Friday, April 21, 2017

TrendsWatch: Now Live On the Web

Each year there’s a fleeting instant when I’m more or less happy with TrendsWatch—the moment I hit “send” to transmit the text to my editor.

Then I open my news feed and see a great story related to one of TrendsWatch themes and IT’S TOO LATE TO SNEAK IT INTO THIS YEAR’S TEXT. #frustration.

I update my presentation about TrendsWatch before each new gig at a museum or conference, but that’s only partial comfort because most people consume the forecast through the PDF download or the print edition.

So I’m very happy that my talented digital colleagues at the Alliance (HT Liz Neely and Josh Morin) have created a web version of TrendsWatch to help you stay up-todate with the trends as they play out across the year. This site supplements the print and PDF editions by aggregating content from across the Web—twitter feeds, blog posts, articles, breaking news. It enables you to be a digital reader over my shoulder, seeing stuff I discover in my daily scanning.

Some of you have already visited (or tried to visit) the TrendsWatch site because I shared the address——in the report itself. Jumped the gun on that a bit, I did. How convenient that one of the chapters this year is about the important of taking chances, rapid iteration, experimentation, and failure! I’m going to flaunt the development of TrendsWatch’s web version as an example of practicing what I preach. We came up with the idea of a web presence for TrendsWatch last year—we knew what we wanted it to do, and that it fit within our broader plan for experimenting with content on the web (it is a subset of the new Alliance Labs site). We had a general idea of how a web version would work, and committed to actually inventing it as we went along.

As it happened, some of our ideas were harder to implement than we anticipated. It wasn’t entirely obvious, for example, how make articles I tag in Diigo automatically feed into the site. And it took longer than expected to find a collection of Twitter feeds that I trust enough to show up in the site without human supervision. (A lot of promising feeds have a significant number of tweets that are personal, NSFW, or otherwise off topic.)

I know several hundred of you visited the site while it was in prep (we kept an eye on the traffic), but we waited until we were relatively happy with how it’s working to make a fuss over the launch. That would be now. Please, visit, browse, and tell us what you think! I would very much like to hear your opinion on its design and functionality. Would you rather read the text online, or do you prefer the downloadable PDF (or print edition) for consuming the report itself? We’ve packed a lot of content into each section—is that useful, or distracting? Are there things you would like to see on the web that aren’t there yet? Please give us your feedback via this short survey, and/or using the comment section, below. Thank you!

Yours from the future,


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Failing Forward: Prototyping, Mistakes, and What We Learned

Our next annual meeting preview comes from Linda Norris, Danielle Steinmann, and Maura Hallisey. At their session “Failing Forward” (11:15 am on Wednesday, May 10) they will share stories about rapid prototyping from the perspective of two historic house museums—The Olde Manse and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. If you’re still waffling over your schedule, this teaser may convince you to put this session on your conference dance card. (Registration is still open!)
Linda: At our session we’ll share prototyping tales from our experiences in the most conservative of museum places, historic houses, and with our most conservative of audiences, our fellow staff members, including guides. We promise, the way to learn rapid prototyping is to rapidly prototype. Danielle, can you give CFM’s readers a preview of the lessons you will share in St. Louis?  
Danielle: When faced with an unfamiliar challenge, I often hesitate before taking the plunge. Trying new things doesn’t come naturally to me. As a kid, I was called, “over-achiever” and “type-A” because I stuck to things I knew was good at. Later on, I started to realize that sticking to my comfort-zone was holding me back. An article in Psychology Today –The Trouble with Bright Girls—was a revelation for me.   Turns out, I’m not alone, and, in fact, my gender may have played a part in making me this way. In brief,
“…bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice…And because bright girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves...and give up way too soon.”
Trustees Chief Marketing Officer Matt Montgomery
shares his team's prototype for understanding
an Aeolian harp at The Old Manse.
Linda: I was never one of those perfectionists--and I’m still not. It might stem from growing up in a big family, trying new things. As an independent museum professional, I know that perfection is the sure path to never quite getting paid for the work I do.
Danielle: How does this relate to our work in museums? The most recent AAM Trendswatch had this to say in the article Failing Toward Success: “Museums, as a sector, share a culture of perfection that places large bets on getting a product…right the first time. Museums that decide to move away from dysfunctional perfectionism have to work consciously to change an organizational culture that discourages risk taking.”
That’s a tall order, especially for those of us who are not in top leadership positions. Such a profound shift in the culture requires a great deal of support and practice.
Participants in the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's
first prototype:  front parlor conversation. 
Linda:  Early in my career, I worked at a children’s museum where we tried new things all the time.  Those lessons have stuck with me, but the urge for rapid-prototyping gets stronger all the time.  Maura, can you share our very first Harriet Beecher Stowe House prototype--along with our fears?
Maura: Our first prototype in 2014 kicked off a shift in our organizational culture where we began to try new things, make mistakes, and learn. Our tour had been a traditional house tour--deeply biographical, lacking an overall thesis, and the stories were dictated by the objects or rooms in the house. Internally, some staff, from interpreters up to executive leadership recognized that our tour failed to convey the mission of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center: to connect the past to the present and inspire social justice and positive change. But other staff thought any shift would threaten the historic integrity of our tour and not satisfy the public. We began prototyping in a divided house with some staff on board and others not. We tried anyway and introduced new elements to the tour that shifted away from traditional tour techniques.
Fear was a fundamental part of the process. For staff tasked with leading the prototyping, there was a fear that failure would derail any attempts to further re-imagine the tour and would cause all staff to lose confidence in the process. For staff tasked with selling/marketing and delivering the tour, there was a fear that failure would cause the public to lose confidence in us and be unsatisfied with their experience. Both of these fears I think do arise from a type of perfectionism. No one on staff wanted to be wrong, either in front of colleagues or in front of the public. 

Danielle: Inspired by Stowe and other innovative approaches we embarked on refreshing the interpretation at The Old Manse. It’s a site with layers of history. Over the years our tours had lost focus. For many staff, a big fear was letting go of particular stories and I tried to be sympathetic to that. Many had been there for a long time and had a great deal of ownership over those stories. They worried that visitors would miss out on something. It was difficult to honor that loyalty and passion while still moving forward.
Linda Norris is Global Networks Program Director at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (www.sitesofconscience.organd previously worked as an independent consultant focused on interpretive planning. Twitter and Instagram: @lindabnorris.  

Danielle Steinmann is Director of Visitor Interpretation at the Trustees. Twitter: @thetrustees.

Maura Hallisey is Priogram Coordinator at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center  @hbstowecenter.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: See You in St. Louis?

#AAM2017 #StLouis @LaumeierArtStL @tonytasset
You can still register!
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, April 18, 2017

Effective Altruism

Today’s post by Susie Wilkening is the first in a series profiling sessions I picked for CFM’s annual “Guide to the Future at the Annual Meeting.” I hope these previews help you plan your schedule in St. Louis. Susie will be moderating the session Effective Altruism, Evidence-based Giving, and Museums at 10:30 am on Tuesday, May 9.  She and her panelists will be looking at a trend that may significantly disrupt traditional philanthropy over the next decade—I recommend it you to your attention!

Imagine you are in a museum, and you are standing in front of a masterpiece. Starry Night, perhaps. Or a Gutenberg Bible. A young child is standing beside you, also looking.

But disaster strikes. You have to make a choice … save the masterpiece or save the child. It is on you. No one else can help. Which do you choose?

Perhaps you think my scenario is fanciful. We are never presented with that kind of choice in real life.

Or are we? Are we making that kind of choice, a life or a masterpiece, every time we give money to a museum? Are we asking others to make that choice when we ask for funds?

Peter Singer, the Princeton philosopher and advocate of effective altruism, would say yes. That when someone gives money to a museum (he loves to single out museums specifically; my scenario is inspired by one he presents in his book The Life You Could Save), that individual's gift may have cost others their lives.

How? He estimates that it costs $1,000 to save a life in developing nations with inadequate food, shelter, and medical care. Since museums don't save lives, a $1,000 gift to a museum means the loss of one life. A gift of a $1,000,000 means 1,000 lives lost.

Thus, the moral choice, nay, the moral imperative, is to save lives, not donate to museums.

And he's right. At least when you paint it in such black-and-white terms. But is he?

Effective altruism is an evidence-based philosophy in which philanthropic gifts are given to organizations that are most effective at saving the most lives. By that measure, museums don't make their cut.

While relatively few people practice true effective altruism, it is influencing broader philanthropy. Increasingly, donors and foundations are looking for harder evidence of impact from the philanthropies they support. In practical terms, it means that a donor or foundation that, say, wants to support early childhood development is going to look much harder at the evidence a museum provides about their work in this area … and compare it against other organizations also working with young children. How will the museum's evidence stack up? Is it enough to say that you spark a love of learning? Probably not.

This shift in philanthropy, with that greater emphasis on evidence of impact, is something that all museums are facing. Heck, we are even facing it in the national budget and in many state and local budgets. Measuring impact has never been more important.

And that's why Dean Phelus at AAM encouraged me to chair a session on effective altruism, impact-based philanthropy, and other shifts in philanthropy that matter to museums. I've pulled together three incisive women to discuss these shifts, and how museums can and should respond.
  • Laura Callanan: Founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab, which creates opportunities for artist innovators to deliver social impact at scale. In particular, she focuses on connecting artists with social entrepreneurs and impact investors to deliver significant impact in communities.
  • Kat Rosqueta: Founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, which helps donors leverage evidence to achieve the greatest social impact. 
  • Putter Bert: President and CEO of KidsQuest Children's Museum, who has first-hand experience dealing with some tough questions about impact from local donors and foundations.
But here's the thing. This shift toward high-impact philanthropy is good for museums. It is good for our missions. And it is good for our audiences. If we want more individuals to value the role museums play in people's lives, we have to be as effective in our work as possible. This doesn't mean turning our backs on our missions, but instead doing our own hard work to understand the actual impact we are having in the lives of individuals, collecting that evidence, articulating it broadly, and focusing our efforts on the things that matter the most. Understanding, measuring, and maximizing impact only makes our work better.

And without such evidence of impact, museums will suffer. Greatly. So will our society. Because I happen to believe, and my most recent research underscores, that without the work of museums, it will be harder to raise new generations of empathetic, critical thinkers who understand the cultural challenges of real global change … and who will care about those issues in the first place.

I hope you can join us at our session in St. Louis! 

Susie Wilkening (@susiewilkening) is the principal of Wilkening Consulting. She has 20 years of experience in museums, including over ten years leading custom projects for museums as well as fielding groundbreaking national research on the role of museums in American society. She resides in Seattle, and is working hard to raise her two young children to be empathetic, creative, global citizens … by taking them to museums early and often.

Susie shares her latest research and data insights at The Data Museum blog and book and research reviews on The Curated Bookshelf.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Musing: Impact Investing

Usually when I attend a conference, I hope to come away with a few good thoughts, maybe a lead on a person or resource I can look up afterwards. Rarely does a conference change the way I see the world.

I attended SxSW last month and one sentence, from one speaker, on one panel, did just that. Here is the line that rang my bell:

Every time you spend a dollar you are creating the world you live in.”

The speaker was Seth Miller, founder and partner at Fearless Ventures, and I’d gone to the session Investing to Change the World to learn more about the use of private investments to drive social change.

Though I’ve written about the growing tendency of people to parse the ethical implications of everything they do and buy (see “Ethical Everything” in TrendsWatch 2015) I hadn’t stepped back to consider the relative value of what I give to good causes versus all my other spending. Even supposing I virtuously decide to tithe, what is the impact of each dollar going to charity compared to the other nine I spend on myself? For example, what’s the impact of my donation to Environmental Defense Fund, compared to that of the money I spend on food, clothing, and transportation? All of those systems have a profound environmental impact.

Which brings me to today’s musing on the news. Last week the Ford Foundation announced it was committing $1 billion to investments that not only “earn attractive financial returns but concrete social returns as well.” Ford and a growing number of other foundations are beginning to realize that every dollar they invest creates the world they live in, and adjust their strategies accordingly.

The traditional financial model for charitable foundations is to manage their investments for maximum financial return, and then measure the good they do through the spending the legally mandated minimum 5% spending rate on their endowment. By adopting impact investing, foundations treat every dollar they manage as a lever to create change. An investment that offers great financial returns may produce results that are “anathema to the values of the foundation itself.” An alternate investment might offer modest financial returns, but create impact that advances the foundation’s mission. Foundations began divesting themselves of actively offensive investments (such as tobacco) some time ago. Through impact investing they actively seek companies that do good for people and the environment, AND offer a financial return. And, as several speakers at SxSW emphasized, investing in positive impact doesn’t have to mean sacrificing financial profits.

I recommend the article to your attention: it provides an overview of some of the legal developments supporting this shift and discusses some of the concerns foundations have (notably the risk of eating into the corpus of the endowment if the fund managers make bad bets). 

The author also lists a number of other foundations beginning to experiment with impact investing. Some of these—for example the Kresge Foundation and the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation–-have historically been generous funders of museums. And this is where you should perk up and take notice. How will museums adapt to a future in which funders focus on the overall impact of their dollars, and actively seek out companies that produce both mission-related and financial returns?

Speakers in several sessions touched on the desire of foundations to create impact at scale—to make significant progress in solving gnarly problems, rather than simply mitigating harm. One attractive feature of impact investing is that large companies can leverage large, global change. What is the best way to eliminate poverty by 2030? Or meet any of the other United National social development goals for inequality, health, economics and the environment?  Many foundations are re-examining their vision of the world they want to live in, and concluding “philanthropy won’t get you there.” Or, like the MacArthur Foundation with its 100&Change competition last year, deciding to make big bets on projects that promise big impact, rather than making many small grants.

As one speaker said, “impact is not a category, it’s a mindset,” one focused on the mantra “is it good for people, is it good for the planet?” And as funders start applying that mindset to managing the bulk of their funds, they will begin to apply it to their grantmaking as well.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: A Symphony of Smell

@LeGrandMuseeDuParfum #multisensory #perfume 
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, April 11, 2017

Honoring Curiosity

Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum of Natural History, has been named as the 2017 recipient of the Nancy Hanks Memorial Award for Professional Excellence.

As a long-time fan of Emily’s YouTube series The Brain Scoop, this pleases me enormously. As a futurist, I think it highlights important shifts in how museums do their work, and on the evolution of our profession. Past recipients of the Nancy Hanks Award have included directors, educators, people working in collections and registration, even a chief bioscientist. I believe Emily is the first awardee, however, whose principal role is communicating the value of research collections to the public.

And an important role it is. To build the case for public support of the enormous collections museums care for behind the scenes, we have to let people know those collections exists, and explain what they are for. Ideally, we need to make them fall in love with museum collections—a courtship at which Emily excels. She makes specimen preparation fun and accessible, whether it’s clearing and staining fishes or skinning a wolf, and explains how science helps us understand our world. (Did you know bird vomit can help us reconstruct history?)

Emily is a role model for women in science by doing what she does so visibly—The Brain Scoop has over 393,900 subscribers—and by talking about what it’s like to be a woman doing science. (I wish I’d seen the Periods + Fieldwork episode before gearing up for my first trip overseas.) She also confronts sexism head on, asking Where My Ladies At? in science-related social media and shining a fierce light on the bullying women are subjected to when they become online content creators.

Emily was an undergraduate art major at the University of Montana when she started volunteering at the campus’ natural history museum. She made her first Brain Scoop video while working odd jobs that enabled her to keep volunteering after graduation. The Field Museum recruited her after she visited Chicago to film an early episode. I’ve blogged about notable people in our field who come from “non-traditional” backgrounds. I think Emily’s road to the Field Museum helps makes the case for museums taking an open-minded, agile approach to hiring.

While the title “Chief Curiosity Correspondent” may or may not become a thing, I hope we see more positions devoted to communicating the wonder, excitement, and day-to-day reality of the behind-the-scenes work at museums. That will be key to inspiring young people from all sorts of backgrounds to join our profession.