Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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! 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Musing: who's minding the kids?

This week's Musing is about an article features in Dispatches from the future of Museums last week:  "Gates’ $100M Philanthropic Venture inBloom Dies after Parents Say “No Way” (Nonprofit Quarterly). It's about the demise of a student data collection project started only 3 years ago with $100 million in funding from the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. That project, inBloom, is shutting down because of public concerns about the collection and storage of data about children. Many parents, and educators, were queasy about the amount of personal data to be collected and dubious about how it would be secured. (I saw with wry amusement that one of the tags NPQ uses to index the story is "disaster.")

I want to draw your attention to three quotes in the article:

  • The CEO of inBloom notes, in retrospect, "building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated." (As in, "we forgot to include the parents in discussions about how to design and run the project." Oops.)

  • An education blogger is quoted as saying "Our considerations of privacy will remain divorced from learning...until we recognize and acknowledge that students (or their parents) need to be the ones to control and reflect on any information that is collected about learning." (I agree! Giving people access to and control over their data is going to be crucial to buy-in, whether you run a social media platform or a school system.)

  • The author of the article concludes that "finding experienced grantmakers like Gates and Carnegie misreading the interests and desires of the parents and educators who were purportedly the intended beneficiaries is surprising, if not shocking. It’s an unfortunate reflection of the top-down approach of some foundations, issuing prescriptions for the benefit of the public even if that public doesn’t buy in." (See my thoughts on this below.)

When I factor this "disruptive event" (the closing of inBloom) into the interacting trends of big data and rising concerns about privacy, here's what occurs to me:

I speculated, in TrendsWatch 2014, that children would be the first group to experience the promise and perils of ubiquitous data collection on health, education and culture. This story demonstrates both the eagerness of some (educators, funders) to jump start that process, and the ferocious backlash it can create. The same parental impulse that might be harnessed to support big data to ensure the health and well-being of kids, is a powerful countervailing force if that data is perceived as a threat. Lesson--bring the parents onboard from the very beginning, even if researchers fear that their input will muddy the technological perfection of the project.

Sometimes philanthropy does more harm than good, particularly if it takes a one-size-fits-all "we experts know best" approach. This attitude may be tolerated (if resented) in third world countries or poor communities that need the money too much to complain. It ain't gonna fly in Westchester. Educational reform, whether it is integration of big data, creation of museum charter schools, or the decision to embrace or reject testing, is going to play out on a very local scale, in many different ways, in the US.

As museums explore big data AND educational reform, we would do well to remember both these points.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Futurist Friday: Past Visions of Future Highways

It is fun, and instructive, to revisit the future as envisioned by past visionaries--in this case, Disney. This [8:47] min short from 1958 envisions color-coded highways that defrost themselves, parking elevators and self-driving cars outfitted for teleconferences. (Me, I'm struck by the sparse traffic--and wish that part of their vision had come true.) 

Your Futurist Friday assignment, watch the vid and make a list of:
  • The forecasts of the videographers
                Which have come true (in some form) already?
                Which have been overturned or superceded by projections? 
  • Embedded assumptions about technology and culture. (Guess what? In the future, women are still stay-at-home moms who most urgent transportation need is for shopping.
And before you laugh too hard at some of the details in this filmette, give a thought to how well your forecasts will hold up, 55 years later.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Revisiting the Dangers of "Small Good Things"

This past Monday, in my musing, I mentioned Kanu Hawaii--a nonprofit that recruits people to take actions that support "sustainable island living." They are so good at what they do I signed up as a member--even though I've never set foot in Hawaii. (That thermal coffee cup I tote to Starbucks? That's a result of a pledge I made on Kanu Hawaii's site.)

So this Thursday I'm going to throwback to the post in which I first shared my enthusiasm for this little-nonprofit-that-could. As well as encouraging you to join 

A Hard Look at Sustainability: How Pretty Good is the Enemy of Good Enough
Originally posted Wednesday, December 1, 2010. 

What could be bad about these little, everyday, sustainable actions?
  • Recycling office paper
  • Banishing bottled water from your vending machines and installing more water fountains
  • Turning up the thermostat for AC in collections storage by 2 degrees
  • Composting your food service waste
“Nothing,” (I bet you are saying), “these are all good things!”

Yah, they are pretty good. But are they good enough?

The problem with small, good things is they can make us feel good. And feeling good can make us complacent. Complacency can keep us from assessing whether what we are doing, overall, is enough to achieve the intended effect. Like stopping global warming, or reducing human-generated environmental toxins. Or (big picture) building a healthy, sustainable, equitable society that will still be here in a few hundred years.

I’m not arguing museums shouldn’t do these small, good things. I am saying that we in museums should consider, before diving into a recycling program or putting solar panels on the roof, the effect we want to have on the world, and assess how and whether our actions, overall, help reach that goal.

Reality Check!

How do we assess how we are affecting the future with the steps we choose to take? One way is extrapolation. Remember the classic admonition from childhood: “don’t do that! Just think, if everyone did that then….

Yah, just think…
If every museum in the United States turned off one office computer each night and over the weekend, the weekly savings in electricity costs for the country would be around $15,000 (a rough estimate using Department of Energy
statistics and assuming a typical cost of 10¢/KWH).
That’s about 195 thousand lbs of CO2.

To meet President Obama’s goal of reducing US carbon emissions 80% by 2050, the nation has to shed about 4,670,705 thousand metric tons a year.

Suddenly I feel small and powerless.

Before museums feel too good about our efforts to save energy, we should remember that, with only 20,000- some museums in America, the cumulative effect of what we can do is still pretty small.

But—(cue optimistic, upbeat music) collectively we serve over 800 million visitors annually, and that’s not counting the people who access our information over the web. If we can change their behavior…now we’re talking impact. Then the question becomes, how can we influence their behavior? What actions can museums take that effectively catalyze the crowd?

That’s a tough question to answer, but I’m pretty sure some of the factors that need to be weighed are:

  • Are our “green” actions visible to the public, and do we explain how and why we do it? Modesty isn’t a virtue when you are trying to set a good example.
  • How many people will we reach? Are we targeting a programmatic audience, all visitors, the broader physical community, or (potentially) any user of the web?
  • Is the behavior we want to encourage simple and doable enough to overcome people’s innate inertia, or (alternatively)
  • Is it fun and compelling enough to get them to do it anyway?
  • Will the sum total of behavior change significantly improve some aspect of societal/national/global sustainability? This could be through direct action (installing solar panels, choosing sustainable foods, driving less) or indirect action (donating to causes, supporting policies, voting for candidates.)
Case in Point
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s
SeaFood Watch program is a fantastic example of influencing huge numbers of people to make everyday choices that improve the sustainability of aquatic systems. Poor food choices have contributed to the near-extinction of many species (Chilean Sea Bass), collapse of entire fisheries (the Grand Banks), and created new threats to water quality (commercially farmed salmon). In 2009, Americans consumed 15.8 lbs of seafood per capita, for a total of 4.833 billion pounds. Since MoBA’s program is disseminated via the web, text messages, and a really cool iPhone app, it can influence not just its 1.8 million annual visitors, but users nationally and internationally who may never visit the museum. So (to measure it against the criteria above):
  • It is highly visible and accessible
  • It reaches tons of people
  • The behavior it encourages (ordering off a menu, making a purchase at a grocery store) is very low energy
  • It is both fun and compelling
  • The sum total of its effect is potentially very significant.
What about the rest of us?
“Sure,” I can hear you say, “give me $50M a year and I’ll change the world, too!” But I believe you don’t have to be a huge organization like MOBA to have a significant impact on your community. One of my absolutely favorite environmental activist organizations is a pretty small nonprofit called
Kanu Hawaii. With a budget of ~ 300k it has mustered almost 13,000 people to make personal commitments to “sustainable island living,” by creating a vibrant social network that functions both virtually and in the real world, and is visible, doable, fun and compelling. (I particularly love that they project the cumulative impacts of the commitments their community members have made.)

I would love to write up “small can be effective” examples about museums integrating “green” into their operating principles. I do know of a lot of individual projects like installing
solar panels or wind turbines, building green storage facilities, or helping other museums integrate green practices into their exhibit development. But I don’t enough about all the good green things being done in our field to profile them as they deserve. So here’s my challenge to you—tell me about what your museum doing to make us, as a society and a species, more sustainable. How does your suite of activities stack up against my proposed criteria? What is your goal for cumulative effect? Write in and share…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Khan Academy & Cultural Understanding

Last Fall, CFM and The Henry Ford convened a group of educational practitioners, reformers and funders to explore how museums could become more deeply embedded in K-12 education. The report from that gathering--Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem--will be released soon. Meanwhile, here is a teaser: one recommendation made by attendees was to put more museum content on existing platforms that have a broad and growing reach--platforms such as Khan Academy. Today’s guest post is by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, deans for art and history at Khan Academy. They have both taught art history for more than 20 years and each has worked at The Museum of Modern Art. Prior to joining Khan Academy, Beth was Director of Digital Learning at MoMA and Steven was Chair of History of Art and Design at Pratt.
During a recent talk at Carnegie Mellon University, Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, noted that if you went back in time 400 hundred years and asked a member of the clergy in Europe what percentage of the population was capable of learning to read, he likely would have replied, “well if you have a really good education system, then 40 or 50 percent.” Sal continued, “we now know that’s wildly pessimistic; the answer is pretty close to 100 percent.” Sal then challenged the audience to consider what blinders we have on today—what if a world-class education was freely available to everyone? Might we all be able to understand quantum physics and contribute to genomic research?

Let’s take this utopian vision to the world of art and design. What would it mean if nearly 100% of us understood the architectural vocabulary that shapes and gives meaning to our streets and public squares? What if nearly all people understood the ways in which human beings in different places and times have used images to give expression to their most deeply held beliefs and most profound questions? What if people around the world better appreciated the meaning and beauty of each other’s visual heritage? What would it mean if nearly every museum visitor was visually literate?

How can we use technology to help make cultural understanding universal? In an inspiring talk at a recent TED conference, designer and engineer Bran Ferren shared a moving story (“To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering”) about a visit he made as a child to the Pantheon in Rome that changed the course of his life. That day, he realized that the worlds of art and design were not incompatible with science and engineering.

His point was that it wasn’t simply the technology—the Romans’ advances in the use of concrete—that made the Pantheon possible. For Ferren, concrete, like the internet, is simply a tool. Hadrian’s building resulted from an “unprecedented creative vision,” one that still connects us to our aspirations and to one another. So, to extend Ferren’s metaphor, can the internet be the tool we use to offer a free world-class education for everyone, everywhere? Could it enable us to achieve a cultural literacy rate of near 100%? Such an outcome would profoundly impact our cultural institutions, our efforts to fund the preservation and understanding of our shared cultural legacy, and enrich our visual future.

So, how can those of us committed to making art and design accessible use the web to leverage our collective knowledge and teaching expertise to reach a vast new global audience? Here we use the term “web” as shorthand for numerous resources and tools: image collections, essays and video but also MOOCs (massively open online courses), as well as platforms—like Khan Academy—where analytics are used to fine-tune learn-at-your-own-pace experiences, and where an active community and game mechanics make learning fun and engaging. Our staff of 60 reaches more than 10 million unique visitors every month.

Smarthistory at Khan Academy is used by museum visitors, independent learners, professors, teachers and their students. There are nearly 600 short-form art history videos created from conversations recorded on-site (in urban spaces, archeological sites, museums, churches and mosques), as well as hundreds of essays on art and art history. We’ve begun to partner with museums to bring their formidable expertise to a global audience (often by simply repurposing pre-existing content). And we are working with over 100 art historians with deep knowledge of content stretching from Ancient Egypt to contemporary art in sub-Saharan Africa.

This art content is visited by learners in more than 200 countries (with translations into dozens of languages). We will reach more than four million learners this academic year (with growth near 80% over the previous year). Most importantly perhaps, we are reaching an audience that, just like Bran Ferren on his family vacation in Rome so many summers ago, is not necessarily interested in art—yet.

There is still a lot to figure out and we look forward to working with the museum and academic communities to make this happen, but it’s clear that we need to think beyond the boundaries of individual institutions and collections. And we also need to think very differently about scale (Michael Edson’s blog post and Slideshare deck on this subject are inspiring).

It took nearly four centuries for the potential of the printing press to be exploited for public education (on a broad scale). Let’s not wait that long for the digital revolution to inspire a new way to educate the globe about one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity—our history of making art. Think of the millions of learners that can’t travel and don’t live anywhere near a museum. Let’s use the web to foster a love and appreciation for the visual arts and their history. If we do, we’ll create a vast new audience who will want to see that art and who will appreciate all the incredible work involved in preserving, exhibiting, and researching it. How many young Bran Ferrens are there waiting to be inspired?

Here is how Sal ended his talk:
“the potential here is…a once in a millennium opportunity, where you have this thing called education, this thing that has always been the key determinant between the haves and have-nots, but it’s always been scarce and its always been expensive, and...I think if we collectively work on it, over the next ten, twenty, thirty years it is going to get to the point where a world-class education... [is] going to become more common-place…and more and more of an expectation.”

We can do more.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Musing: Looking to Hawaii for the Distributed Future

Futurist William Gibson observed “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” In CFM’s report “Tomorrow in theGolden State” we looked to California for glimpses of the unevenly distributed future of demographic change and other trends. A story I shared in Dispatches from the Future of Museums last week drove home to me that Hawaii is a good place to look for the present future when it comes to social enterprise, charitable giving and impact investing. (A theme much on my mind, and prominently featured in TrendsWatch 2014.)

I have already been impressed with the strong grassroots approach in Hawaii to sustainability, social justice and community action. See, for example, the nonprofit Kanu Hawaii, which uses a game-like social platform to encourage people to make commitments to “sustainable island living.” Or the social-activist Pinky Show, which is Hawaiian-born and bred. (And if you haven’t watched the Pinky Show’s animated “We Love Museums…Do Museums Love Us Back?,” you should. Right now. Really.)

Last week’s article made my Hawaii file explode. It summarizes the work of the Ulupono Initiative, founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Ulupono, described as “half private-equity firm, half philanthropic foundation,” promotes local food production, renewable energy and reduction of solid waste (so, like Kanu Hawaii, it is working towards “sustainable island living”). It does this through investing in for-profit enterprises and giving grants and loans to nonprofit social organizations whose work advances any of these three causes. Both the business and charitable investments are designed to create sustainable businesses: the for-profits when they begin to pay off, the nonprofits when they create their own earned income streams or when they find long-term funders.

I love two things about this article:
  •       The insight into how Pierre Omidyar distinguishes the roles of charitable giving (filling immediate needs), philanthropic giving (solving long term problems) and impact investing (which--surprise!--he sees as having the same goals as philanthropy.)
  •        The numerous cases it provides of non-profit social enterprises with notes on their models for sustainability. SchoolGardens, for example, which Omidyar expects to be adopted by Hawaii’s Department of Education, becoming simply “the way we teach our kids.” Or ReUseHawaii, which deconstructs homes and resells the salvaged materials to prevent it from going to the landfill. If you’ve ever browsed one of the reclaimed materials shops popping up around the nation, you’ll understand the article’s conclusion that “it’s easy to envision a time when ReUse Hawaii will be completely self-funding.”
Which leads to my musing, which isn’t so much a new thought as a reinforcement of the thinking I shared in TrendsWatch 2014’s section on “For Profit for Good.” At the present, all too often nonprofits think their distinguishing features are both their dedication to mission and their inability to make money. (I’ve even had museum professionals tell me, on more than one occasion, “but we are nonprofit—we are not allowed to make money!”) Funders like Ulupono and the for- and nonprofit enterprises it supports are going to shift the focus to both mission and sustainability. In that future, what will determine whether an organization like ReUse Hawaii qualifies as a nonprofit, as opposed to a for profit business? Good question. In the next decade or so, I think we are going to have to work that out.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Futurist Friday: I Think, Therefore I Am

Some futurist scenarios are more probable than others. But even those that seem wildly improbable help us see the present in a new light. The March, a lyrical animation (5 min)  wrote, directed, and animated by Josh Fortune for the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge,  explores how augmented reality affects our "real" lives. 

Fortune's "Brainbots" have lost the bodies they neglected in favor of the virtual world. Will this lead one 'bot, at least, to rediscover the core of his humanity?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Big Data and the Holy Grail of Museum Metrics

One of the themes covered in CFM’s TrendsWatch 2014 report is the power of big data and data analytics. The ubiquity of internet-connected sensing devices and our relentless use of social media and online commerce generates 2.8 zettabytes (a zettabyte = 2 to the 70th power) every year. This flood of information is being fed into predictive algorithms that yield results that look nearly magical: forecasting spikes in unemployment, global conflict, disease outbreaks, even local crime. As people are quickly discovering, big data analytics, like any tool, can be misused, but when applied to appropriate problems with sound methodologies, they can transform whole sectors.

Can big data transform museums? Data mining can certainly be useful to individual museums--I’m chairing a session on that topic on Monday, May 19, 1:45 pm at the upcoming Alliance conference in May. Data on a museum’s visitors linked to US Census data via zip code can generate reams of illuminating demographic information. Tracking patrons’ use of museum space and amenities can suggest efficiencies of staffing and services. But I’m even more interested in the potential payoff of big data for the museum field as a whole.

As we’ve explored in TrendsWatch 2013 and on this Blog, we live in a society increasingly focused on concrete measurements of outcomes. This poses the risk that museums, in order to comply with these expectations, may focus on doing small, measurable good, while losing sight of the big, ambitious hard-to-measure good that lies at the heart of our missions. How do you measure the improvement art makes in someone’s life? What metric captures the value of an understanding of history? Largely, in the past, we couldn’t measure things like this, and didn’t try. Even in fields like medicine it is rare to find the kinds of large scale, long-term longitudinal research projects that can tease out small and subtle effects of lifestyle and behavior. Museums have never had the cultural equivalent of the Framingham Heart Study or the Nurses’ Health Study, following thousands of individuals over the course of decades, generating the masses of granular data needed to support such analysis. Instead researchers try to get at these questions in bits and pieces (measuring the effect of field trips, or the personal value of museum engagement), but the results are generally limited and hard to generalize.

Now there is an alternative to traditional longitudinal studies like Framingham. The combination of the Internet of Things (which tracks and measures so much of what we do), the Quantified Self movement (mainstreaming individual collection and analysis of minute details of everyday life), and Big Data Analytics could give us the ability to assess the impact of museum engagement on health, happiness, educational attainment, well-being and other measures of success.

People are already envisioning how big data can transform health care. Doctors and health care advocates envision a future in which the internet-connected things in your life—your fridge, scale, activity monitor band, medicine cabinet—communicate with your health provider to provide seamless integration of care. Besides giving individuals a “big picture” look at how their own behavior, diet and environment affect their personal health, this network would create huge databases, supporting analysis that would greatly increase the speed and power of identifying the overall risks and benefits of specific foods, behaviors or environmental exposure. It took decades to make an overwhelming case for the dangers of cigarette smoking. Despite the huge sums the tobacco lobby is spending to defend the next system for delivering nicotine, it may take far less time to quantify the first and second-hand risks of vaping (inhaling vapor from electronic cigarettes).

Educators, technologists and reformers are already envisioning how big data can transform education. The IBM PETALS project (Personalized Education Through Analytics on Learning Systems) is using machine learning and advanced data analytics to identify the individual learning needs of students and recommend personalized learning pathways. Khan Academy is using data gleaned from its thousands of student learners not only to provide feedback to teachers on specific students, but also to identify patterns in how students learn, and what kinds of pedagogy work best with what kinds of learners. Some researchers, and reformers, want to link children’s health and school records to identify factors that cross the home/school/community boundaries to affect children’s ability to thrive. For example, linking hospital records with education records to assess the correlation between smoking during pregnancy and ADHD, or impact of concussions on educational outcomes, or how children with a diagnosis of autism fare in the special education system.

What if we added cultural engagement to the linked data sets of health and education? If we track how people—children or adults—Interact with museums, historic sites, libraries, performing arts, and put that in the big data mix, we could finally document the effects of, say, family museum visits on kids’ educational attainment, or the impact of engagement with the arts on health and well-being.

The biggest challenge to this “holy grail” of museum metrics isn’t technological—it’s cultural. The kind of blanket surveillance that enables us to collect this level of detail is frankly, freaking people out, and leading to a backlash of concern about personal privacy. Do you really want your toothbrush ratting you out to your dentist? While you may feel better if your mom’s pillbox emails you if she doesn’t take her meds, do you want your pillbox emailing your kids? Do we want our museum logging when we visit, and how long we stay? (Well, maybe with appropriate incentives, we do.)

If we as a society ever do decide the potential benefits arising from mass collection of personal data outweigh our concerns, it may be with regard to our children. We already accept limits to kids privacy and autonomy in the interests of ensuring their health and safety, limits that we would not accept for adults. So I’m waiting for the first city to propose the trifecta of big data on children, merging health, education and cultural data to find out what really fosters happy, healthy, successful kids. Let me know if you see a movement toward this starting in your community…

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: WindPunk

Hooked on this weekly (nearly) wordless glimpse of the future? You can find more images, and links to related stories, on the CFM Pinterest Boards

Read more about the BAT floating windmill

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Musing: the Future of Education, Testing & the Common Core

Weekend before last I was in New Orleans, at the National School Boards Association conference. I was there to talk up the Alliances soon-to-be-released report "Building the Future of Education: Museums & the Learning Ecosystem" (more on that in a bit).

Katherine Prince, who directs forecasting on the future of education for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, was at NSBA speaking on potential futures for America's young learners. Katherine and I have long been swapping notes on this topic,  and the message she delivered in NOLA highlighted projections which we both feel are very likely: the coming era of transformation in US education; the danger of creating a fractured landscape of learning which exacerbates social and economic stratification; the potential of integrating resources offered by museums, libraries and archives into a vibrant learning grid that serves the needs of all learners. Katherine was kind enough to give me time, at the end of her talk, to invite board members to come talk to me and my colleagues in the Alliance booth about what they want, and get, and need from museums, to sign up to receive CFM's education report and to volunteer to be part of a larger conversation between museums and schools.

I confess I was expecting resistance to the premises that underly the vision of education Katherine and I buy into: that learning works best when it is self-directed, passion-based, experiential and directed towards "real world work." These principles align very well with the growing consensus that, in order to thrive in the 21st century, young people need to hone their skills of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. They don't mesh so well with the current focus on regimentation, standardized teaching and hyper-testing. I went to this conference assuming that the majority of school board members support the status quo.

Instead, I found that NSBA had seeded the conference numerous educational critics and reformers--Sir Ken Robinson, Thomas Friedman, Nikhil Goyal, Erin Gruwell--who hammered home the point that current political and social trends are doubling down on an anachronistic educational paradigm. And the attendees seemed largely receptive to their messages, though hesitant and unclear on how to change to a new paradigm. The most common question I heard, lobbed at several of these speakers, was "how do you feel about the common core and standardized testing?" I was interested to hear each give variations on the same answer: common core and standardized testing are two different issues, even if they are yoked in current policy discussions. None were fundamentally opposed to their being some common framework for society "we all should be conversant with this"--even if there were varying degrees of enthusiasm about the content of the current standards. All felt that the current narrow focus on testing was immensely counterproductive, destructive both to teachers and students.

So, (at last I get to my musing for the day) I was heartened to return to DC and find this headline in my inbox, sent by a colleague:

Education Taskforce Meets in Boise to Eye Ideas

The article reports that the [Idaho] governor's Task Force for Improving Education met to discuss legislative proposals, including "a switch to mastery-based education that would let students advance based on when they fully grasp a concept, rather than the time they spend in a classroom." It notes "Proponents hope more autonomy on local levels will give teachers room for creativity and innovation — possibly sparking a better way to reach students" but acknowledges that this is at odds with the push towards standardized teaching and testing, and that the task force members don't have a clear idea on how to meaningfully measure mastery. 

But at least this task force is trying to change the system. As Sir Ken pointed out in his talk, we can't expect to teach creativity through an educational system that is itself designed around standardization. I find it encouraging that not only individual school board members, but their national association and policy makers at the state level are taking this message to heart.

Now, what can museums do to help create the new educational era, one premised on diverse, creative learning environments? That is what the Alliance is beginning to explore, starting with the release later this month of "Building the Future of Education". We will use this report to start discussions at the local, state and federal level about what it would take to break down the barriers between museum educational resources and the full spectrum of young learners---whether they are in public or private schools, home schooled or unschooled--and what role the Alliance can play in making that happen. Keep an eye on the Alliance website, and this blog, for the release of the report. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on who we should recruit into this discussion, and what experiments we could try, as we explore next steps.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Futurist Friday: The Happy City Index

You may be familiar with Bhutan's "Gross National Happiness Index," established to measure something more than economic well-being of a country. Or perhaps you've followed the UK's Happy Museum project, which takes a holistic approach to sustainability and well-being.

Now this approach is beginning to take hold in the US. (Or at least it is gaining a toe-hold.)Your Futurist Friday assignment is to watch this [2 min] video about the city of Santa Monica's Well-being Project, one of five projects to be funded through Bloomberg Philanthropy's Mayors Challenge.

You can read more about the project in this article

This project aims to expands Santa Monica's Youth Wellbeing Report Card to create a metric that serves the whole city. The Youth report card already takes note of museums (for example, the Santa Monica Museum of Art 's Park Studio, which is a spring break immersion program for high school students). If this approach spreads to other cities--how might it help measure, and value, the contribution of museums to a community's well-being?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Revisiting the Ransolm

CFM's latest forecasting report, TrendsWatch 2014, has been out a month now, and I have been getting great feedback. The magic chip reports the paper has been opened over 1,700 times. Carol Stapp, director of the museum education program at The George Washington University, wrote to say (regarding her students) that "the issue of invasion of privacy via surveillance/tracking in TrendsWatch 2014 scared the bejeesus out of them, so much so that they revisited themselves online and tried to clean up the record of their cyber selves." Hope that helps with some future job applications :).

These students' reaction to an increased awareness of surveillance fuels not only the trend towards Privacy that we documented in TW '14, but also the theme of Respite & Retreat (aka "Digital Detox") we first visited in TrendsWatch 2013. You can't watch what you can't see, and digital surveillance depends on our hyper-connected world. Being creeped out (by in-store tracking, counter-terrorism AI or by tracking chips) is just one more reason to "unplug."

In combing the Blog archives for relevant throwbacks, I came across this 2010 post riffing on our first forecasting report—Museums & Society 2034. That paper speculated that, in the face of the increasing technological noise and clutter of the future, museums may become oasis in which people escape from multi-tasking. To explore that scenario, I invented the (fictional) Ransolm Museum of Art—a 21st century institution that has capitalized on the desire for respite, retreat and the real spawned by our hyper-connected, multi-tasking, increasingly virtual daily environment of work and play. I think that now is a good (creeped out) time to revisit the Ransolm, don't you?

Museum Design 2034: Respite and Retreat

Originally published Monday, April 12, 2010

The Ransolm Museum of Art in Los Angeles provides a jarring contrast to the bustling city outside its doors. After passing through the four acre “buffer garden” (which conceals advanced sound baffle devices that block 90% of the noise from surrounding streets) visitors are required to check all non-medical electronic devices at the museum’s door. Visitors using technologically based accessibility-enhancement devices such as EnhancedSight and EchoLocator are encouraged, but not required to forgo these devices as well. In fact, smuggling in an earphone bud or cloudlink device won’t do you any good, because the museum’s walls are engineered to block all electronic signals from outside.

Once inside, the Ransolm’s exhibits are a throwback to a bygone era. There is one set of labels (print), rather than the abundance choice of interpretive “threads” museum-goers are used to selecting using portable interfaces. They don’t offer recorded audio tours—not even old-fashion cassette tape packs (though this was suggested by one board member, who waggishly contended it would be retro enough to fit the museum’s low-tech ethos.) Visitors requesting audio commentary are personally escorted by a staff member who obligingly reads the label, providing translation as appropriate, or describes the painting or sculpture in question.

In contrast with the replicas and holographic projections used by many museums today (which according to the American Association of Museums, comprise an average of 20% of the material on display in a typical art museum) all the objects at the Ransolm are “real” and genuine. Their conservators even follow the quaint (and many would argue out-dated) convention of carrying out repairs in a way that renders them distinct and identifiable.

This does not mean the museum is non-interactive. Sketching and (old-fashioned mechanical) photography are encouraged. Over a dozen “appreciation” groups have regularly scheduled meetings in the museum to discuss exhibitions or individual works of art. The museum’s “contemplation rooms” are particularly popular—here a visitor (after browsing the collections via the web, from home) can book time, unobtrusively escorted by a staff member, to sit and examine a work selected from the collection for up to an hour.

The museum has mined a rich source of revenue via its corporate retreats, enabling companies to rent the museum after hours or on Mondays for staff “personal renewal” time, or for “single tasking” sessions in the museums meeting rooms and auditorium. (Which has excellent acoustics despite the absence of electronic speakers. Of course, computer projection is not available.)

In a 2033 poll by the Los Angeles Times WebNews service, LA residents voted the Ransolm Museum the “Best Secret City Treasure.” This despite the fact that it receives over 60,000 visits a year (which is above the national average for an art museum of its size.) At peak hours you may be sharing the museum with 300 other people—but it would be difficult to tell that as you enjoy the quiet and peace of its galleries.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Machine Learning and the Future of Authentication

Look what machines are teaching themselves to do:

All courtesy of what is called "machine learning": the ability of artificial intelligence programs to learn from their own performance working with large data sets, enabling them to do things they are not explicitly programmed to do. Basically, machine learning gives computers the ability to generalize from experience. 

In TrendsWatch 2014,  I noted that, with regard to the implications of machine learning for society, "the biggest challenge facing doctors, investment analysts, engineers, policy makers and managers is learning to trust analytic algorithms rather than their own judgement." Or to bring it down to a personal level--would you trust a self-driving car to "take the wheel" because it is a safer driver than a human pilot?

We have good reasons to learn such trust, because it turns out that recognizing patterns in data is something that computers can be really, really good at. For example, when IBM Watson looks at a patient's symptoms, and then combs medical databases for matching cases, it isn't hobbled by preconceptions about what this patient "should" be suffering from. This frees Dr. Watson from the classic "hoofbeats=horses, not zebras" paradigm. (Which is a fine rule of thumb, unless you happen to be the rare patient actually suffering from a zebra infestation.) It also helps avoid the all too common situation in which a cardiologist, an oncologist, and a neurologist each attribute the same problem to the heart, cancer and nerves respectively. Computers don't have preconceptions, or, so far, egos. 

So, I'm wondering what happens when Watson, working its computational way up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, at last turns its attention to art. Art authentication is an increasingly fraught field, with artist-specific foundations, collectors and experts tangled over who has the final word over attribution. Some foundations, like the Pollock-Krasner and the Warhol, have ceased doing authentication whether from fear of lawsuits or other concerns. 

Often authentication rests on induction from objective evidence: the age and chemical nature of paint or canvas, the presence of accidental inclusions such as pollen, or hair. Even those clues, however, may only help to detect conscious, asynchronous forgeries. What about the endless reclassification of works into "by [insert great artist here]" versus "from the workshop of.." with attendant vast swings in monetary value and prestige?

When it comes down to recognizing what we have previously described as "style"--the ineffable quality that can only be recognized by instinct and training--I wonder if museums are going to need to learn to trust analytic algorithms rather than their own judgement. While art historians aren't driven by the need to process huge amounts of material (which has fueled the application of machine learning to text classification) they certainly could use an unbiased arbiter with no skin in the game. (Heck, in Watson's case, with no skin at all...) 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Futurist Friday: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

One of my favorite methods of helping people envision the future is encouraging them to invent "future artifacts." These objects embody the technology, culture and overall flavor of the (not-yet extant) society may create them. These mock-ups, whether slickly produced or roughed out, help us immerse ourselves in the worlds they reflect.

With the help of some awesome futurist museum collaborators, I'm assembling a selection of such artifacts for your viewing pleasure at the Alliance's annual meeting. Meanwhile, your Futurist Friday assignment is to correctly identify which of the following artifacts actually exists now, and which one is a (as-yet fictional) glimpse of a potential future. Follow the embedded links to check your answers.

Wonder what genes lurk within the lovable mutt you call your best friend? Wonder who, exactly, Fidette shacked up with to produce her latest litter of unplanned puppies? Well, wait no more. "Dogs can't talk but their DNA can," proclaims Wisdom Panel, the first home genetic testing kit for dogs. Just mail off a swab of your dog's saliva, and get back a report describing each of the breeds detected in the sample, and a  certificate (suitable for framing) showing the ancestry of your dog.

Americans are dedicated to the proposition that we are infinitely perfectible, if only we eat the right things, sleep the right amount, exercise enough. But motivating that healthy behavior can be a challenge. But why leave your future, perfected self to the imagination? The FuturU booth creates a photorealistic avatar of a better you that will result from making the right choices in environments that support healthy habits. 

HAPIfork is an electronic fork that helps you monitor and track your eating habits. It also alerts you with the help of indicator lights and gentle vibrations when you are eating too fast. This amazing addition to the growing ranks of "quantified self" tracking devices measures the amount of "fork servings" taken per minute and the intervals between "fork servings". This information is then uploaded via USB or Bluetooth to your Online Dashboard on to track your progress

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Adding Foresight to Your Toolbox

In a world in which “life-long learning” is the norm, museum professionals are constantly enrolling in workshops, short courses and on-line seminars. Why not add futures studies to that mix? I kick-started my career as a museum futurist with a five-day immersion course given by the University of Houston’s Strategic Foresight program, and have been encouraging other museum folk to take advantage of this fabulous crash course ever since. In 2010 one of my Houston classmates, Joe Cavanaugh, director of the National Museum of the Pacific War, shared his take on the curriculum. In 2011 Lisa Eriksen blogged about her experience with the certificate course (Lisa went on to organize the California Association of Museums Future Leaders program). This week, as U. Houston registers students for the latest round of training (May 12-16, 2014), Kate Burgess-Mac Intosh shares her take on futurist training. Kate, who is taking graduate courses offered by U Houston, is an emerging futurist, educator, and principal of Revitalizing Historic Sites.

Professionally, I have had a pretty winding road up to this point. From fine arts and art history, to museum studies, future studies, and now special education, I’ve been in a classroom, either as a student or teacher, my entire life. I know that I would not be where I am now without passion, drive, creativity, and a willingness (and, most importantly, desire) to constantly take on new challenges and learn new things. Foresight has allowed me to objectively look at this path not as divergent, but as a culmination of interests leading to the ability to objectively and creatively face what comes next.

Initially, I was attracted to futures studies because of the allure of dreaming about our future. An entire field built around reading, scanning, and thinking far and wide about what comes next, and, the potential to get paid (paid!) to do those things?  How could anyone not be intrigued?

When beginning my futures journey, I started by reaching out to a futurist I had met through CFM, Garry Golden. Garry, with Elizabeth Merritt, presented a day-long workshop on the future of museums at the 2011 AAM conference in Houston. This was one of my first in-person futures experiences, having heard Garry speak at a previous online event for Emerging Museum Professionals through CFM and AAM. This workshop, which was a combination of an overview of futurist methods, group hands-on activities, and culminated in mini-presentations of our forecasts, started my journey to futures studies.

From those early interactions, I began to ponder what a professional futurist is, what they do, and how one could pursue an interest in futures and foresight (side note – those two terms are used somewhat interchangeably throughout the field, something I had to learn early as well). I researched online, watched videos of lectures and presentations from futurists, read articles and blog posts, and started following futurist organizations, such as the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Society. I talked to Garry and learned more about the Futures program at the University of Houston, the program he had attended and where he presently lectures. I reached out to faculty at the program, and set the ball rolling, enrolling in my first class, Introduction to Futures Studies (now Introduction to Foresight), in the fall of 2012.

A journey that started with a workshop, research, and the start of graduate courses has culminated in a complete shift in my way of thinking. I can no longer suggest a small change, as I’m much more aware of systems because of coursework in systems thinking, now knowing that a small change can spark major shifts. I can no longer read about a protest or hear of a rebellious or entrepreneurial young person without seeing them as a contemporary social change agent. I can no longer read an article about a technology in development without following up “oh this is so cool” with the implications of the invention in my head, filling in an imaginary implications wheel a minimum of three tiers out, seeing clearly in my mind that Google glasses will cause car accidents...(or whatever connection I may make).

Foresight studies educates you in different aspects of thinking about how the world works, such as cause and effect through systems thinking, social change, and planning through scenarios. Studying foresight:
  • Energizes your creativity
  • Expands your connections
  • Exposes you to potential futures
  • Encourages you to be more aware
  • Enables your thinking processes to expand
  • Educates you in different aspects of thinking 

For example, two of the domains I study– the future of leisure and future of art and creative practice, have fostered new inspiration and ideas for my work as a consultant. Another, the future of education, has inspired me to grow my professional toolbox further, adding special education to my career pursuits.

The University of Houston offers an incubator-type learning environment. Combining in-class and online atmospheres where ideas are freely exchanged, learning is multi-dimensional and incorporative of a team approach, where both students and teachers take leadership roles, and futurists emerge ready to tackle the changes and challenges we will all face.

Adding foresight to your toolbox, whether it is through attending conference sessions on the topic, reading reports or books, joining a futures-related online group, taking a workshop, or pursuing a course or certificate, is an opportunity to expand your thinking and to consider the broader picture of how today’s museum will not only survive, but thrive, in the future.

If Kate, Lisa, Joe and I have convinced you that a bit of formal futurist education would be a valuable addition to your toolkit, I encourage you to enroll in the May 12-16 iteration of the University of Houston’s Certificate course in Strategic Foresight. April 11th is the deadline for getting the conference rate at the hotel, but registration for the Certificate will remain open until the class is full.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: A Real Bionic Hand

 Bionic hand, controlled by thought, that provides real-time sensory feedback.
Click here to read more. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

EXTREME EXHIBIT MAKEOVER: History Museum Meets Reality TV

Sometimes people who work in small museums take me to task about some of the technologies I highlight in CFM forecasts (“we can’t afford that!”) When this happens, I point out it’s never really about the technology—it’s about the human desires and behavior that drive the creation of the shiny tech toys. Technology, and tech platforms, may in turn shape the expectations of our audiences, but there are often low-tech or no-tech ways to meet those needs. I invited Allison Weiss, executive director of the Sandy Spring Museum, to blog about a recent experiment with harnessing cultural trends to active participants in the operations of small museums.

I love the idea of integrating pop culture and museums. Who doesn’t love/hate reality TV?  Is there anything museums can learn from reality TV?  Aside from the obvious voyeur-appeal, I think that we are also attracted to reality shows because we like watching the process, not just seeing the end result. Last spring the staff of the Sandy Spring Museum, which is a small history museum with a staff of 3 FTE and an operating budget of about $385,000, decided to use the appeal of “reality” to recharge our visitation.

"Before." Photo by Allison Weiss
Our exhibits hadn’t changed in fifteen years, and with estimates at $300 a square foot for design and fabrication, building new exhibits was out of the question. And how much would new exhibits accomplish?  Probably a small crowd would attend the opening, but considering that our walk-in traffic averages around 10 people on days without programs, that hardly seemed to justify any financial investment in new exhibits. We concluded that in our case, just changing the exhibits was not enough.
So, instead, we borrowed several concepts from reality TV and created the Extreme Exhibit Makeover. We brought together a diverse group of strangers who had to collaborate and compete, and made it into a spectacle. Museums take themselves so seriously. We saw this as an opportunity to inject a little humor into the otherwise somber process of interpreting history.

The project started with a call for participants . We invited curators, exhibit designers, artists, historians, and the general public, and were amazed at the experience of the people who applied, many with decades in the museum field. Nearly all commented on how stale the traditional exhibit process is, and all shared an adventurous spirit.

Participants were divided into two teams  – Team Jersey Shore and Team Kardashian – with five participants each and a graphic designer who floated between the two teams. We tried to make the teams fairly evenly matched in expertise and skill, i.e., each team had a designer, an artist, a researcher, etc. Everyone came to the museum for an orientation and to pick sections of the exhibit hall on which they would conduct their makeover.  The parameters were very broad: each team was given a $1000 budget, a deadline, and a mandate to have their research verified by volunteers at SSM; otherwise they were given nearly free rein.

Team Meeting. Photo by Allison Weiss
It was obvious even during the first meeting that any time you bring two or more people together there is the potential for conflict and disagreement. Within 24 hours, we lost one participant and within two weeks, two more dropped out or, as we prefer to phrase it, got “kicked off the island.”  During the ensuing months, life intervened – several participants got jobs, one got engaged. It turned out to be very difficult to keep everyone engaged and focused, which resulted in us having to extend the project deadline. A project blog was updated several times a month to give the public an idea of what was going on behind the scenes. 

Museum Peeps!
To me, the highlight of the project was the installation. In true reality TV form, it was a public event and all of the construction had to be done on site during a two-day installation weekend. Graphics were prepared ahead of time but the exhibits, one of which required major construction, were otherwise built on location. To ensure that we incorporated some spectacle into the weekend, Tania Katan, the producer of Shenanigans at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, was the MC for the installation and also judged the mini-makeover competition, during which the participants recreated famous moments in Sandy Spring history using marshmallow peeps.

Conceptual drawing by
Lynda Barry-Andrews
The team’s exhibits were vastly different from one another. One team stuck to the concept of “makeover,” making great improvements to a very weak exhibit on general stores. They focused on the concept of “gathering place” and explored ways in which residents historically came together for social purposes and to better the community.  The other team de-installed an existing exhibit so they could start from scratch. Their exhibit, From Soldier to Civilian – looked at how a soldier reintegrates into society, drawing from contemporary sources like oral histories, and historic sources from the museum’s archives.

Three “celebrity” judges – Larry O’Reilly (the mastermind behind the IMAX theater at the Museum of Natural History), Jose Dominguez of Pyramid Atlantic, and Mary Alexander of the Maryland Historic Trust – reviewed the final exhibits and listened to the teams pitch the concepts behind their makeovers.
Although it had not been my intention to have winners and losers, the judges selected From Soldier to Civilian as the better of the two exhibits. The real winner, of course, is the museum. We ended up with an estimated $50,000+ in donated time and materials, an updated exhibit hall, and media coverage in the Washington Post.

The most surprising thing to me was that during the widely-hyped installation no one showed up to watch! So while the project was a successful way to recruit time, labor and talent, it did not in fact tap into a public desire to peek behind the scenes at the process of creating museum exhibits. This really made me wonder whether what we are doing, in small history museums, is of interest to anyone outside of the museum field. Maybe we needed more live drama and fewer historic artifacts?  It’s something I’m pondering as we launch another public-participation project this summer.