Thursday, August 29, 2013

TrendsWatch Update: 3-D Scanning and Printing

 So much good stuff, what to highlight? 3-D printing overall continues to take off. In June, MakerBot was bought for $403M by industrial printing company Stratsys, demonstrating the industry’s belief in the exploding market for desktop printing for personal use and small businesses.

Tech and expertise barriers to 3-D design continue to fall, as interfaces proliferate to assist in the design process. For example, Doodle3D turns sketches made on a computer, tablet or smartphone into printable 3D design specs. Futurist-entrepreneur Elon Musk has announced he has created a gestural interface for 3D design, to make the process simpler and more intuitive. And MakerBot just introduced a "no-muss, no fuss" 3D scanner

Every day seems to see news of another application of 3D tech. NASA just successfully tested 3D printed rocket components, with the goal of making space exploration simpler and cheaper. The space agency is also exploring the potential for printing food, to help liven the diet of astronauts on long space missions. 

We’ve also seen an explosion of applications of 3-D printing and scanning in museums. Just a few cool examples:
The Brooklyn Museum is exploring applications of the technology for accessibility, creating a project to bring 3D printed objects into their series of “sensory tours.”

The American Museum of Natural History’s two-week “Capturing Dinosaurs” camp used digital fabrication tools and the museum’s collections to help teens explore paleontology. (At least one teen was inspired to consider a career combining paleo and tech—see his remarks in the video, below. “I can do this!”)

The Science Museum of London used 275 laser scans, yielding over 2 billion measurements, to create a “point cloud” map of their shipping galleries before closing them for good, to be replaced by a new “Information Age” exhibit. The scans will enable the Museum to create a detailed virtual tour of the old galleries, so the experience lives on in some form.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is selling limited edition 3D reproductions of selected paintings from its own collections (for about $34k). The museum also touts the reproductions’ ability to provide access for the visually impaired.

In May, Tony Butler reported from the MuseumNext conference, highlighting Oonagh Murphy’s report on the Newark Museum’s use of 3-D printers to help children engage with the museum, and technology, in a slow and meaningful way.

For a glimpse of where 3D printing is headed in the coming year, see this projection from SmartPlanet talking about the effect of several important patents expiring, fueling the development of cheaper high-quality 3D printers.

I’d love to hear how your museum is using 3D scanning and printing, whether for education, collections care, exhibit fabrication or research. Please share descriptions and links in the comments section, below.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Through a (Google) Glass, Darkly

At the Tech@LEAD conference last week, Neal Stimler let me try his Google Glass.

I had been kicking myself for not applying to be an early adopter of Glass, so I was happy to draft off Neal’s successful bid, however briefly.

I’ve been monitoring the rise of “wearable tech” and “wearable computing”—including socks that act as personal trainers, biometric medical bracelets, jackets that can charge your smartphone, and high-fashion clothing that responds to sound, sunlight, water and movement. Google isn’t the only company racing to introduce a wearable, unobtrusive, functional computational interface—Telepathy is working on a unit that looks like something out of a Star Trek props box, Vuzix looks like a chunky Bluetooth headset.

The underlying appeal of wearable tech is the prospect of seamless integration of connectivity and data into everyday life. No more fumbling for your smart phone, no more juggling devices or pulling over to the side of the road to take a safe look at a screen. Wearable tech is one (significantly less creepy) step short of the Transhumanist’s vision of our cyborg future, in which technology is actually implanted in our bodies.  

This prospect of “seamless integration” has implications for culture in general and museums in particular:

Norms of Behavior. We are still working out the etiquette of using mainstream digital devices. In a recent “Dinner Party Download” podcast one listener asked Lizzie Post and Daniel Post-Senning (who are, yes, grandchildren of Emily Post) when it was ok for a passenger to watch a video on their PED, as opposed to conversing with the driver. A friend of mine pointed out a new custom at restaurants and bars: piling cellphones, screen down, in the middle of the table, with the understanding that anyone who break ranks and retrieve their phone during the meal has to pay more than their share of the tab. What happens when you can’t tell, for sure, whether someone is looking at their (teeny) screen or connecting to the web? Is pretending to listen when you are lost in your own thoughts any different than pretending to listen while secretly checking email? When it comes to museum norms, I’ve heard from cranky museum enthusiasts who are really irritated by other visitors using their hand held devices to take pictures, video, text or talk. They feel the presence of people waving their smart phones around detracts from the museum experience. (These may or may not be the same people who object to small children playing on the floor in art galleries, or teenagers flirting and chattering in groups.) When electronic interfaces become, in effect, invisible, does this irritation evaporate?

Privacy. Google Glass and its kin are triggering privacy concerns, since they make it harder to detect, and object, when users are taking a photo or video. One bar in Seattle has already made a big deal of proactively banning Glass, saying “Part of this is a joke, to be funny on Facebook and get a reaction, but part of it is serious because we don’t let people film other people or take photos unwanted of other people in the bar because it’s kind of a private place people go.” Neal pointed out that photographers have been sneaking photos for decades, sometimes with the help of low-tech covert gadgets, so this isn’t a new threat. As usual, technology just facilitates an underlying impulse.  Not everyone carries around a 90° lens on their cameras—but if we reach a point where as many people are wearing computing headsets as are currently carrying smartphones, there is a difference in scale. When WeeJee was taking his photos, ordinary citizens didn’t have YouTube and Instagram as platforms for sharing their own candid (and unauthorized) funny vids & pics.

Let’s not forget I was talking to Neal in the “Petting Zoo” (demo area) of the Tech@LEAD conference, where attendees explored how technology can facilitate the access people with disabilities have to arts & culture. A headset that lets you access digital content with voice commands could be a huge boon to users with disabilities wanting to make full use of a museum’s resources. (Though, as with most universal design, this access would probably be appreciated by people without disabilities as well.)

So back to my brief trial of Google Glass. It was a much more awkward interface than I expected. It was challenging to pronounce words clearly enough for its voice recognition software (Googling “Elizabeth Merritt” yielded Elizabeth II, married to Prince Philip). Non-voice commands are given by tapping or sliding your finger along the frame. Maybe this would become more natural with practice, but if felt a bit transgressive—like compulsively touching my nose. I could see the tiny projection screen quite clearly, and when I consciously looked “past” the screen, the display was relatively unobtrusive. Overall grade: useable but clunky for now, with clear potential for improvement.

Do I think Glass (or its competitors) are about to go mainstream? Not next year, maybe not the year after, but remember how hard it is to project the rate of adoption of new technology. We may be at the classic stage of mocking a new device that is suffering through an unattractive adolescence. (Ken Olsen, founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corp., famously remarked in 1977 “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." Oops.) Who would have predicted, when the first smartphone was marketed in 2000, that 56% of Americans would own at least one of these devices today?  

So it’s not too early for museumers to start thinking about the rise of wearable tech, the implications for society and for museum practice.

Question of the day: if you had (or have) Google Glass or the equivalent, how would you use it in a museum? Do you think it would change the way you use digital resources and online social networks? Are there things you might do with Glass you wouldn't do with a hand held digital device?

You can follow Neal's adventures through the Google Glass via twitter or Google+

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Museums & Wikipedia—a Two Year Update

I recently read a post on the New York Times blogs about a wiki edit-athon at Smithsonian American Art Museum here in D.C. That prompted me to ping Lori Byrd Phillips, digital marketing coordinator at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Lori first came to my attention as TCM’s Wikipedian in Residence. She’s written for CFM before about Wikipedia and about Open Authority—a term she first defined on this blog—and I invited her to give us an update on museum engagement with all things wiki in the past year or so.

It’s funny how one little blog post can make such a big impact. In April 2011 I shared my thoughts about the importance of Wikipedia and open culture here on the Center for the Future of Museums blog. The post, “Museums & Wikipedia: The Future of Collaboration and Accessibility,” became an important stepping stone for the growing GLAM-Wiki initiative—an international community of Wikipedians and cultural professionals who guide Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums in collaborating with the world’s largest online encyclopedia. I elaborated on the GLAM-Wiki initiative in the fall 2011 Museum magazine. The Wikipedian in Residence model was included in the inaugural 2012 edition of CFM’s TrendsWatch report, just as we were preparing to present at the AAM Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. We consider that meeting in 2012—one year after that initial blog post—to be the “watershed moment” for the GLAM-Wiki initiative. We had the sense that the broader museum community now understood why Wikipedia would be relevant within our organizations.
Wikipedians in Residence presenting
at the 2012 AAM Annual Meeting
cc by-sa 3.0 Sarah Stierch

We could not have been more appreciative of the platform provided by the AAM Annual Meeting, where we presented both an in-person panel and a virtual session called “Wikipedia in the Museum: Lessons from Wikipedians in Residence.” Coming from the U.S., Australia and Spain, five Wikipedians in Residence arrived in Minneapolis expecting to convince attendees about the importance of museums engaging the wiki world. But we quickly found that the question was no longer, “Why Wikipedia?” but “How do we do this?” (If you are still curious about the “Why?” read my first blog post.) From surprise mentions in other presentations to an enthusiastic response to our own sessions, we definitely felt the WikiLove.

Fortunately, we were prepared to answer the “How?” question. In 2012 I served as the Wikimedia Foundation’s U.S. Cultural Partnerships Coordinator, building the infrastructure to support Wikimedia partnerships among cultural institutions in the U.S. In this role, I kick-started the GLAM-Wiki community within the U.S. by hosting a GLAM Camp in Washington D.C. I worked together with this group to establish a new GLAM-Wiki U.S. Portal that makes it easier for museum professionals to find resources and get started on a Wikipedia partnership. On the U.S. Portal, you can use the Contribute page if you’re considering what kind of Wikipedia partnership may be right for you or the Connect page if you’re looking for a Wikipedian to help.

The most important result of my year with the Wikimedia Foundation was the creation of the GLAM-Wiki U.S. Consortium. The Consortium is a network of museums and other cultural organizations combined with Wikipedians and the GLAM-Wiki community who work together to share resources, discuss ideas, establish best practices, and collectively support one another’s Wikimedia projects. We found that a number of museum professionals had themselves become experts in GLAM-Wiki initiatives, and it was time to connect these individuals with those just getting started—establishing a culture of “GLAMs helping GLAMs.” The Consortium is led by an Advisory Board of museum professionals, librarians, archivists, and Wikipedians tasked with shepherding the Consortium forward and maintaining the momentum of U.S. initiatives.

We’ve only just begun. You can join the conversation by following the mailing list and checking in on the Wikipedia page. The Consortium also hosts monthly GLAMOuts (Google Hangouts On Air) with highlights from GLAM-Wiki members in the U.S. and beyond. If you are interested in hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at your museum, or if you have any questions about starting a Wikipedia project, you can introduce yourself on the GLAM-Wiki U.S. mailing list, and we’ll help you find someone in your area who can get you started.

Sometimes I find myself in awe of the community that has grown so quickly around the GLAM-Wiki initiative. In the past two years, I've watched cultural institutions go from hosting a total of three Wikipedians in Residence to nearly fifty around the world. I've been thrilled to advise museum professionals from incredible institutions across the US and watch them enthusiastically begin new projects. I’ve been humbled by the Archivist of the United States, during the 2012 Wikimania Conference keynote, proudly declaring himself a “huge fan of Wikipedians who are leading the way in connecting Wikipedia with the GLAM community.” That’s what can happen in the span of two years, thanks in part to a single blog post. I can’t wait to see what the next two years will bring for Wikipedia and for open culture in museums. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Notes from the Future of Accessibility

Today I will be live-blogging from the Tech@LEAD conference (Technology for Cultural Inclusion) at the Kennedy Center in DC. I hope to be a conduit for your participation in the event--please let me know about things you would like me to ask presenters, or report on from the sessions either using the comment section, below, or by tweeting to the attention of @futureofmuseums with the tag #TechLead2013.

You can check out the program at the conference website. This pilot event is bringing together people from arts, education, design, exhibition, media, IT, mobile development, etc., to explore how the design and application of technologies can support inclusion of people with disabilities in cultural experiences.

Here are the guiding questions for the day:

  1. More technology in cultural and natural history institutions means more challenges and more opportunities for accessibility – what should we do about that?
  2. What technologies, tools, models and techniques from the wider world can we apply to be more fully inclusive?
  3. How can we focus the development and proliferation of new and existing technologies to be inherently accessible and inclusive?
  4. New visitor experiences are coming – what should we do to get ready for them?
My questions for you (answers via tweet or comments):
1) what challenges does your museum face in being accessible to people with disabilities?
2) can you share stories of new tech (or new applications of old tech) that helps support inclusion?

Boston Museum of Science's Ben Wilson shows me the Bytelight system: creates an indoor positioning system with 1 ft accuracy, enabling people to use their assistive personal electronic devices to access highly localized content.

Will Mayo talks about SpokenLayer, a service which makes published materials accessible within 24 min by professional readers. Find that 62% of users listen all the way through the recorded material. The New Republic is now making all articles available this way. Will points out that anyone with their eyes engaged in another task (driving, exercising) is "functionally blind" when it comes to written text.
Artist Halsey Burgund performs his "Patient Translations" piece created with Roundware, a "flexible, distributed framework which collects, stores, organizes and re-presents audio content. Basically, it lets you collect audio from anyone with a smartphone or web access, upload it to a central repository along with its metadata and then filter it and play it back collectively in continuous audio streams." Hmmm, sound stream of commentary from people in your museum's galleries?
@nealstimler of the @MetMuseum demos Google Glass

What applications do you see for Google Glass (or its competitors) in museums?
John Tobiason of the National Park Service shows off their accessible tour apps, including the kiosk version.

John says he & his colleagues were surprised at how many people are using these apps onsite for navigation & accessibility, not just interpretation.
Annuska Perkins explains wearable tech: Project Blinkie Blanket. A smart e-textile driven by LilyPad Arduino microcontrollers. Proximity, touch, temperature can all be inputs to the Internet of things, triggering useful actions. On a wheelchair, for example, sensors could contribute to crowdsourced accessibility maps.

Talking to Amanda Cachia about museums exploring images of disability through art. Check out her exhibit What Can a Body Do?  Speaking of accessibility, the media section of the exhibits website has audio recordings of all the catalog texts.

You can view more notes from the day, including some wonderful real-time "doodles" like the one below at the Tech@LEAD website

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Exhibiting Yesterday’s Futures

Phil and I have been collecting notes on exhibits that help society think about the future. For example, this 2010 exhibit of futuristic art in London; “Lifestyle 2050” at Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation; or Future Earth at Science Museum of Minnesota –an ecological look at the world in 2050. We also look for exhibits showing how people in the past looked at the future. (Which is even more fun, because you get to both revel in nostalgia and snark at what they got wrong.) For example, the current Never Built: Los Angeles at the Architecture and Design Museum, or the National Building Museum’s Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s, This week’s post by Colin Robertson, Charles N. Mathewson Curator of Education at the Nevada Museum of Art, is about an exhibit from the latter category—futurist visions from the past.

Photograph by Jamie Kingham
The current feature exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, Modernist Maverick: The Architecture of William L. Pereira, presents a swath of the American architect’s most important projects from his fifty-year career, highlighting the iconic structures he designed such as the futuristic Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the Transamerica “Pyramid” in San Francisco, and the science fiction-y Central (now Geisel) Library building on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. The exhibition also examines his quieter but no less important master plans for Southern California’s historic Irvine Ranch, the University of California, Irvine campus, and LAX. The curatorial framework for the show, in concert with its exhibition design by Nik Hafermaas | Uebersee, casts Pereira as an architectural futurist—that is, as an architect whose greatest contributions may not have been the iconic buildings or places he designed, but the processes of designing architecture at all scales (buildings, campuses, cities, and environments) for future changes and needs that he could not predict but only imagine.

Image courtesy of Johnson Fain Archives
In the mid-1950s Pereira and his then-partner Charles Luckman were commissioned to design a new master plan for the updating and enlargement of the Los Angeles International Airport. It was in scope, scale, and budget, the largest project to date for the youthful partnership. Some sixty architects and planners from the Pereira and Luckman office worked exclusively on the project for over two years. Their task, less than a decade after gravel runways were still in use at LAX, was to design plans for airport facilities to accommodate the 18 million passengers the airport authority anticipated would be traveling through LAX by 1980, and to imagine a new airport for the Jet Age. Their proposals included plans for a large, central domed structure that would have enabled passengers to leave their cars in parking structures on-site and circulate through the airport and out to the concourses without further encountering automobiles. Anyone who’s been to LAX knows that this is decidedly not the way things work there today.

Image courtesy of Johnson Fain Archives
Pereira’s proposals also included the early adoption of human-architecture interfaces such as moving sidewalks, flight status change monitors, public address systems, and “pre-tuned receivers,” that bear an uncanny resemblance to today’s ubiquitous smart phones. The airport authority commissioners rejected or altered many of the proposed plans, and ultimately, the Theme Building became the remnant icon distilled from the plan for the central domed structure. Modernist Maverick presents elements of both the far-reaching and unrealized plans Pereira conceived for LAX, as well as elements that were built at the airport, and raises questions about the alternate futures that might have been had Pereira’s plans and designs been more fully realized.

Pereira’s creative and thoughtful capacity to imagine—which is not to say predict— the future of Southern California at the height of its post-WWII growth are why, in part, an exhibition presenting his work as an architect and planner is of interest to CFM readers, and to people interested in the histories of twentieth century design and architecture, generally. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue and documentary film attempt to raise questions as to why someone as prolific as Pereira is not better remembered today, and to ask how architecture and planning as exhibited subjects in museums can present histories and ideas of alternate futures—the futures that might have been.

I visited Colin in 2011, when the Nevada Museum of Art hosted To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum. NMA created additional interpretation for the touring show, that reflected the then-recent political revolution in Egypt. It included speculative musings from science fiction author & futurist Bruce Sterling, accompanied by an 80-foot panoramic mural depicting a possible future Egypt. As the exhibit catalog noted “In much the same way that the antiquities on display offer only traces of historical evidence helping us to understand Egypt’s past, Sterling’s contribution and the accompanying mural illustrates one of many possible outcomes for the future of this dynamic and rapidly-changing country.” I love the approach NMA is taking to the historical future and to future history. Can you share other examples of museums playing in the futurist realm? Please clue us in, using the comments section, below.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Flower Power: A Story of Organizational Re-Blossoming

 A reporter recently asked me to name the biggest barrier standing in the way of museums adapting to the forces shaping the future. My reply was “ourselves—the funding and organizational structures that tether us to outdated models and failed strategies.” However unsuccessful these models are, sometimes the barrier that keeps us from discarding outdated ways of operating is simply too high to scale. Hence my pleasure in sharing the story of the Oakland Museum of California—a story that illustrates how massive disruption can be turned into an opportunity for reinvention and growth. OCMA Director and CEO Lori Fogarty has spoken eloquently about this transformation at conferences—in today’s guest post, she shares a brief version of the ongoing saga.

Elizabeth cited our recent reorganization at the Oakland Museum of California in her July 11 post about the need for museums to let go of assumptions in order to meet the real needs of their communities – up to and including the assumption of traditional organizational structures and authority.  There has been a good deal of interest in our experiment here in organizational change, so I thought I’d elaborate on this tale of how disruption and potential upheaval resulted in new possibilities and ways  of working for OMCA.

As a brief background, OMCA had been a department of the City of Oakland since its founding in 1969.  Funded entirely by the City for its first few years, public support had declined significantly over the decades, and as a result, a private non-profit entity, the OMCA Foundation, was founded in the early 1990s to provide fundraising assistance for exhibitions and programs.  By 2010, the balance had tilted so that City funding represented 45% of our budget and support through the Foundation totaled 55%.  The City funding – which was declining more precipitously with the recession and Oakland’s financial crisis – was almost entirely directed to facility operations and maintenance and, most significantly, to salaries and benefits for the 45% of our staff who were City employees.  Even at a time when were in the midst of a major capital project and institutional resurgence, we were facing the potential of severe employee lay-offs due to City reductions.

Instead of viewing this prospect as inevitable, we pursued complex negotiations to restructure our relationship with the City, resulting in the City turning over all operations to the OMCA Foundation while retaining ownership of the facilities and collections and continuing to provide substantial – though reduced – annual funding.  What that meant in reality for our staff was that the City would lay-off all employees at the Museum -- myself included -- and the Foundation would then make the determination whether or not to re-hire.  And, by contract with the City’s unions, we were required to give six months notification of the impending lay-offs.

While the prospect of this kind of enormous change could have been morale-busting for employees, we decided to seize this opportunity to truly reinvent the structure of the Museum.  When OMCA was founded in the 1960s, it came together as three smaller museums of California art, history, and natural science, and we still operated in many ways as three museums, bifurcated even further between City and Foundation staff.  With the City transfer, we could put this legacy aside and invent the Museum we wanted for the future – an institution that would put the visitor and community participation at the very core of our organization.

As the City and Foundation Board leadership negotiated the intricate agreements that would enable the transfer, I worked with museum organizational consultant, Gail Anderson, and the staff of the Museum to envision what a structure for a 21st century museum might look like.  With as much transparency and communication as was feasible during the highly sensitive and political process with the City, we formed working groups of staff charged with considering how we might improve processes and systems, redefine roles, and create a collaborative, cross-functional structure in support of our mission and vision for the future.

The result of this process was a structure that is reflected in an org chart that is affectionately known internally as “the flower.”  The structure incorporates six cross-functional, cross-disciplinary “centers,” all focused on an outstanding visitor experience and participatory community engagement.  These six centers are: the OMCA Lab; the Audience & Civic Engagement Center; the Creative Production Center; the Collections & Information Access Center; the Resource & Enterprise Center; and the Institutional Support Center. 
New Org Chart, Oakland Museum of California

As part of the process, we re-wrote every job description. Every staff person whose job underwent extensive change—whether former City employee or current Foundation employee—was required to interview for a position, which meant conducting 90 interviews in a six-week period.  With a very small number of exceptions, we were able to retain everyone who applied to the new organization and, at the same time, attract great new talent and cultivate new leadership.  As disruptive as this process was – and, of course, the day-to-day work of the Museum continued unabated during the months of this transition – the restructuring enabled a fundamental and profound cultural shift and new ways of working throughout the institution.

So, how are we doing now two years into our organizational transformation?  When we embarked on this journey, I felt we were in a boat at sea, tossing around in turbulent waters, without a compass or life preservers.  I can now say with confidence that we’ve landed, pitched our tent on the shore, and our new “flower” structure and culture is taking root.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Emerging Federal Role for Competency Education

CFM has been exploring the future of education in papers, presentations, stories and blog posts. Sometimes we look at mainstream futures (such as Naomi Coquillon’s recent post on museums & the Common Core curriculum standards). Sometimes we look at why, and how, the learning landscape of the US may be radically different in coming decades.  Today we feature a report that treads what I would characterize as treading a middle path—outlining how we could reform the current system while challenging some of the core assumptions that handicap traditional schools. Today’s guest post is by Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorksFoundation’s senior director of national policy, who introduces KnowledgeWorks’ first policy brief—a 25 page document I recommend to your attention.

Over the past year, two words seem to dominate conversation about the future of our education system: competency education. CompetencyWorks defines competency education as:

  • Students advancing upon mastery.
  • Competencies including explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessments are meaningful and positive learning experiences for students.
  • Students receiving timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasizing competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

A growing number of states have begun serious conversations about how to transition to a system that ensures students get the supports and extra time they need to master academic content and transferrable skills.  As more states and districts explore ways to make this transition, there is an opportunity for museums to be a very important partner in this work. 

In KnowledgeWorks’ first policy brief on competency education, An Emerging Federal Role for Competency Education, we outline a competency education continuum charting a district’s shift from a traditional education system to one based on competency across several different factors including school culture, learning pace, and instruction.  It is in these areas that museums can have the most impact.  By partnering with districts and schools to create individual learning pathways, customized supports, and accelerated opportunities based on student interests, learning styles, and real-time data, museums have the opportunity to be part of a solution that will enable every child to meet and exceed his or her potential.

The success of the competency movement depends heavily on districts and schools being able to work with community partners as they design education systems that put students at the center by accommodating each student’s interests and learning styles. We hope this brief sparks lots of conversation toward this end.

Stay tuned for another policy brief that dives deeply into providing multiple pathways to student success through competency education including how community-based learning can support continued innovation.

Competency Education challenges federal accountability and assessment policies that hinder schools from making full use of museum resources. These include reliance on standardized testing requirements that narrow instructional focus and time in dysfunctional ways and assume that students will all learn at the same pace. The policy brief outline shifts that would support the creation of personalized learning systems that enable students to build museum resources into individualized learning plans. This hints at a future in which learning outside the classroom is explicitly valued as part of the educational system—a future in which museums can be equal players in the learning landscape.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Want to Make a (Long) Bet On That?

It’s summer and things are slow, so sometimes Futurist Friday (my sporadic series of posts recommending reading & viewing) is going to fall earlier in the week.

This week’s recommendation: the Long Now Foundation’s Long Bets site.

Quick review: the Long Now Foundation is Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis’ project to encourage really long term (10,000 year) thinking. (See previous Futurist Friday post profiling the Long Now’s Rosetta Project.)

Long Bets are yet another way the Long Now’s inventive staff and board have come up with to promote thinking on a long time frame. People are encouraged to post predictions on the site regarding something they think will happen in the next 2-X years. (X is intentionally unspecified—there is no boundary on how far the projections can cast into the future. The most long term projection I could find closes in 776 years.)

Here, for example is a projection on the site related to the cultural sector:

#657: By 2030, 30% of libraries existing today will not have walls (buildings).17 years 02013-02030. (Unfortunately the author, Susan Hornung, didn’t provide an argument supporting this prediction, so it is hard to assess the strength of her position.)

Predictions are vetted by a mediator to ensure it is “societally or scientifically important” and other criteria. If someone wants to challenge that prediction, they provide a counter argument. The predictor can then choose which challenger to bet against. The contenders agree on a $ amount for the bet, each designates a charity to receive their (hoped for) winnings, and negotiate the terms of the wager. The bet is resolved when the time period of the prediction is up, or when conditions of the terms of the bet are met, whichever comes first. The winnings are awarded to the winners preferred charity.

Anyone who registers on the site is encouraged to contribute to the discussion regarding any given bet. Indeed, that is one of the major goals of the site—to foster “improved long-term thinking.”
There are lots of predictions about global warming (# 653, “The first ice-free artic day (as defined by NSIDC) will occur by the end of 2020”), the economy (#611#633, “Bitcoins will outperform the US Dollar, Gold, Silver, and the stock market by over 100 times over the next two years”) and transportation (#633, “By the year 2037, all driving on highways and city streets will be completely automated, the only place to freely drive will be specially designated tracks”).
Some projections are so technical I would have to do background research to even know what they are talking about (#165, “By 2040 the existence of Qi will be accepted by the mainstream scientists, and Qi research will revolutionize our mechanical scientific TOE into a true TOE.” Wah?)
Some are just plain silly (#86, By the year 2150, over 50% of schools in the USA or Western Europe will require classes in defending against robot attacks." I wish. That would've been cooler than gym.) But all together, the projections and bets make for a good read—insight into what people think about, worry about, hope for, and (in some cases) well-reasoned arguments for why they believe what they do.
It is particularly interesting to look at bets that have been resolved to see, with hindsight, whose reasoning was on point and why. See for example bet #3, in which Jim Griffin predicted, in 2002, that “a profitable video-on-demand service aimed at consumers will offer 10,000 titles to 5 million subscribers by 2010.” Griffin was right. His challenger, Gordon Bell, argued that too many technological barriers (bandwidth, codecs, connections) lay between us and Netflix and its kin. Serves as a good reminder of how hard it is to correctly perceive the speed with which technology, and infrastructure, can change.
As a side note, the project also has a brilliant financial model. Participants pay a $50 “publication fee” to post a projection on the site. When the predictor and challenger agree on the bet, both deposit the amount up front into a portfolio called the Foresight Fund, which holds the stakes. (The bets are tax-deductible, since they are charitable gifts) Half of the growth of the fund goes to support the Long Now Foundation, and the other half accrues so that the eventual payment to the winner’s preferred charity may actually be much bigger than the original bet.

What makes Long Bets meaningful?
  • The format and criteria encourages you to think long and hard about framing your projection in a specific, verifiable way.
  • The requirement to plonk down hard cash makes you assess your certainty about your projection. Is it really a product of reasoning, or is it just wishful thinking?
  • It fosters discussion about the projection, the challenge and the reasoning behind both.
So, what about it—are you ready to place your own bet? I’m formulating one about our sector (let’s see if it meet’s the site’s criteria for being “societally or scientifically important.”) Until then, weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Futurist Friday: Scanning the Crowdfunding Sites

I hope by now I’ve convinced you of the benefits of reading widely & eclectically, and of including “fringe” as well as mainstream sources in your scanning.

Today’s Futurist Friday assignment: set aside 15 minutes to browse a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to see what projects people have in the works.  This yields a relatively unfiltered glimpse into the fringe, showing us what people THINK the world needs, and the technology, art, events and services people actually are willing to fund.

I do mean browse. It’s hard to explore these sites in a highly focused way. (Though I always check the keyword “Museum,” and scope out the IndieGoGo categ
Picture from
ory for Verified Nonprofit just to see how our sector is using crowdfunding.) Searching on “innovation” returns everything from “the world’s first hands-free umbrella”  on Kickstarter to the The Sensoria Smart Sock Fitness Trainer on IndieGoGo- which at first struck me merely as a a step forward in the growing Internet of Socks, but read on.

It’s interesting to note which projects succeed and which do not. (On Kickstarter, 56% of projects fall short of their funding goal.) For example, the highly unsuccessful—Helping Build the Internet of Things, which has raised a whopping $1,221 towards its $15k goal when the funding period closed. Of course, a project can fail for many reasons, including the inability of the project managers to mobilize social media to publicize their campaign. In the case if, I wonder if part of the problem was that they did not make it clear whether donors were funding a nonprofit “open community” to support IoT makers, or the production of a particular piece of technology. (They led with the former, but all the detail was about the latter.)

In contrast, look at Clipless. A wildly successful campaign, its goal was $25,000 and it raised $43,890. This project funded the creation of the first production models of a device that connects phones, GPS or tablets to any flat surface securely & reversible. At first seemed to me like JAG (Just Another Gadget), but on reflection, I think the project illuminates a couple of important trends:

First—how low-cost home-based manufacturing tech is fueling entrepreneurship. The Clipless guys produced their first prototype with a 3D printer, but when plastic proved too flimsy, they turned to a small Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine to produce aluminum prototypes. 

Second—the accelerating growth of the Internet of Things. One of the attractive things about Clipless is that it incorporates Near Field Communication (NFC) that enables the phone to “intelligently run common tasks, based on the physical object it’s mounted to.” Translation: it can launch specific apps, depending on what it is clipped to. (For example, you might program the mount on your nightstand to automatically silence the phone’s ringer, dim the display and set your alarm.)

So maybe, in terms of scanning significance, those socks aren’t so silly after all. Both the Sensoria project and Clipless demonstrate the desire on the part of users for seamless, integrated, wearable smart tech. And Sensoria illustrates how this kind of tech is being harness in the service of the growing field of “quantified self” devices that enable you to obsessively track everything from what you eat to how much you move to how well you sleep. 

Now about that campaign to open the first cinnamon roll shop in China

Thursday, August 1, 2013

TrendsWatch 2013 Mid-year Update: The (ever) Changing Shape of Giving

In the first half of 2013, we're seeing a growing resentment on the part of nonprofits about the some of the expectations being projected on to them by funders, and the beginnings of concerted action to re-shape public expectations of charitable performance and accountability in key ways.

Exhibit one:  the OverheadMyth Campaign organized by GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, launched with this open letter. The campaign aspires to “correct the common misconception that the percentage of charity’s expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs—commonly referred to as “overhead”—is, on its own, an appropriate metric to evaluate when assessing a charity’s worthiness and efficiency.”  The counter argument to this prevailing view is that by equating low overhead with responsible management (and visa versa), individual donors and foundations cripple the ability of nonprofits to invest in infrastructure and build their capacity to scale up. (The campaign’s Overhead Myth pledge has 2,366 signatures so far, and you can add your name.)

This “misconception” may be hard to correct, however. One commentator recently opined that it is is na├»ve for the “metrics mafia” to think that more sophisticated data can abolish the overhead myth, because the myth is about emotion and values, not data.  Its “symbolic purpose” is to assure donors they can steer their dollars directly to impact and “expresses an important truth about popular sentiment towards charity.”  These “popular sentiments” and their corrosive effects on the nonprofit sector are explored in more depth in…

Exhibit 2: Dan Pallotta’s March TED talk, “The way we thing about charity is dead wrong,” (which I summarized and recommended in a recent Futurist Friday post). Dan Pallotta’s specialty is running multi-day mega fundraisers for charities such as AIDS awareness and breast cancer research. In this talk, he makes the case that our societal attitudes toward charity condemn nonprofits to small and inefficient operations by denying them the market advantages of pay competitive with the for-profit sector, advertising and marketing, risk taking, and investment capital. “Everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional” Dan declares. This message evidently struck a chord, as the video has racked up over 2 million views since it posted.

However irrational or dysfunctional our attitudes towards giving, this pushback might not have gained steam if the old model of giving was stable and productive. But these movements are taking root in a landscape in which the forces disrupting traditional patterns of giving continue to build.

This year’s Global Philanthropy Forum explored how digital tools and technology are empowering “indigenous philanthropists” to bypass traditional power structures of funding and target their giving exactly where they want it to go. The Forum emphasized the ability of these tools to fuel innovation in the developing world, to democratize giving and empower local populations. But while such may provide “precision” in global philanthropic interventions (as GPF’s founder & CEO, Jane Wales observed), in the US they may further sap support for the capacity and infrastructure that enables organizations to effectively tackle broad needs. (Exactly the side effect that GuideStar, Pallotta et al are raging against.) As a college director of giving recently commented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Annual funds…have become a tough sell in an age when philanthropy has been divided into such micro units that a donor can give a tablet to a specific fourth-grade class.” 

Even bigger picture, there is some interesting debate bubbling up on the most effective form of funding the essential work performed by the nonprofit sector, whether the choice is between government funding v. philanthropy, or between accomplishing a social mission as a nonprofit or as a for-profit company.

We continue to tag CFM tweets about this trend with #Philanthropy. In addition here are some good people & organizations to follow on these topics:

GuideStar’s CEO Jacob Harold, who tweets as @jacobcharold and blogs for GuideStar

Brian Mittendorf (The Ohio State University) @CountingCharity, blog Counting on Charity

Philanthropy News Digest and the PhilanTopic blog, both from the Foundation Center

The Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, featuring “discussions on the challenges and benefits of effective, data-driven philanthropy”

Future Fundraising Now (oriented towards practical issues, but smart and punchy)

Chronicle of Philanthropy @Philanthropy, which hosts a boatload of blogs, listed here

Nonprofit Quarterly @npquarterly and on the web at