Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Musing: Scrutinizing Nonprofit Status

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Nicole Ivy drew my attention to this story from The New York Times yesterday:

Tax Status of Museums Questioned by Senators

It reports that Senator Orrin Hatch (R Utah), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to a handful of nonprofit museums founded by individual (living) collectors, "questioning whether the tax-exempt status they enjoy provides sufficient public benefit to justify what amounts to a government subsidy." Recipients included the new Broad museum in LA, the Glenstone Museum Potomac, MD and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

The NYT claims credit for instigating this inquiry with a story they ran earlier this year, examining how "public" some new nonprofit museums actually are. "Some of the galleries," they noted, "severely limit public access, closing their doors to outsiders for several months at a time, shunning signs and advertisements, and requiring visitors to make advance reservations.

Those of you who have come to Museum Advocacy Day in the past may have caught one of my trends briefings on policy issues, in which I have repeatedly noted that a future in which the US reexamines tax exempt status--what it entails, who qualifies--is entirely within the Cone of Plausibility. Today's musing puts this story on your radar as one more signal of this trend. 

Also, to offer a timely reminder that you can play a role in shaping the future of policy as well--through speaking up for museums. One way you can do that is to participate in Museums Advocacy Day (Feb 22-23)--registration is open now. I hope to see you there, and have some good discussions about the future of nonprofit status. 

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, (R-Utah)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving! The Future of Food

Sharing a glimpse of a future of healthy, sustainable, locally sourced food. Enjoy! #Crickets #LIVINFarmsHive.

Yours from the (grateful) future,


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Treescrapers

#Treescraper #Architecture #Green #Sustainability
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coming Soon—the Smithsonian Learning Lab

 Many museums are retooling their digital resources to create more meaningful experiences for visitors—both local as well as virtual. Earlier this year we highlighted one example—the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Studio. Today,  Darren Milligan (@darrenmilligan), who leads strategy for digital outreach at the Center for Learning and Digital Access at the Smithsonian Institution, previews another digital “lab” and invites you to test it out.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab project is the result of a major rethinking of how the digital resources from across the Smithsonian's 19 museums, nine major research centers, the National Zoo, and more, can be used together, for learning. It is a big dream, an aspiration to make these resources more accessible and more useful to teachers, students, parents, and anyone on a lifelong quest to learn more. It hopes to ensure the Smithsonian is part of nationwide learning in ways that are joyful, personal, and shareable.

The Smithsonian, like many of our institutions, is in a period of change. The Smithsonian now receives many more digital than in-person visits, a trend likely to continue. We are committed to understanding and serving the needs of our diverse digital visitors and enabling them to access and use our content wherever they are.

Fig 1. Homepage of the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
 The Learning Lab is a platform for users to find and interact with Smithsonian digital content and learning resources. It is a place where users can:
  • Discover: Search from (and save for later) more than a million of the Smithsonian’s digital and digitized resources, including scientific specimens, artworks, historical artifacts, texts, as well as audio, video, lesson plans, activities, and more
  • Create: Adapt museum-created or user-created learning activities or create new personalized collections using the wide variety of resources available, or ones they upload or link to from other non-Smithsonian sources
  • Share: Share resources, collections, assignments, and quizzes with peers, colleagues, and students
The specific functionality of the Lab is based entirely on three previous years of user research conducted by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA).  First, a two year audience satisfaction and definition survey helped us define who our current audiences were, their motivations for coming to our website, their activities while on the site, and where they found satisfaction, or not. In the second phase of our formative research, SCLDA worked directly with more than 100 teachers from across the United States to better understand how they use digital learning resources in their classrooms. Following targeted focus groups, we conducted three weeks of continually iterative prototyping with teachers representing a variety of grade levels, regions, and socioeconomic levels; developed a comprehensive literature review; and conducted a survey and analysis of industry best practices. This breadth of research (summarized in this 2015 Museums and the Web paper) aided us in the development of a prototype that demonstrated what might be possible on a platform built specifically to improve access to and usefulness of our assets for the construction of personalized learning resources.
Fig 2. Three views of Tabanus conius Philip, from the entomology collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
The research-backed Learning Lab is designed for teachers and students but can be used by anyone who wants to explore their interests using Smithsonian collections and resources. It gives users access not only to the two thousand learning resources, but also more than one million digitized images of our collections, and thousands of videos and publications. More importantly, users can create their own collections (using the resources they discover within the Learning Lab, or by uploading and adding their own) and share them with others. Educators can build teaching collections by using tools such as hotspots, quiz-building functions, and more, and work directly with their students within the site to monitor learning and progress.

Fig 3. At left, a user generated 16 piece Learning Lab civics collection using images of Thanksgiving. At right, one of the components of that collection: a user-submitted Thomas Nast cartoon overlaid with user-generated quiz questions and highlights.

On October 29th, 2015, we quietly soft-launched the Learning Lab at  

The intention of this article is not to promote the site, but rather to ask for your help. The Learning Lab it is not yet finished.

Between now and mid-2016 (our official public/press launch), the team here at SLCDA (along with our collaborators: educational technology firm Navigation North; and product, web, and graphic design studio Codename Design) will be building model collections, adding functionality, developing how-to videos, and working to improve the user experience. We will do this (as we have for the past several years) by testing with teachers and analyzing the behavior of the site’s early adopters. Given the unique experience of readers of this blog, I would love to hear your perspective:

I invite you to check out the site, search for something you care about, and build a collection. Once your collection is ready, try to publish it for other users to find and use within the Learning Lab, or share it with your social networks. Mess around and see what you discover, and most importantly, reach out to let me know what you think: did you uncover bugs, were you confused by the user interface, was the site screaming for some specific missing functionality? Any and all feedback is more than welcome. We can take it! ;)

If you have colleagues or friends that you think might too have some insight, please feel free to extend this invitation.

Thank you for your past thoughts and your future honesty.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Worldless Wednesday: Taking Attendance

Real or parody? Make your guess before you follow the link...

#Churchix #FacialRecognition #Privacy #TakingAttendance 

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How Might Museums Make Future Learning Ecosystems More Resilient?

Happy American Education Week! To help us celebrate, Katherine Prince of KnowledgeWorks invites you to join her on an exploratory mission to 2025--a future of education in which museums play a starring role. You can review CFM's work with Knowledgework on this topic in the report Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem. Follow Katherine and KnowledgeWorks on Twitter and comment below to help build the next era of learning.

Let’s look ahead to possibilities for learning in 2025 and how museums might contribute to creating resilient learning ecosystems that help communities, individuals, and the education sector adapt to changing needs.  What if…

 …Public funding for community-wide learning venues such as museums, libraries, and parks were viewed as being an integral part of the investment in public education?

…The health of an education organization or system were measured by the strength of its relationships with varied partners?

Such changes could emerge from moving toward viewing learning institutions, including museums, as standalone structures, to treating them as interconnected contributors to flexible value webs comprised of many kinds of organizations and resources. In a vibrant learning grid or ecosystem, learners could move smoothly across such value webs, accessing the experiences and resources they needed when and in ways that made sense for them. And learning ecosystems would have greater resilience in navigating system shocks that are likely to result as people navigate increasingly volatile conditions resulting from the changing nature of work, growing income disparity, and increasing environmental volatility.

An Infographic from KnowledgeWorks' 3.0 Forecast Report....keep an eye out for 4.0 !

KnowledgeWorks’ forthcoming forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, explores such possibilities for education in 2025 and invites each of us to consider what role we might play in shaping the future of learning. I think that museums could be critical in fostering new approaches to making learning ecosystems vibrant for all young people, both by bringing more learners to their buildings in more flexible ways and by surfacing their resources for use in other places.

Think way beyond traditional field trips or even today’s movement toward sharing museum assets as open education resources or creating city-wide networks of extended learning opportunities.  Think custom learning journeys that learners and their families craft with learning pathway designers and which many kinds of learning journey mentors help learners carry out. Think pop-up reality productions that immerse young people in learning, if only for a brief time. Think fluid school structures based around networks and relationships instead of fixed places.  Think community-wide competency maps that surface the resources available to support learning and help people understand how and when they might be used.

Some moves are already afoot to foster broadly defined, interconnected learning ecosystems. For example:

·         Cities of Learning is a national U.S. effort to surface and connect cities’ many resources helps youth of all backgrounds develop curiosity, resilience, and 21st century skills.  How might museums extend current efforts to link up learning across communities?

·         The Tiny Schools Project from 4.0 Schools supports entrepreneurs in testing new types of schools at small scale before attempting to extend their reach, with ten to fifteen students and their families giving high-frequency feedback on pilots that challenge fundamental assumptions about how school works today. What roles might museums play if school looked different?  When and in what ways could going to a museum be “school”?

·         Through Next-Gen Learning Hubs, six U.S. regions are building off cities’ assets and bringing together partners to create innovative student-centered learning ecosystems.  How might museums help make education more personalized and more passion-based?

These are just some developments emerging today. Looking beyond them to the promise of a vibrant learning grid of 2025, what might it take for museums to play a central role in making learning ecosystems more resilient? What might that mean not just for how museums operate but also for how they are funded and evaluated?

To explore such possibilities further, sign up to get alerted when The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code launches in early December.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Museums Can Learn from the NYT’s Google Cardboard Project

 Lookie what I found bundled in with my Sunday newspaper:

It’s a free Google Cardboard device from the New York Times. I promptly downloaded the app and started watching the 3-D, immersive short films they have already released: a profile of three children living in refugee camp; a short documentary on the making of artist JR’s “Walking New York” installation; and two sponsored content films—a fiction adventure from Mini and an animated look at bio-mimetic industrial design from GE.  (If you don’t have a VR headset, you can view 2D versions on your computer monitor.) The NYT says it is “committed to VR storytelling” and promises to deliver more content soon.

This is a brilliant move to extend the reach and impact of an industry (investigative journalism) struggling to win new audiences and find stable financial models.  And I think it is an important example for museums looking for a new way to deliver content, cultivate member relationships and deepen engagement.

I’ve pointed out in the past how museums could harness 3D printers in a similar way: create a member benefit that provides the opportunity to buy a printer at cost (or below cost) to members and follow up with a members-only “3D scan of the month.” (This also opens up opportunities for co-creation: members could vote on their favorite museum object to join the 3D queue; the museum could hold scanning and printing classes to help people create scans to add to the roster of 3D offerings.) The hitch here is that 3D printers are still pretty pricey (from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on quality, speed, reliability) and have a steep learning curve for use. Also—the printer is pretty much only good for one thing.

There are work arounds to the costs (encourage people to use printers increasingly available at local copy shops, send scans to online firms for production, hold maker workshops where people can use the museums’ own printers). But still, the adoption barrier is pretty high, even though the costs to the museum to produce and distribute the scans can be pretty low. Some very good tools that can be used to create 3D scans are free or low cost, and many use the camera on a smart phone or tablet. (For more sophisticated scans, the supporting tech can be a lot pricier of course.)

Cardboard flips the economics of pushing out engaging, multisensory digital content. Nearly two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, and the NYT VR app is free. That figure is probably even higher among NYT subscribers, and museum members. Even if you aren’t a NYT subscriber, you can buy Google Cardboard from a number of vendors (Google open sourced the specs) for under $10. That makes for a really low barrier to consumption. On the other hand, producing the content is expensive, and many museums will need to look for partners (financial, technical) just as the NYT did to pull this off.

Consider the potential pay back. An article in Wired yesterday called virtual reality an “empathy engine” and having watched the films, I agree they grip the heart (and in some vertiginous moments, the stomach) in ways the print stories do not.  

Here’s some museum-based VR experiences I would value:
  • Sneak peeks of exhibits about to open (which would also encourage me to come see the real thing!)
  • Behind-the-scenes looks at the cool happenings most people never get to see: uncrating a new acquisition; conserving a painting; rigging and moving a big specimen or sculpture; an on-site look at field work (archaeology, dino digs, biological exploration)
  • “Sitting in” on a prototyping session to see how exhibit elements are designed and tested

I think it would even be a great medium for an annual report from the director—looking her in the eye (and snooping around her office), while I get the inside skinny on what’s up at the museum in the coming year.

The big take away is this: museums should keep an eye on emerging technology—Google Cardboard, 3D printing, and soon sophisticated augmented reality equipment like Hololens and Magic Leap—and figure out how to use these devices to insert themselves more deeply into people’s lives. Let big companies spend the big bucks developing, testing, marketing and deploying the underlying technology—our opportunity is to use them for compelling storytelling, and as ways of expanding our reach beyond the museum’s walls.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Musing: Social Impact Bonds

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

I came across this article in the NYTimes last week:  

Success Metrics Questioned in School Program Funded by Goldman

and want to put it on your radar as an example of a rare but intriguing form of financing called social impact bonds.

I'm keeping an eye on this form of financing because it just might prove to be a new (and more sustainable) source of support for some of the work museums do. 

Many unfortunate things in society--homelessness, crime, unemployment--have a concrete cost. Focusing on numbers, rather than values, may help vault communities past political roadblocks. So while people may disagree about the role of personal responsibility, or the effects of entrenched inequality, they may come together on the desire to improve the bottom line. Historically nonprofits have been on the front line of mitigating the damage of these big social problems, and these nonprofits in turn asked people for, well, charity, to support that work. But this approach often creates a patchwork of programs that have insufficient or unreliable funding, and lack capital to take their work to scale.

Social impact bonds provide an alternate model of supporting groups dedicated to producing social good, one that appropriately values the financial impact of that work. A government (municipal, state) identifies a change it wants to effect in society--such as lowering the rate of homelessness, decreasing recidivism among ex-felons, reducing the dropout rate--and works to pair a social impact investor with an organization (frequently a nonprofit) that promises to deliver a measurable result.

The social impact investor provides the start-up funds for the service provide (and applies stringent screening in selecting that partner, since they want their money back!)

The service provider does their thing--designing, delivering, measuring results of programs that produce the desired the result

If the government entity is satisfied with the program's metrics, they pay back the investor (with an appropriate rate of return), and signs a contract with the service provider to pay an ongoing fee to continue to deliver the service, which is still a better deal (financially and morally) than managing the direct and indirect consequences of homelessness, etc.

Most of the examples of social impact bonds I've read about so far have deal with recidivism, so I was very interested in the Utah preschool experiment the NYT article addresses. (I know of some, but not many, museums that help former inmates reintegrate into society, but far more that deliver educational services.)

Starting in 2013 Goldman Sachs funded The Utah High Quality Preschool Program, an expansion of the Granite and Park City School District's existing program. The goal (and metric) was to decrease the use of special education and remedial services in elementary school. Goldman was to received a payment for each child that successfully avoided special ed. 

From a story in Republic 3.0 on the Utah experiment

Now the first results are in and (as the Times article reports) people are arguing over whether the gains the program measured are plausible (or possible), and whether the basic assumptions underlying the assessment (for example, that every kid who scored low on a particular test would have ended up in special ed without the preschool intervention).

And yes, it is going to be messy coming to agreement on how to measure cause and effect, and quantify the size of that effect. But with governments struggling to foster important social goods like employment, successful education, self-sufficiency, experiments with social impact bonds will probably proliferate. I'm waiting for the first example of a museum filling the role of service provider--let me know if you spot that before I do.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Futurist Friday: It's ByoLogycal

Your Futurist Friday assignment, watch this 5 minute video, and tell me whether you are willing to try the drug it touts: ByoRenew, a synthetic virus introduced in 2012 with the promise that "you might never be sick again."

What about it? Are you willing to tinker with your very genome in the interest of health?

Sorry to have gotten your hopes up, but the drug's developer, ByoLogyc, is the futurist equivalent of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.* And this ad campaign is the21st century equivalent of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds broadcast--likely to scare your pants off until you notice something is slightly off. But unlike WoWW, ByoLogyc was designed to do more than entertain. 

Created by The Mission Business and playing out over the course of 2012-2013,  ByoLogyc was a distributed, immersive look at a highly plausible disruptive event: Earth's first synthetic pandemic, arising from the cleverness and greed of one ambitious biotech company.

Besides the fact that the project is immense fun (you can still peruse the website and videos online) I'm putting it to you for Futurist Friday because I think museums can learn a lot from the format. 

As described by its principle instigator, Trevor Haldenby, ByoLogyc is a form of "pervasive storytelling." It infiltrated the world via interactive theatre performances, websites, online video series, social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, physical mock-ups of the company's products, a black-tie design awards ceremony, sessions at professional conferences, and a TED talk set in the year 2025. As Trevor explained last year in this "April Fools" reveal,  

"ByoLogyc’s rise and fall was designed as a warning that would surface across media platforms, and come to life all around the people engaged in it. By the time the BRX Pandemic hit full stride in November of 2012, more than 3,500 members of the public, the academic community, and the private sector had engaged with the ByoLogyc story through live-action experiences, with another 40,000 engaging online through the consumption and active creation of content that brought the dystopian scenario to life."

What particularly caught my attention was Trevor's comment that ByoLogyc was designed as a compelling, high-impact alternative to "written scenarios, inaccessible white papers, and policy recommendation PowerPoints." ByoLogyc, like SuperStruct (the Institute for the Future's Massive Multiplayer Alternate Reality Game that played out in 2008, and was one of CFM's first futurist collaborations) is a format sometimes known as tangible futures, or experiential scenarios. This approach is playful, immersive, tantalizing and compelling. It's a way to recruit a mass audience to engage in exploring potential futures, and priming them to take responsibility for how the future plays out.

Some museums have been creating great immersive games (like SAAM's Ghosts of a Chance) based on storytelling and challenges--some of which play out both on the web and in meatspace. But I've not yet seen a museum launch a full-blown Alternate Reality project--like ByoLogyc, or SuperStruct--to inspire the public to action. Seems like a good fit for any museum that sees its mission as tackling issues that challenge our future--climate change, health, tolerance, education. 

Elaborate? Yes. But high impact, as well, and with immense potential to reach an audience wider than a museum's current audience. And, Trevor notes, while most of the content was free, people were willing to pay premium prices to participate in some of the live events--so maybe there's a viable financial model for such projects as well. 

So browse Byologic's website and archive, when you have a chance, and think a bit about how this kind of immersive storytelling might be harnessed, on a small scale or large, to engage people with issues you care about.

*Not to spoil MJT for any readers unfamiliar with this genius museum-spoof, but once you step through the door of David Wilson's "cabinet of wonder" it's up to you to figure out what's true, and what's not. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Touring “Slavery at Monticello”: A Small App with a Big Responsibility

One frustrating limitation of CFM’s work is that usually I have to cover the great things going on in museums based on second hand accounts—articles I’ve read in the press, Skype or email interviews with museum staff.  So I was delighted when CFM staff Nicole Ivy (Museum Futurist & ACLS Public Fellow) and Sylvea Hollis (Project Manager) volunteered to take a road trip to Monticello and try out their interpretive app. The app, layering an exploration of slavery onto the site’s interpretation, speaks to many of the issues facing historic sites today: how to revise and expand interpretive materials to be more inclusive and well-rounded, how to serve the interests of diverse audiences and (not the least) to the extent these new materials are digital, how to make sure they are noticed, and used, by visitors as a whole, not just those already inclined to seek them out.  

Just before the start of this fall season, we visited Monticello—Thomas Jefferson’s plantation estate near Charlottesville, VA--to try the museum’s “Slavery at Monticello” app. It introduces visitors to life at Mulberry Row, the 1,000-foot path south of Thomas Jefferson’s home. Visitors can use the app to access more than 100 types of content based on twelve biographies of people who were either enslaved, employed, or residents at Monticello. A $10 million grant from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein made it possible for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to give greater attention to building up Mulberry Row while also restoring Monticello.

 We arrived already impressed by the app’s user-friendliness and were excited to see how it would enhance our experience of the space. We were also interested in finding out what (and or how) visitors learned about the enslaved people who once lived there. Both of us have memories of visiting Monticello within the past ten years, so this most recent visit marked a chance to notice the significant changes recently made to the site.

“Slavery at Monticello” provides visitors with enhanced opportunities to learn about the everyday world of the enslaved people who lived and worked Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home. Thanks to this new technology and a recently added 45-minute group tour, visitors can now engage more deeply with the histories of enslaved people. The application’s focus on their lives, work, and stories shifts previous interpretations of slavery on the grounds from relative opaqueness to high relief.

News about “Slavery at Monticello” is visible in a variety of settings and media forms. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation featured the app on Monticello’s homepage and ran several press releases about its debut. In addition, multiple NPR stories about the app helped generate buzz.  Social media and target marketing is in the Foundation’s toolkit as well. We have seen lively Twitter conversations and blog posts. Interestingly, Monticello also runs banner advertisements about their institution on some websites that cater to readers interested in contemporary black popular culture. Visitors may arrive to the grounds without knowledge of this new option, but they certainly will not miss the tent-shaped signage in the plaza or the HD television ad in the ticket center. 

One of the app’s most striking features is its geolocated tags that help visitors imagine structures no  longer physically present on Mulberry row, For instance, piles of bricks are all that remain of Mulberry row’s nailery and blacksmith’s shop, but app users can see video showing 3-D representations of the buildings once they arrive. The app continues to vibrate with more information as you travel along the path.  

”Slavery at Monticello” does important work—but only if people use it. There were scores of visitors that day. We informally polled tour groups, and found only two people actually using the app. Moreover, the app’s reach hardly compares to the site’s master narrative that frames Jefferson as the great architect of Monticello and U.S. democracy. The vast scale of his greatness on the grounds is made palpable through overall layout of campus and tour experience.  

“Monticello as Experiment: 'To Try All Things' presents the Monticello house and plantation as the testing ground for Jefferson's ideas on improving various aspects of life through the application of social, intellectual, economic, and technological advances.”  --Monticello Website [exhibition statement]

A sign reading, “Monticello as Experiment,” flew in the visitor center’s main square. The words immediately invoked thoughts of W.E.B. du Bois, who called the Reconstruction (in Black Reconstruction) an experiment in democracy. In his textbook, Give Me Liberty!, historian Eric Foner also expands on the experiment metaphor as a strategy for understanding how democracy in the US has changed over time.  Through this method, readers learn how people have struggled to transform government.

What if the local story of slavery at Monticello were also interpreted through a framework of a great experiment? This would create space for conversations with and between visitors about complicated tensions that exist throughout the long arc of this nation’s democratization, and remind visitors that:
  • Democracy is a process
  • The past, just like our future should have more questions, less answers
  • Failure Happens

CFM’s work on demography and trends reminds museums that in their future audiences will (and should) include a growing percentage of people of color. These new audiences want to see more inclusive content and deconstruct master narratives. What will be the future of plantation tours, large and small? And, how can we continue to foster meaningful conversations between visitors in these spaces (with technology and without)?  Please weigh in with your thoughts—here on the Blog, or on Twitter, where we are @nicotron3000 and @Sil_ve_uh.

Additional Resources:     
Ask a Slave: The Web Series. This satirical web series is based on the actress' time working as a living history character at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Starring Azie Dungey as Lizzie Mae and directed by Jordan Black.

In the same spirit, African American History Fail @afamhistfail tweets about the real (unfortunate) things tourists say.

Joseph McGill’s  Slave Dwelling Project identifies and assists property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve surviving slave dwellings.

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North (2008). In this feature documentary filmmaker Katrina Browne tells the story of her New England ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She and nine of her cousins retrace the slave trade triangle and share the perspective they gain on the black/white divide.

And some recommended reading:
Jennifer L. Eichstedt and Stephen Small, Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 2008)

Rex Ellis, “Re: Living History: Bringing History Into Play.” American Visions 7:6 (December-January 1992), 22-25

Fath Davis Ruffins "Revisiting the Old Plantation: Reparations, Reconciliation, and Museumizing American Slavery.” Museums Frictions ed. by Ivan Karp and Corrine Kratz. In press.

"A Faithful Witness': Afro-American Public History in Historical Perspective," with Jeffrey Stewart. Presenting the Past: Critical Perspectives on History and the Public. Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, eds. Temple University Press, 1986.

Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene, forthcoming in 2016 from HarperCollinss

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Picturing the New Normal

#RisingTides #SeaLevel #ClimateChange @VizcayaMuseum 
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Playful strategy development for museums

When I tell people I’m a futurist, I inevitably get some jokes about crystal balls and Tarot decks. Ironically, I actually HAVE a Tarot deck on my desk: one that I’ve hacked to create a “forecasting deck”—a clever tool to help people imagine different futures. I was working on a post reviewing some of the forecasting decks available via the web when I stumbled across a deck-in-progress, being funded via Kickstarter by my friend and fellow futurist Jasper Visser (Inspired by Coffee). I promptly pledged to the campaign, and invited Jasper to tell us more about this new forecasting tool, and how it can help museums future-proof their strategic plans

Everyone who has tried design thinking or gamestorming in their museum will recognize how creative approaches can help to generate new ideas and solve complex problems. When negotiations have stalled, it often helps to stand up from the table and move around to get the conversation going again. Likewise, using techniques different from memos, corporate brainstorms or whatever is the norm in your institution, can help you look with fresh eyes at impossible challenges.

Cards for Culture--Museum Edition is based on this insight, designed to provide a playful approach to strategy development for museums. It’s a box with three decks of cards: strategy, trends and inspiration cards. Like a standard 52-card deck, you can use these cards in different ways to develop your strategy, inspire innovation and guide transformation processes.

The development of the cards was a long process, of which the current Kickstarter campaign is only one step. Erik Schilp and I have been working together on innovative solutions that help organizations address complicated issues for years. These solutions often share the same characteristics: they’re highly accessible, use digital thinking and game mechanics to involve as much people from an organization as possible and combine bottom-up with top-down approaches. I hope you back the project on Kickstarter, but in any case I hope to inspire you to use play, creativity and new ways of working together to advance your museum strategy, and come up with new ideas for the future of museums

Games are best explained through playing them, so I’d like to invite you to play one round of Trendwatcher (one of the six ways we’ve outlined in the user manual in which you can use the cards). Trendwatcher uses the trends and strategy cards to help you to make your strategies trend-resistant, and come up with new ideas. It’s a fairly straightforward game: at random, you play one of the 16 trend cards with current trends that are shaping the future of museums:

You played the trend ‘Participatory governance’! All over the world, bottom-up initiatives challenge museums to reimagine how they can involve their audience in a meaningful way.

Some of the “inspiration cards” present case studies of organizations that allow their audience to take responsibility. To explore what this trend means for your museum, go through the 64 strategy cards with your team, and select those that you believe are impacted by the trend. The strategy cards are organized in eight themes (story, leadership, audience, organization, community, society, space and assets). For this sample round, let’s play three strategy cards at random:

We’ve played sustainability from the leadership theme, neighbors from the audience theme and temporary spaces from the space theme. (Please note these are prototype cards, the final deck may change slightly.)

Next you formulate questions using the strategy and trend cards. For instance, “How does participatory governance impact the sustainability of our museum?”, “What responsibility would our neighbors be willing to take (or are they already taking) for our organization?”, “Can we experiment with participatory governance in a temporary space?”

Exploring the questions with your team and other stakeholders is an incredibly valuable process. Not only does it ensure that you think about all aspects of an integrated, future-proof museum strategy, it also generates new ideas and insights.

Erik is currently assisting a new museum of arts and crafts of India within Mumbai International Airport. Using the deck for that project, just five random cards played in this exercise created insights which led to three new programs.

Cards for Culture has been inspired by existing cards based toolkits, such as MethodKit and Drivers of Change. We like how they make complicated topics accessible by breaking them down to individual pieces, and then link these pieces together visually. The content of Cards for Culture, and the different ways to use the cards, are especially developed for this purpose only. I believe the game and its contents are unique in the sector.

We’ve gone through a range of prototypes and playtested repeatedly, in a range of settings and in different countries. One of the results of this has been the addition of joker: four risks and threats that could disrupt your museum. The jokers add an extra dimension to all the ways in which you can use Cards for Culture. Let’s play one:

What would you do? How does this relate to participatory governance and can you turn this threat into an opportunity?

In Pisa, we used the cards (and especially the jokers) to challenge project pitches with relevant questions. "How is this project affected by changing demographics?", "How can this be used to improve funding to your organization?”. We call this game ‘Pitch perfect’ and it’s a powerful and fun way to challenge ideas and strengthen projects.

‘Trendwatcher’ and ‘Pitch perfect’ are just two examples of how you can use Cards for Culture - Museum Edition. In the user manual, we’ve outlined 4 others, with many variations. Moreover, what we’ve noticed is that every time we introduce the cards to new people, they come up with their own ways to use the cards. A group of small museums explored how they could use the cards online to foster collaboration. In a large museum, a department plans to use the cards to better integrate its work in the overall organization.

It’s these responses to Cards for Culture that make me most happy: people claim the product and are endlessly creative with it. It’s also - probably - why the Kickstarter campaign is going well: people recognize Cards for Culture as a tool flexible enough to be applied in their (unique) museum reality, and structured enough to actually help them and their organizations move forward. That’s exactly what we set out to make, and a valuable addition to the conferences, management books and workshops that are currently available to museums looking to develop a future-proof strategy.

Which leaves us with wrapping up our sample round. What is your response to the trend of participatory governance? Which elements of your museum strategy does it affect and how? Is it an opportunity, a threat or - ultimately - also a new approach to strategy development? We look forward to seeing your responses in practice in museum around the world!

Cards for Culture – Museum Edition is developed by Erik Schilp and myself and designed by Robin Stam. Support our campaign on Kickstarter before Sunday 22 November 2015, 11:59pm CEST and be among the first to receive a box with 100 high-impact cards for strategy development in museums.