can be great allies to overlooked, disadvantaged museums and cities wherever they are found.  So many are passed over in favor of other richer, larger, louder communities, but they won’t be if we work to avoid it.

As I see it, there are three kinds of sustainability work for museums to do:
  • reduce human impacts that cause the changes in climate
  • develop responses to protect humans and other creatures, and cultural and natural resources in the face of climate change
  • educate the public so that all can participate in creating change.

That last item is just as critical as the first two; it’s also where I pin my hopes for 2040. If museums hold “in one diverse body” so much that is needed to support “the changes the world needs most”, then to activate it museum must engage humans to create those changes. Humans created this mess, this Anthropocene; we can darn well recreate it with a positive spin.   
Supertrees at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay
Further reading:

SARAH W. SUTTON, ELIZABETH WYLIE, BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS, CARTER O’BRIEN, STEPHANIE SHAPIRO, AND SHENGYIN XU, “Museums and the Future of a Healthy World: ‘Just, Verdant and Peaceful’”, Curator: The Museum Journal, Vol 60, No. 2, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. April, 2017.

Sarah Sutton is a sustainability and climate change consultant to museums, zoos, gardens, and historic sites around the world. She lives in Hawai’i where she developed her alter ego, Ocean Six, who wrote My Take. Ocean Six enjoys being part of an outrigger canoe team, and learning more about the ocean that determines so much of our climate. Sarah is the author of Environmental Sustainability at Historic Sites & Museums, and co-author with Elizabeth Wylie of The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Sustainability (two editions). You can reach her at @greenmuseum, on facebook at SustainableMuseums, and email sarah@sustainblemuseums.net