Friday, October 31, 2014

Futurist Friday: A Graphic Look at Big Data and Privacy

Sometimes, in this job, I get dang tired of reading. That's one reason I so often feature videos in Friday's periodic glimpse of the future. 

Next best thing to video? Pictures. So I was tickled to stumble across "Terms of Service," a graphic novel, by Michael Keller, a reporter for Al Jazeera America, and Josh Neufeld, a nonfiction cartoonist. 

In this 46 page e-booklet Michael and Josh look at the way we are becoming accustomed to trading personal data for access to "free" services like Gmail. They review the (brief) history of how this issue has exploded over the last 10 years, and digs into "the unraveling theory," which postulates that "once enough people reveal their information, then NOT revealing your information becomes a stigma." When does privacy flip from being a basic right to being proof you have something to hide? 

Don't think that just because this is a graphic novel it is light weight. Michael and Josh incorporate interviews with scientists and reformers including Scott Peppet (University of Colorado, Bolder), danah boyd (Microsoft) and Alessandro Acquisti (Carnegie Mellon), 

So, your Futurist Friday assignment: flip through the comic (excuse me, graphic novel) and think about the following questions:

  • What are you willing to give up your privacy for? Access to "free" services? Lower insurance rates? And conversely
  • What is worth giving up in order to retain your privacy? 
I'd love to see your answers to those questions, in the comments section, below, or on social media: you can Tweet me @futureofmuseums, or start a discussion on the link I've posted to the CFM Facebook page. Or you can keep your opinions, you know, private.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Thought: Getting Personal

Read this email I received yesterday:

Hello Elizabeth!

My name is Andrea, and I’m a librarian with The Seattle Public Library’s Reader Services department. Thanks for using Your Next Five Books, our online service for readers. I’ve created a list of suggestions for you right in our library catalog, which you can find here.

What a great mix of topics and styles! I've tried to create a list with a similar variety; all of the books on your list are available in both book and eBook format, so I've generally listed the format with the best availability. Here is a bit more about each title:

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley is a fun and fast work of fantasy. In this first in a proposed series, Myfanwy Thomas wakes up to find herself surrounded by dead bodies and her memory gone. Turns out - she's super high up in a secret British organization charged with keeping supernatural menaces in check. Now she just has to figure out who she is, and who wants her dead. Myfanwy has a great, witty inner voice. This is available in both book and eBook format.

For immersive fantasy, try Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, the first in his Kingkiller Trilogy. Like the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, Rothfuss creates a complex, complete world full of magic and narrated by a really engaging main character. You can get this as either a book or an eBook, but there's a slightly shorter wait for the print book.

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity, by Pedro G. Ferreira, is the science title on your list. Ferreira accessibly breaks down the revolutionary nature of Einstein's discoveries, and how physicists have been working with it to make sense of the world ever since. Kirkus reviews called it "one of the best popular accounts of how Einstein and his followers have been trying to explain the universe for decades." This is available in both book and eBook format.

On the meditative, life-of-the-mind side of things, check out Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist sent to Auschwitz during World War II, but he came out of that experience really positive. In this short book, he talks about his time in the concentration camp (nothing too graphic or gory), the psychological stages prisoners went through, and his observation that the way people imagined their future impacted their reality. This title, too, is available in both book and eBook format.

Ok, I've left futurist fiction for last because I'm not sure I'm on target. Pretty much all of the non-tech futurist fiction I can think of is post-apocalyptic in a sense, and I'm not sure if that overlaps with what you're looking for. In any case! On your list is Oryx and Crake, the first in Margaret Atwood's trilogy. Set in the near future, after an ecological disaster, this novel focuses on Jimmy as he adapts and remembers the past world. Also in this vein are Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and California by Eden Lepucki, although those are both even more in the back-to-the-land category of post-apocalyptic fiction.

I hope you find something that piques your interest, and that this list is exactly what you had in mind. If it’s not, please don’t hesitate to reply to this message or to submit another request and we will try again. Happy Reading!

The Seattle Public Library

My email to the “Your Next 5 Books” service, and Andrea’s reply, were sparked by this sign I spotted at the SPL while I was attending the Alliance’s annual meeting last May:

Let’s skip over the embarrassing amount this correspondence reveals about my personal reading preferences and go straight to: HOW GREAT IS THIS?!?!?!

Some museums are already experimenting with services from the same gene pool. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offers YBCA:You  (“You” as in “U” as in “University”—cute, yes?) For $15 a month participants in You get their own personal art coach to help them “navigate the myriad programs and events taking place each month at YBCA and elsewhere in the Bay Area” (along with discounts, access to exclusive events and various social meet ups). One participant in the program wrote: “The YBCA:You program has been one of the best investments I’ve made. I feel like it’s a combination of continuing education, social hour, and life coaching — like a really good gym, but for art. I love it!”

Yes. I want a personal training coach for art. Or history. Or science. I want to check out a guide from a museum-based human library on my way into the galleries. Or a musician who will create a bespoke live soundtrack for my visit. What a great way to foster a personal and personalized relationship with the museum, and delve deeper into my interests.

I chose YBCA:You as my real-life museum example because it is low tech and based on face-to-face communication. The tradeoff is, it’s resource intensive and hard to scale. Technology gives us ways to create “mass personalization” that can deliver similar services to far more people, albeit with a less human touch. Artsy, using the Art Genome Project, creates personalized recommendations based on the preferences I’ve programmed into its algorithm. (It's sort of like a Pandora or Spotify for art.) I’ve speculated (on this blog, and in this recent article in the NYT, that cognitive computing and natural language capabilities makes the Artificial Intelligence program IBM Watson a perfect candidate for a yet-to-be-invented digital “personal museum learning agent."  

We live in a world in which people expect their experiences to be tailored to their needs. They want recommendations on what they might want to listen to, view, read or buy. They want shoes, clothes, even earbuds tailored to their needs via bespoke tech. Museums can thrive by meeting the public desire for personalized culture with high tech or low tech strategies.

For now, I hope some museums try sticking up a sign at their front desk, and seeing which visitors take them up on the offer. Let me know how it works out…

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Elegant Lo-Tech Wayfinding

#Rijksmuseum #3D 
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, October 28, 2014

Po-tay-to Po-taa-to: On Unpaid Internships

Finally, ok, Im weighing in.

I hesitated for a long time because it wasnt clear what I could add to an already robust conversation. But this topic is a logical extension of the series of posts in which Im trying to untangle the perverse economics that characterize museum labor.

Part of the confusion swirling around this issue is the fact that it touches on a bunch of relationships that overlap with each other, to some extent. For example:

Formal internships associated with academic programs: educational internships, associated with college and university degree programs, that align with the requirements of unpaid internship programs as outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act. These prerequisites include educational training, being structured for the benefit of the intern, and being of “no immediate advantage” to the employer. “On occasion,” the Department of Labors guidelines candidly observes, “operations may actually be impeded.” (Which reinforces my belief that when museums provide internships for students, its the museum that provides uncompensated labor, effectively loaning their staff to act as unpaid instructors.) Sometimes these internships do, in fact, come with a stipend provided either by the college or by the museum.

Volunteers. Civil society is premised on volunteering—on people giving freely of their time in order to contribute to social causes that align with their values. Volunteering creates a non-monetary economy of trust, shared values and social capital. Museums are fortunate to be a popular outlet for these civic impulses. 95% of museums use volunteers, with the median ratio of 6 volunteers to every paid staff person. In 2009 Museum Financial Information Phil Katz and I estimated that somewhere between one and three million people volunteer in US museums in any given year, for a total that could be as high as 2.8 million hours a week. At the current Independent Sector estimated value of $22.55 per hours of volunteer time, thats $63 million in contributed labor per week—$3.28 billion per year. Volunteers dont get paid, but they arent free, either: Standards and Best Practices for Museum Volunteer Programs (developed by the American Association for Museum Volunteers) specify that “basics” for a volunteer program include orientation, training, supervision, evaluation, recognition, records keeping and risk management. Allowing people to volunteer is a serious commitment for a museum, and it includes negotiating expectations (even sans paycheck).

When we look at unpaid, non-academic internships, people are quick to call legal foul, and in the case of for-profit companies this is quite correct.  But the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, in light of the value Americans place on volunteerism, “recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation…to non-profit organizations.” Fact Sheet 71 (Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act) goes on to [foot]note that “WHD is reviewing the need for additional guidance on internships in the public and nonprofit sectors.” That sheet was issued in 2010, and as far as I can determine the “additional guidance” has not been provided. I bet staff at the WHD are finding it difficult to distinguish between a volunteer, who has no anticipation of [monetary] compensation, and an “intern.

Theres the rub, isnt it? When is someone an unpaid intern rather than a volunteer? Why would someone want to be called an intern (rather than "volunteer"), even without pay? Because it looks good on a resume, of course. It implies (rightly or not) that they received structured supervision and training. It implies they were doing work that prepared them for a paid position. It signals their professional intentions.

This isnt a case of “you say volunteer, I say intern—but its the same thing.” Museums that offer unpaid internships create a situation in which people desperate to get paid jobs in the museum sector pay for the privilege of getting a foot in the door. Maybe not as blatantly as Donna Versace and Anna Wintour, both of whom let people bid on the privilege of interning in their companies (all proceeds going to charity, of course). In the case of museums, the “payment” is the salary the intern is choosing not to earn along with, potentially, a lifetime of lost wages. (2013 research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that graduates who did an unpaid internship in college made less than students who did no internship at all. And starting salaries have an enduring effect on future wages. This research from Yale is on the effect of graduating in a recession, but many of the factors it explores—starting in low level jobs, possibly not in your preferred career track, lack of mobility in the marketplace—apply to museum positions in any economy.)

As I see it, there are two potential arguments for museums not to offer unpaid, non-academic internships that do real work and are not primarily for the benefit of the intern.

The first argument is ethical. Ive postulated in previous posts that the fair market value of a museum job is the compensation (cash + intangibles) an employer and a job applicant agree on when both parties are knowledgeable, willing and unpressured. If applicants are not “willing and unpressured”—If they believe that working without pay is the only road to the position of their dreams—unpaid internships fail that test, and valuing their labor at zero is not fair.

On the other hand, some might argue that no one is threatening aspiring museum workers with unemployment if they dont agree to work for free. Applicants could seek employment in another field, even if that means waiting tables or pulling espressos. And given that the vast majority of people angling for entry level museum positions have undergraduate degrees from a four year college, and many have graduate degrees, they may well do better than Starbucks. If you position working in a museum as a luxury, rather than a necessity, I see no ethical compulsion to make that luxury affordable to all.

But if you take that route—museum jobs as luxury goods—you run smack into my second argument, which is practical rather than ethics-based. As many writers have pointed out, requiring applicants work for free effectively restricts our field to people who can afford to pay the price of entry. That generally means people who are more affluent, and people who can rely on support from their families. That often means women. It often means people from families with a tradition of academia, families that value the trade-off of salary for scholarship. It pretty much precludes diversifying our staff (by race, gender, socio-economic condition) to better reflect our audience. And it ensures we will be seen as ever more disconnected from our communities and their needs.

As I follow the debate about unpaid internships, I read glowing testimonials to how these positions have fostered lifelong friendships, paired people with career mentors, and provided invaluable experience. Thats great. I hope that many more people have such nurturing experiences as they enter the field. I just think museums ought to pay them for that work, when we are filling positions that are our pipeline of entry level professionals.

To offer a fair wage—whether thats reimbursement for bus fare and a heartfelt thank you, or $40k a year with retirement benefits—make sure that the museum and the prospective worker have a shared and accurate understanding of what each seeks from the relationship. And if the worker expects an entrée into the profession—pay ‘em, whether you call them an intern or not.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Teenie Techie Turtles

#WearableTech #Biomonitoring #iOSinfants

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where do museums fit in the new landscape of science engagement?

Early on in our acquaintance, founding CFM Council member Peter Linett detonated a “brain grenade” with a question he has also posed on his firm’s blog: why aren’t museums more often “heartfelt, honest, gripping, funny and…deeply moving”? In today’s guest post, Peter explores the cultural trend toward passionate, personal science communication (a trend, he points out, in which museums are not leading the charge) and shares some news from a project he’s co-leading with MIT called The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement

Ever been to a Story Collider show? Picture a bar or music club packed with young people drinking beer. Witty but authentic banter between the hosts. And a series of three or four people stepping up to the mic to tell a personal story that has some connection to science.

Some of them are scientists, maybe grad students. Some are science communicators or educators. Some aren’t in the field at all, just people who have had a memorable brush with science, broadly construed. But we’re not talking down-market TED Talks here. Not lectures, even disguised ones. The science “content” is incidental when it’s discernable at all. The point is personal, idiosyncratic human experience, and turning that experience into something communal. It’s the campfire at the mouth of the cave.

Emily Graslie at Story Collider
The stories are what a friend might tell you about something that changed her a little or a lot — except better crafted. (Story Collider co-founder and co-host Ben Lillie comes from theater, though he also comes from theoretical physics). The storytellers say “I” or “my girlfriend and I” or “my dad, just before he died.” The stories are sweet, sad, suspenseful, adult, self-revealing, and almost always funny at some point. They’re a real person, talking to you.

Do you learn anything about science? Depends on your definition of “learning” and more importantly of “science” — which is what’s so radical about this program. It’s learning of a particularly emotional and social sort, and what you learn is a subjective rather than an objective truth: the lived experience of science, what it was like for him or her. It’s not science as a set of facts or even a way of thinking, much less a privileged way of thinking. It’s science as just another part of life.

And (not to get too meta here) because you’re enjoying it in a bar with friends instead of listening to an indie rock band or going to a movie, it’s also science as just another part of contemporary culture. That may be the biggest thing you’re “learning.”

Story Collider is hardly alone in staking this new cultural territory for science. A myriad of new programs and projects are pushing in similar directions, from Radiolab and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio to online comics like xkcd and Sci-ence and uncategorizable books by Janna Levin and the I Fucking Love Science page on Facebook and Nerd Nite and science standup comedy and a wave of musical and artistic creativity (A Capella Science or the cosmological lyrics of GZA or the biological lyrics of Bjork), among many others.

All of them break the unwritten rules of 20th century science communication and informal science education, and collectively they’re reshaping the landscape in which adults encounter science.

To get a handle on what’s happening, several colleagues and I invited some of the most creative, game-changing practitioners in the US and UK to come to MIT last fall for a two-day conversation, along with a few researchers and funders working at the same edges. We talked about how they’re using humor, story, emotion, informality, personality, social participation, artistic expression, and other contemporary sensibilities to “mainstream” science in popular culture and help new audiences connect to it. (You can read our new report here.) At the meeting were “names” and faces and voices you’d recognize — people like Tyson, Levin, GZA, Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich, NOVA host and tech columnist David Pogue, IFLS founder Elise Andrew, physicist and author Brian Greene — along with many you wouldn’t: a new generation of bloggers and journalists, YouTubers, podcasters, festival and event organizers, citizen science pioneers, comic artists, and a guy who teaches standup to scientists.

Oh, and a few museum people.

But only a few. Because let’s face it: science centers, natural history museums and the like have not been a hotbed of the kind of culturally innovative science engagement that we’re talking about. Some have hosted Nerd Nite events and science cafés. One hired a science comedian. Another brought rising YouTube star Emily Graslie on board. But embracing is not the same as incubating. And since culture is one big ecosystem, all the creative energy we’re seeing in the broader world of science engagement is making a museum visit, by comparison, feel increasingly didactic, generic, predictable, and out of step.
My museum friends often respond with the perfectly valid point that informal science institutions are usually for families and kids, whereas the experiences I’m talking about are mostly for adults. (What, no exhibit at your local nature center titled “I Fucking Love Science!”?) But do science museums really have to choose between ceding adult science engagement to other media and  importing the occasional innovative practice or practitioner from outside while continuing to offer the same core experience?

What would a science center exhibit look like if the developers and the rest of the staff saw their jobs the way Story Collider’s Lillie or physicist-novelist Levin do? What if we really challenged our own assumptions about what a story is (hint: it’s not just a narrative) or thought about how laughter helps create the conditions for interest and identification? What if we stopped trying to expand the definition of “learning” and instead tried to expand our definition of “engagement”?

I don’t know what the answers are, but I’d sure like to see us play with these questions. I talked about some of them at the ASTC conference this week on a panel with Karyn Traphagen of ScienceOnline and the aforementioned science comedian and museum professional, Brian Malow.

Do let me know what you think of the report from that MIT gathering, which was the inaugural project of my new nonprofit, Culture Kettle.

Peter is chairman of Slover Linett Audience Research
and founder of 
Culture Kettle.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The (Increasingly) Fractal Taxonomy of Museums

Someone recently asked me whether virtual museums count as museums. I answered that, since museums have never agreed on a shared definition of  "museums," we aren't in a position to draw lines including or excluding our digital kin. It did make me revisit a post (below) in which I share my frustration at finding rational boundaries that define our field. (Inspired, I confess, by Jorge Luis Borges' "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge--a fictitious taxonomy of the animal kingdom, including categories such as "Those that belong to the emperor; embalmed ones; those that are trained.") 

Now that we are considering virtual museums I may expand the taxonomy to encompass:

Anyway, take a look at my draft taxonomy, and see what you have to add to it.

This post first appeared on September 4, 2012

I’m about to break my own rule, and talk about nouns.

Specifically, names.

Hyper-specifically, AAM’s name. You may have heard the buzz over the last week, as people notice that our web page quietly announced “The Association is now the Alliance.” Bloggers and tweeters and listserve-posters pounced on our rechristening, speculating what it might mean. Tomorrow you’ll find out all about it, as AAM officially announces how the organization behind the name is changing to meet the future. For now, I’m just gonna ask:  

What do all these organizations have in common? (Jump to end for the reveal)

  • With charismatic marine megafauna (dolphins, seals, penguins, whales)
  • Without charismatic marine megafauna 
  • Specific to their local ecosystem 
  •  Featuring global collections 
  • With dolphin shows 
  • Without dolphin shows 

Art Museums
  • Featuring encyclopedic, global collections
  • Featuring culturally-specific collections
  • Featuring a single artist
  • That focus on modern/contemporary art
    • with permanent collection
    • without permanent collections
  • Focused on particular media (photography, film, sculpture)
  • Focused on particular themes (wildlife, Western, religious, advertising, book illustration)
  • Inside universities/colleges
  • Inside larger art complexes
  • Art museums inside historic houses
  • Art museums with public gardens
  • Sculpture parks (that may also be gardens)
  • Formal and stuffy
  • Not formal OR stuffy
  • Museums in landmark "pillars of society" buildings
  • Museums in new “starchitect” designed palaces
  • Museums best navigated with a Segway, bag lunch and a ball of twine
  • Museums that are little more than one room 

Botanic Gardens
  • Primarily decorative/display
  • Research/conservation oriented
  • Attached to an historic house
  • Attached to an art museum
  • Inside a cemetery
  • Featuring public art
  • Focused on particular taxonomic specialties (trees, cacti, roses)
  • Historic (featuring heirloom plants, or recreating a particular time period)
  • With children’s gardens
  • Without children’s gardens 

Children’s/Youth Museum

  • Focused on toddlers and moms with infants
  • Collecting
  • Non-collecting
  • Has a pretend supermarket
    • With culturally-specific groceries
  • Doesn’t have a pretend supermarket
  • With/without a garden

General Museum
  • Combination of a history & a natural history museum 
  • Combination of a history & and art museum
  • Combination of art & natural history
  • Combination of a history, art & natural history museum
  • Little bit of everything
    • With a mummy
    • No mummy

Historic House/Site
  • Interpreting an historic time period
  • Interpreting a famous person
  • Restored
  • Unrestored
  • With landscaped grounds
  • With a working/demonstration farm
  • Featuring immersive, first person interpretation
  • Reproductions of sites/settlements/villages
  • National Historic Landmarks
  • Battlefields
  • Archaeological digs
  • Containing art
  • Not containing art 

History Museum/Historical Society

  • Specific to a state
  • Specific to a city
  • Specific to a county
  • Specific to a region
  • Specific to a particular ethnic group
  • Specific to a particular event
    • Specific to a war
    • Specific to an assassination
    • Specific to an act of terror
    • Specific to a piece of legislation or declaration
  • Specific to a particular industry (textiles, steel, ship building, soft drink manufacturing)    
  • Military museums (those that don’t classify themselves as “specialized museums”)
  • With an archive/library
  • Without an archive/library
  • With an archive but not a library
  • With a library but not an archive
  • Featuring some Big Things like trains, planes, automobiles, submarines, machine tools (but not exclusively, because then they tend to classify themselves as “specialized”) 

Natural History/Anthropology

  • Supporting research collections
  • Not supporting research collections
  • Focused on dead, non-human animals, & plants
  • Focused on dead people & the artifacts they made
  • With dinosaurs 
    • Real specimens
    • Casts and reproductions only
  • Without dinosaur
  • With fossils of things without backbones
  • Those with live animals and plants on exhibit
  • Those without live animals and plants on exhibit
  • Housing fluid collections in explosion-proof, specially vented storage rooms
  • Not having fluid collections (and therefore not needing explosion-proof, specially vented storage rooms)
  • Associated with a university
  • Or not
  • Science-based
  • Creationism-based

Nature Centers

  • Associated with a national park
  • Associated with a state park
  • Associated with a city park
  • Just sitting out there by themselves
  • With living collections
  • Or not
  • Or non-living collections
  • Or not 

Science Technology Center/Museums

  • With permanent collections
  • Without permanent collections
  • With research collections
  • Without research collections
  • With a giant Tesla coil
  • Without a giant Tesla coil
  • Featuring a Maker Lab
  • Not featuring a Maker Lab
  • With a Large Format Theatre
  • Without an LFT
  • Institutions with planetariums
  • Institutions without planetariums
  • Institutions that ARE planetariums 

Specialized Museums

  • Culturally specific museums
    • Museums about Native Americans
      • Run by Native Americans
      • Not run by Native Americans
  • Museums about planes
  • Museums about  trains
    • With working trains
    • Without working trains
  • Museums about automobiles
  • Or motorcycles
  • Museums about ships (aka “large rotting objects”)
  • Military museums (those that don’t classify themselves as history museums)
  • Culturally specific museums (that don’t consider themselves to be history museums)
  • Textile  museums
  • Except when they specifically identify as quilt museums
  • Halls of Fame
  • Sports museums (which often contain halls of fame)
  • Music museums (which also often contain halls of fame)
  • Toy museums
  • Museums of specific products (paperweightsmustardshoestypewritersbarbed wireumbrella covers)


  • With classic terrestrial charismatic megafauna (elephants, lions, tigers)
  • Without classic terrestrial charismatic megafauna
  • With botanic gardens integrated into their grounds
  • Without botanic gardens integrated into their grounds
  • With petting zoos
  • Without petting zoos
  • With Greater Pandas
  • With only Lesser Pandas
  • No pandas

OK, yes, I’m poking gentle fun at the infinite distinctions we museumers draw between ourselves. (With many thanks to my far-flung colleagues who contributed to the taxonomy of their own segment of the museum field. To misquote Homer Simpson—“it’s only funny when it’s true.”)

But it is a serious topic. When we get together to talk business, breakout sessions are fine—big art museum directors in one room, small museum administrators in another, college and university museums up the hall. However, we also need to come together in a plenary session, the big AND small museums, art AND zoos, history AND science, to identify what we have in common, pool our collective wisdom and influence, and become a force big enough to shape the world.

To become, in fact, an alliance: to be allies in a common cause. And to rally, not just museum staff and independent professionals and people who make stuff for museums and provide services to museums, but everyone who cares about museums and the work we do.

So, is this just a name change for AAM? No, it’s a reflection of a far deeper and far reaching metamorphosis of what we hope to achieve and how we plan to accomplish it. But for more on that, you are going to have to wait for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, happy tweeting.

As a biologist, I know that all taxonomies are incomplete. The nucleus of the classification scheme above was the framework we used to use for the old Museum Financial Information survey and other AAM data collection, which is being superseded by a new set of categories created by IMLS in collaboration with the field. As to the humorous subdivisions, please use the comment section below to share how you see your subsection of the field. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Reach Goal

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's a Good CEO Worth?

This is part three in an ongoing series of essays sharing my thoughts on museum economics, training and compensation. Catch up with parts one (The Museum Sacrifice Measure) and two (What is the Fair Market Value of a Museum Job). I had intended to tackle “how museums can make jobs ‘fair’” or the economics & ethics of internships next, but I got sidetracked by the article I discuss below. I’ll return to those topics in future posts.

Last week Mark Stryker published an article in the Detroit Free Press titled “DIA pay hikes raise eyebrows, anger politicians.” I hope you read the full article for yourself (it is brief) but to summarize:
  • The DIA recently announced pay increases for its director (13% increase, to $514k/year) and executive vice president/chief operating officer (36% increase, to $369k/year)
  •  The director took significant pay cuts post-recession, and his current compensation is still below its 2008 amount, and the EVP/COO has added responsibilities to go with the additional pay
  • Voters recently approved a property tax to help keep the DIA afloat
  •  A coalition of private foundations, government agencies and the DIA have proposed a “grand bargain” in which pledges of $816 million buy DIA collections belonging to the city to shield them from bankruptcy proceedings
  • City workers are taking hefty cuts to pay, pensions and health care as the city tries to meet its financial obligations and continue to deliver basic services

The article quotes county executives as saying “recent media reports about the handsome pay increases not only create the perception among some voters of being hoodwinked, but that the timing couldn't be worse given the intense focus on safeguarding the collection of the DIA in the midst of Detroit's historic bankruptcy.”

This story is a good jumping off point for examining two arguments playing out in the larger nonprofit realm about executive pay. The first is about what constitutes fair compensation for nonprofit leaders. Iconoclast Dan Pallotta maintains that our society disfunctionally devalues nonprofit work. In fact, he comes right out and says you should be able to get rich [working] in charity. “There should be no limit to the amount of money a person can earn making the world a better place, so long as the money is commensurate with the value they produce.” DIA chairman Gene Gargaro evidently feels DIA’s leadership meets that criteria, as he is quoted in the Stryker article as saying “…we — meaning the citizens of metro Detroit and the state of Michigan — are getting a terrific return for what they're paid." The DIA director’s salary does put him solidly in the top 1% of household incomes in the US, but maybe that is the price of having a first-class museum, even in a city where the median household income is about $48k, $4k below the national median.

What is the return on higher salaries? Pallotta argues that unfettered pay would enable nonprofits to “recruit from a more valuable talent pool, and it motivates the people you have recruited to produce more value than they would without it.”

My previous essays in this thread explored the forces that drive down museum salaries in general: an oversupply of highly qualified people essentially underbidding each other for jobs; the fact that museum work is so attractive many people are willing to do it for free (whether they do so in the guise of interns, hoping to work their way into a paying position, or as volunteers happy to contribute to society through their labor). Which begs the question, why would Pallotta’s logic apply to CEO compensation, and not to all positions in a nonprofit?

And if it does apply, do you (readers) believe that
a)    Museums would have access to “a more valuable talent pool” if they paid more. (Would DIA have an even better director if it paid $1M, or $2M?) That would imply that museums, with their current pay scale, are settling for second best in their current employees, because the real talent is working for sectors that pay more. (Yeah, I thought you wouldn’t like that conclusion.)
b)    The DIA leadership, or the leadership of your museum, or any museum staff, would work proportionately harder for higher pay. (36% increase in work time? 36% increase in good ideas?)

I’m not willing to buy either of those arguments, any more than I believe that for $78M Oracle gets a CEO who is worth $28M more than it could get for $50M. Or that Leslie Moonves really does $2.12/second worth of work for CBS. (Then again, I wouldn’t have believed that Willie Nelson’s braids were worth $37,000, until they actually sold for that amount, thus illustrating the arbitrary nature of value in our society.)

On the other hand, if we believe, as a society, that the top leaders of nonprofits shouldn’t earn as much as their for-profit peers, won’t that attitude have a chilling effect on everyone else who works at a museum as well? If we are concerned about the negative effect of low salaries on recruiting a diverse pool of talent into museums, shouldn’t we support the premise that you should be able to get rich being a museum director?

Which brings us to the other current hot issue related to this story: the growing movement that contends that executive compensation, relative to other staff, is an ethics issue. In a recent post for Nonprofit Quarterly, Ruth McCambridge notes “Salary equity in nonprofits is something that even the most damning of newspaper exposés of nonprofit CEO compensation rarely address. Clearly, the wealth divide is one of the most high tension issues of the decade…but the nonprofit sector, though it may participate in discussions of salary ratios for the for-profit sector, has not generally taken the issue up as its own.” She goes on to issue the following challenge: “Should this sector more thoughtfully declare itself as supportive of a reasonable ratio between highest- and lowest-paid workers? And shouldn’t it establish a measurable standard of practice that will make the sector beacons for the issue?”

Now, Stryker didn’t address the salaries of the rest of the workers at the DIA, but I doubt their pay went up by 13-36% in synch with that of their leaders. His article lists the top salaries for 15 directors of major museums, ranging from MOMA (at $1.8 million) to Toledo Museum of Art ($437,800). I regret that the recent National Salary Survey I helped to conduct did not report on leader-to-lowest-paid-worker ratio (and hope to address that in future research). But I’ll bet that in some of the museums on Stryker’s list that the ratio approaches 100:1. This is smaller than the 354:1 ratio of the compensation of CEOs in the S&P 500 index in 2012, but considerably higher than the 20:1 limit apocryphally endorsed by Gilded Age tycoon J.P. Morgan. And ratios aside, it doesn’t address the issue of paying a living wage for the area in which the museum is located. (Another issue I have fingered for a future survey.)

The point is, don’t read this article as being about the DIA. Think about the questions it raises about all museums in all of the US. Detroit may be at the extreme end of the range of economic distress, but it is a microcosm of forces at work in communities across the nation. During the first two years of recovery from the crash of 2008, people in the top one percent of household income captured 121% of the economic gains*. The depth of Detroit’s pain throws the choices posed by inequity of wealth into stark relief, but the questions are the same everywhere.

As museums, together with their communities, begin to climb out of economic hole we fell into, we should examine the ethics of how we spend the money we regain, including how we pay staff. And as we do so, I hope we give more attention to staff in basic roles both behind the scenes and in the front-of-house than to headline-generating incomes in the executive suite. Inadequate salaries at the lowest rungs of the career ladder are a barrier to recruiting and retaining staff who can’t afford to make an economic sacrifice to work in a museum. When the maintenance and security staff, exhibit technicians and educators are making not only a living wage but a fair wage, I’m willing to entertain Mr. Pallotta’s proposal about unfettered gains at the top.

*No this is not a typo.  Top 1% incomes recovered all of their losses and then some, while income in the bottom 99% continued to shrink.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Terra Forma

#BLDGBLOG #LandArt #UnRealEstate #Nevada

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Building the Vibrant Learning Grid

Since publishing “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem,” I’ve been on the prowl for examples of museums creating local “vibrant learning grids” by beginning to weave immersive, experiential learning into the formal school system. When the Noyce Foundation announced the first seven recipients and two honorable mentions of its Bright Lights community engagement awards, I spotted the Great Science Academy (GSA) on the list, and invited Whitney Owens, vice president of education and guest experience at Great Lakes Science Center, to tell us more about their award-winning program.

One of my favorite moments in the life of Great Lakes Science Center happens at the end of every program year, when I get to stand in front of the students, families, and community members involved in our signature teen program, Great Science Academy, and convene their graduation. On that day, I get to look out on a sea of bright, breathless young scholars, a corps of passionate volunteers and community partners, and a phalanx of model cities, underwater robots, Mars communication systems, and biometric games that students have created over the past year. Every year I am inspired by the commitment of this group of people, and the way that they have come together to create rich and varied opportunities for our scholars to learn directly from our Cleveland community.

What seemed to set this program apart for Noyce Bright Lights judges is also what aligns it closely with the Vibrant Learning Grid scenario described in AAM’s recent report on Museums and the Future of Education: the program previews a future in which students will use their whole communities—including online resources, work experiences, and informal providers such as libraries and science centers as well as formal schooling—to find ways of learning that work for them. GSA’s model of distributed learning—engaging students with STEM where it lives in the Cleveland community—brings us closer to the Vibrant Learning Grid scenario and has made us think differently about integrating our region’s resources and expertise into our educational programming.

We created GSA in 2011 to offer an opportunity for deeper STEM engagement to a critical age demographic, middle-school students. We know that, for this age group, seeing oneself in STEM is a major predictor of persistence in future STEM studies and careers, and we craved the creative space of a longer-format program to really develop teens’ and pre-teens’ interest in and curiosity about STEM in their community. We also wanted to give students practice in working and making decisions in the “real world,” building their skills in collaboration, problem-solving, and processing and filtering information in a noisy marketplace.

For 120 students each year (half of them participating through full need-based scholarships), GSA features deep content learning, creative problem solving through project-based learning, and access to scientists, engineers, and behind-the-scenes STEM industry. We recruit students from a range of audiences—from Science Center members to schools and community groups.  Schools and afterschool organizations have been particularly strong partners for outreach:  teachers and principals suggest students with an interest in STEM, connect us to families who may need scholarships, and provide additional social support and advice if we are struggling with how to help a student succeed cognitively or behaviorally.  Some educators go even further:  this year a local teacher is personally driving five students from her school to GSA sessions every single Saturday(!)  Since GSA requires significant out-of-school time over the year, all program applicants must sign a personal letter of commitment; scholarship recipients must also provide evidence of need and letters from their families and teachers pledging to support students’ learning.  Program fees and scholarships are subsidized by generous support from Arcelor-Mittal, NOAA, the Thomas H. White Foundation, and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District—some of whose employees volunteer with the program, too.

Students meet twice a month on Saturdays for about 5 ½ hours, plus an hour after school each week for group online hangouts facilitated by Science Center staff. Sessions are a balance of hands-on experiments at the Science Center, visits and mentorship from STEM professionals, and work on yearlong, student-led projects related to a regionally relevant topic:  the Great Lakes for 6th grade, Mars exploration for 7th grade, biomedical technology for 8th grade, and design and innovation for 9th grade (you can see video examples of their projects narrated by program staff Brady Risner and Erika Zarowin below). Field trips are a major part of our teens’ learning:  in the Great Lakes year, for instance, they visit the US Coast Guard to learn about oil spill cleanup and Great Lakes regulation, the Sewer District to learn about water processing, Edgewater Beach for a beach sweep with the Alliance of the Great Lakes, Old Woman Creek National Research Reserve to explore an estuary, and the Cuyahoga River to sail up the river that once caught on fire—an event that shaped the future of environmental legislation in America. Program volunteers—who mentor our students for a full year—come from a broad range of careers and add their experience to broaden students’ ideas about who can “do science.” We are building out the program year by year, and in 2015-16, we hope to bring on our 10th-graders as paid Science Center apprentices to help develop and deliver education programs.

This mix of hands-on curriculum, connection to STEM mentors, online interaction, and community integration gives our GSA scholars a student-centered network of opportunities, what KnowledgeWork’s Katherine Prince refers to in the AAM report as a “learning ecosystem in which many right solutions intersect and adapt to meet learners’ needs.” If emerging trends are any predictor, this kind of network may become more and more integrated into what we and our audiences think of as—and expect from—education.

For Great Lakes Science Center, a byproduct of creating this network is the connections that we build between GSA scholars and our community:  we not only help our students access their resources, but we enrich the identity of Cleveland as a place where STEM is woven into the fabric of our region, accessible to all. Not all of our Great Science Academy students will become engineers, doctors, or researchers (the goal of many teen and workforce-development-type programs). We would love it if they do, of course—but we are as interested in developing citizens of Cleveland and the world who know how to find and use scientific resources, can make decisions based on good data and feel comfortable within a community framework guided by innovation and the quest to make our region a better place. So scholars, what I want to say to you is this:  use those beautiful young minds to be scientists—or artists, journalists, teachers, or parents--who can be STEM citizens, working for and with our communities in all their richness and challenge.