Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ready to Prototype? Applications now open…

In the final chapter of CFM’s TrendsWatch 2017, I argue that museums need to recognize that failure is a necessary part of a successful design process. As a sector, we need to become comfortable with positive failure—but it can be hard to take what seem to be financial and reputational risks in quest of better outcomes. So I’m tremendously pleased to share an announcement from Knight Foundation, which has just launched an open call for prototyping projects that test ways of using technology to connect people to the arts. This action gives positive feedback to nonprofits willing to “fail forward,” as well as providing funding and training to support that approach.

The call is being issued through the Knight Prototype Fund, which helps people quickly develop and test early-stage ideas. It will make $1 million available to galleries, museums, performing arts centers, theaters and arts organizations of all genres, with awards of up to $50,000. In addition to the financial award, the program will provide training in innovation methods and opportunities to learn from others in the funding cohort. I talked to Chris Barr, Director of Arts at the Knight Foundation, to learn more about the open call.

EM: Chris, why does the Knight Foundation support prototyping?

CB: Our prototype fund removes some risk for people to experiment, and gives some very basic training wheels to help organizations work in this way. Organizations can test whether this idea they have in mind is something desirable by using iterative cycles of development and roughing things in front of audiences and users.

EM: Is this a new area of focus for Knight?

CB: We’ve had a prototype fund for 5 years now, focusing on journalism and libraries, but this is our first time focusing on cultural institutions.

EM: What do you think is the power of this approach?

CB: We think there are some tremendously effective principles that cultural organizations can learn from the tech sector: creating a minimally viable project; working in a lean, agile, way; failing fast and “failing forward.” Look at the power of Ideo’s 3 maxims: feasibility, desirability, viability. The answer to “is it feasible?” is almost always “yes,” given sufficient resources. But do people want what you intend to design? That’s harder to answer. We love it when we get feedback from grantees along the lines of “we found out that the thing we wanted to make, nobody would have used it! So instead we are going to do this.” That’s the kind of thing that happens through the processes of prototyping and the design thinking. There is a lot to be learned from the act of making, especially in the early stages of a project. Then, how do you make it sustainable? It’s not just about creating value, but also figuring out how to capture value. We’ve seen a lot of success around the component of desirability, through human-centered design training.

EM: What is the biggest barrier to getting organizations to adopt this approach?

CB: It requires a bit of a cultural shift within cultural organizations. So much of what we do is to develop things behind the scenes that we share with the public after all the polish is done. With technology, there is never a final product; there is a version 1, 1.2, etc. We want to share this “show our work as we go” orientation with organizations not used to working that way. We are trying to import some aspects of culture from the technology sector into the cultural realm, make space for people to feel free to experiment and come to different conclusions than they started from. In that sense, this is not a typical grant program.

EM: What kind of projects are is Knight hoping to fund?

CB: We are often looking for projects that are not just practical, but also have a good question behind them that needs answering. The question could be about the technology, or about engagement. We are not asking applicants to define exact outcomes—we hope they will propose to test a hypothesis. If we just end up where we expected we were going, I would wonder if that was really success.

For more information: 
Knight Foundation staff will offer “office hours” from 1 to 2 p.m. EST Feb. 21, to answer questions about the new program. You can join the discussion via this link or connect via telephone (no video) at 1 (888) 240 2560, Meeting ID: 885 685 111. More information, including the application, is available at prototypefund.org.



Thursday, February 15, 2018

Your Guide to the Future at AAM 2018


Every year I write a futurist’s guide to the AAM annual meeting, recommending sessions that explore trends shaping our world and examples of museums adapting to those trends. This being the tenth anniversary of CFM, I’ve cast a broad net, tagging sessions related to any of the themes we’ve explored through our lectures, reports, and six years of TrendsWatch. The listings in this post provide one way to navigate the plethora of offerings at the conference with the uber-theme of strategic foresight.

This year the AAM annual meeting is in Phoenix, May 6-9. Early Bird rates end tomorrow (Friday February 16). If you haven’t yet, register now to save some money!

Before I dive into the sessions, a word about CFM in MuseumExpo. Every year since our launch, we’ve orchestrated a little glimpse of the future in the exhibit hall: everything from communal drawing to a demonstration of Google Glass. This year, building on the exploration of Artificial Intelligence in TrendsWatch 2017, CFM will host a demonstration of chatbot technology in partnership with staff of The Studio of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Chatbots are computer programs designed to simulate conversation with human users, and museums are just beginning to explore a number of potential applications for this technology including wayfinding, answering queries about the collection, and providing gamified visitor experiences. At the demo, housed in the Alliance Resource Center in MuseumExpo, attendees will have the opportunity to try out an early version of the Carnegie’s chatbot, Muse. On Monday and Tuesday, from 2-3 pm, Studio staff will hold “Chatbot Chats” to help attendees explore how conversational artificial intelligence can improve the visitor experience.

And now, the session recommendations:

Sunday, May 6

1 – 2:15 pm
This session explores another museum application of artificial intelligence: predictive analytics. The panelists will present three case studies, including the use of machine learning to forecast museum visitation.

This session explores creative ways that history and art museums are connecting with immigrant populations and their approaches to co-creation.

TrendsWatch 2017 advanced the case that museums need to embrace imperfection, and rapid iteration, in order to create things people want to experience and use. That can require a profound organizational culture shift! In this session staff of The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry shares its experiments using intentionally unfinished pop-up exhibits to engage audiences in a new way. 
And for a deeper dive into interactive, user-centered design, follow up with either of these two sessions in the next time slot:

2:30 – 3:45 pm
This hands-on classroom session will explore how a five-step process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) can develop welcoming, inclusive, and collaborative museum experiences.

Participatory design merges community engagement and design thinking to identify smart approaches to persistent problems. This hands-on workshop takes the mystery out of participatory design by providing a step-by-step process that attendees can put to work at their own museums.

4 – 5:15 pm
CFM session!
CFM director Elizabeth Merritt (that's me) will lead a discussion with three thought leaders who contributed articles to the recent special issue of the Alliance’s Museum magazine set in the year 2040. Alliance CEO Laura Lott will speculate about the future of nonprofit leadership, sustainability advocate Sarah Sutton will sketch a vision of museums as vital partners in responding to climate change, and Omar Eaton-Martínez, from the National Museum of American History, will challenge us to consider whether the United States may someday need its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Monday, May 7

8:45 – 10:00 am
Elif Gokcigdem (editor of Fostering Empathy Through Museums) is joined by Thomas Rockwell (Exploratorium), Orna Cohen (Dialogue Social Enterprise), and researcher Zorana Ivcevic to lead attendees in interactive exercises on fostering empathy.

The need for meaningful metrics is a theme that runs through much of CFM’s work, and when it comes to education, there is a growing consensus that social/emotional learning is as important as mastery of facts or skills. This session promises to explore how museum professionals can measure learning beyond cognition, including feelings, attitudes, empathy, and behavior.

1:45 – 3:00 pm
I indexed this session under both Empathy, and Migration, as Kathleen Quin from the Penn Museum will present a case study of a new exhibition at the Penn Museum that pushed visitors to empathize with Syrian refugees and those trying to salvage cultural heritage.

This session highlights museums that are engaging incarcerated audiences and creating bold new programming with incarcerated artists and storytellers. Presenters include staff from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Tolerance, and Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

I was very disappointed that Tui Te Hau couldn’t join us for last year’s panel on museums and coworking/incubator spaces (though she did contribute some thoughts via this post on the CFM Blog). I’m thrilled that she’s giving a session in Phoenix, focusing on Mahuki, the innovation hub she directs at Te Papa in New Zealand. In this session she will talk about how museums can apply the Mahuki innovation/accelerator model to their own community engagement strategies; build relationships with the investment, start-up, and investment communities; and employ new ways of supporting diversity and inclusion in activities that also contribute to the community’s economy.

Speculating on museum jobs of the future is a favorite pastime here at CFM! (See, for example, the new jobs section of Museum 2040.) Twenty years ago “community engagement curator” was a job of the future, and it is still a relatively new and evolving role. This session will present multiple views of how community engagement curators (and those with similar titles) position themselves to act as conduits between the public and the museum.

Tuesday, May 8

8:45 – 10 am
In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, newspapers nationwide have called for the removal of Confederate war monuments from public spaces—and for their “safe housing” in museums and history centers. At this roundtable, historians, curators, educators, and architects will moderate a discussion with the AAM community about this complicated proposition.

This time slot also presents two options for diving into museum applications of virtual reality:

Nik Honeysett, Chief Executive Officer of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, moderates an open discussion about how to create virtual reality experiences that are inclusive and enhance learning. Breaking down the creation process, the panelists will look into the nuts and bolts of how two museum virtual reality experiences were produced.

Three museums that employ virtual applications and 3-D technologies will share methods and outcomes of their work. Panelists from Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, and the Toledo Museum of Art will discuss challenges, share practical and technical constraints, and present examples of digital engagement.

1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Staff from the Sept 11 Memorial, US National Holocaust Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum will talk about how they foster empathy to tackle genocide, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.

If you’ve read TrendsWatch 2017 you know that I LOVE THIS SESSION. It premiered at the annual meeting in 2012, and since that time has usually had standing-room only crowds. This year the organizer writes: “Resources squandered, stakeholders alienated, deadlines missed: we honestly admit our biggest blunders and what learned from them. A crowdsourced contest awards the AAM Epic Failure Trophy of 2018 to the most honest person in the room.” Go. Share. Emote. Vote. 

3:00 – 4:15 pm
As the population ages and rates of dementia increase, museums have the potential to directly impact public perceptions and quality of life for individuals with dementia and their care partners. Presenters at this session share how several museums have used historic collections to create new opportunities, including group programs and training tools, and explore potential challenges of offering such programs.

4:30 – 5:30 pm
This is an opportunity to join the Latino Network to discuss how current immigration politics and policies affecting immigrant and refugee communities have an impact in museums worldwide. The organizers encourage you to bring your questions and share your approaches to this issue.

Wednesday, May 9

10:15 - 11:30 AM
This talk show format session will examine, challenge, and describe efforts to achieve and assess empathy at an organizational level. Moderated by Gretchen Jennings, the panelists are drawn from the Minnesota Historical Society, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Museum Studies program at George Washington University.

The Sustainability Excellence Award recognizes museum practices that reflect a significant change in policies or approaches, resource use or environmental impact. This session will explore this year’s winners’ roads to success, behind-the-scenes challenges, reflections on progress, daily inspirations, and more.

11:45 – 1:00 pm
This session offers three approaches to interaction design deployed at NMNH and NMAH. Each space has a different target audience and a different model for engaging visitors—all three promote interactive, inquiry-based learning.

Presenters will share how Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Denver Art Museum, and the Museum of Texas Tech University & Lubbock Lake Landmark have integrated accessible technologies into their collections and programmatic interpretation. Speakers will discuss challenges, including practical and technical constraints, and share examples of accessible technologies.

3:00 – 5 pm
One core story element in CFM's most recent publication, Museum 2040, was the rise of “hybrid organizations”—institutions that merge formerly separate functions such as senior center and preschool, civic center and school—or museum and hospital. On this tour you can catch a glimpse of this possible future at the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine, where they integrate the arts and other expressions of human culture into the healing environment. This behind-the-scenes presentation and tour will focus on a collaboration that to brings museum theories and practice to nontraditional spaces.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Australian Museums in 2040

Museum 2040—CFM’s “futures” issue of Museum magazine—was fairly US-centric, but it touched on issues of global concern. In today’s guest post, Jilda Andrews and Alex Marsden offer their vision of how these issues may play out in Australia in coming decades. Jilda is a member of the Yuwaalaraay nation, working at the National Museum of Australia and a PhD Candidate, Australian National University.  Alex is the national director of Museums Australia, which is the national membership association and peak industry body for museums and galleries.

25 January 2018
Omar Eaton-Martinez, from the inspirational National Museum of African American History and Culture, wrote in Museum 2040 about a future United States that had established its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Cara Krmpotich used that story as a springboard for a guest post on the CFM Blog to develop a confronting vision of Giving It All Away – her museum returning all their Indigenous collections, reconnecting knowledge to place, and learning “to give away, to give back, without fear and without loss”. Sarah Sutton used her article in Museum 2040 to deal with her frustration about “why aren’t museums doing more about environmental sustainability and climate response?”

In Australia, we have the two driving imperatives of better responding to climate change-affected environments and recognising the truths of our historical and continuing occupation of Indigenous land. We think (and hope) that a potential positive future could encompass responding to these two drivers by linking them. Environmental uncertainties could unwittingly become triggers for a broader cultural change in Australia, and by example, the world. In addition, our museums are currently facing very real challenges of decreasing public funding and questioning whether our core role should be as agents of change. In this blogpost we are saying yes to this vision of the future and suggesting one way it could come to pass.

25 January, 2040
Australia in 2040 is a culturally rich and vibrant place. In the face of relentless uncertain and threatening environmental extremities, Australians have come together as communities to better understand the unique conditions and history of ‘Country’ in order to co-develop strategies for sustainable futures. Museums across the country have led the way in making this change by providing a safe and informed place to explore our cultural histories and by bringing together the world’s creative cultural thinkers and ideas face to face with everyday Australians.

Apostles limestone rock formations,
Port Campbell National Park, Victoria
Environmental uncertainties such as longer periods of drought, increasingly destructive cyclone seasons and widespread water shortages have triggered broader cultural change in Australia. The devastation the Anthropocene has inflicted on the global population is not unlike the devastation faced by Indigenous peoples globally through colonisation, and Indigenous people through their survival and resilience, have become beacons of hope for people coming face to face with major disruption and uncertainty. A renewed focus on Traditional Ecological Knowledges of Indigenous Australians, communities of people who have sustained and in turn, been sustained by Country for over 60,000 years, has offered new approaches to better understand environmental responses and chart resilient futures.

Australia’s museums and keeping places hold and care for collections that document the symbiotic relationship between the environment and Indigenous people - some of the oldest continuing cultures on the planet. Working closer with Indigenous communities with an urgency and purpose to better understand the relationship between humans and the environment has fundamentally shifted the trajectory of museum work. Museums now value the ways that objects and artworks can illuminate sustainable practice, sophisticated relationships with land and the resilience of its people. The people of Australia cast a gaze hopefully towards museum collections as cues for resilience, and Indigenous agents are crucial to interpreting and continuing this knowledge.

Museums have become sites where these collaborative relationships have extended across cultural, historical and political divides, anchored both by a renewed respect for the past, and a shared stake in the future. They have done so by investing in leadership, taking risks, sharing power and decision-making with communities, and taking stock of a troubled past. They have done this by leading and expanding their sector of influence to one which better reflects the way Australia thinks of, values and enacts ‘culture’. They have done this by looking beyond organisational goals and charting aspirations alongside the communities they serve.

In 2017-18, Museums Australia co-developed a Roadmap for Change that was enthusiastically adopted, used and adapted by museums and Indigenous communities of all sizes and types across the country for the following 20 years.

The collaborative aspirations of the Australian people triggered a successful entry into the Treaty process in 2019.This process, which recognises the sovereignty of Indigenous people, had been called for since colonisation by the British Empire commenced in 1788 and rejected by the Australian Government as recently as 2017. One of the first outcomes of the process was the change of Australia’s national day from the date marking colonisation to a date during National Reconciliation Week. Overall, the Treaty process signalled a significant change in the way Australians thought, celebrated and practiced ‘culture’, and their relationship with the environment.

On the insistence of Indigenous Elders across the country, this process was coupled to a national investment into cultural heritage recognition and management. Under these mounting pressures the total amount of government and private funding for cultural organizations and programs quadrupled in the years following the launch of the Roadmap. Museums were brought into this significant early step of implementing Treaty as they themselves (through their history) represented the Imperial colonial project, and as such, have a unique capacity to help the public reflect upon Australia’s broad contested history. 

As museums and other cultural institutions fought the ‘battle for relevance’ in the early
Bush Tucker in Ngukurr country (1993)
by Indigenous artist, Eva Rogers b 1925
2020s, the pathway to 2040 was guided by a persistent, vocal, and insistent public desperate for spaces to confront Australia’s difficult past, calling for secular spaces for reflection, mourning, and grief. This public voice resonated in a sensitive (and vulnerable) political environment and publicly-funded museums responded by foregoing international blockbuster exhibitions for introspection. The transformation of museums into unique cultural spaces has been crucial to the Treaty process. Australians had permission and space to come together and learn from each other’s experiences, and to build upon the achievements of individuals who have worked in the spirit of reconciliation since the early days of European contact.

As Australia matures, we have reached out to the world to share our understanding and journeys. Like many other countries colonised by the West, we have struggled with our history and a fractured society, but the way we moved to develop an integrated sense of identity and purpose has been inspiring for many. The decisive role of museums in partnering with Indigenous Australians on this national priority also inspired or reinforced a number of similar approaches to reconciliation elsewhere, in the process developing stronger societies, and better scientific knowledge and ecological awareness, in the face of confronting environmental change.

For example, decolonising and democratising processes for museums that were already underway in countries such as South Africa and Barbados, were strengthened by collaborations fostered by the Australian museum community and funded by Australia’s aid program, as the government realised the fundamental importance of this work world-wide.

Museums working in partnership with networks of Indigenous environmental heritage experts to educate communities on the role and importance of strategic burning and ‘firestick farming’ has been one of the most significant achievements in recent times and has led to a rejuvenation of native landscapes and a reduction in devastating fires. These programs are internationally recognised and gain more significance as fire prone conditions increase globally. Pilot programs are about to be rolled out in schools across the country which capture the resources of rejuvenated local ecological communities nurtured by strategic burning and illustrate them with objects from some of the country’s extensive ethnographic collections of Indigenous cultural heritage. Focusing on meaningfully reconnecting objects to ‘place’ has given new life to old collections.

The renewed value placed on cultural heritage in Country and within houses of culture like museums, has positioned contemporary Australian life rightfully within a rich cultural landscape. This landscape is one which reflects the original inhabitants, visitors, the waves of migration, the changing shore lines, skyline, skies and seas, and museums have cemented themselves as quintessential sites of ‘new culture’, where people actively come together to approach the challenges of Australian life in 2040 and respectfully acknowledge the diverse journeys taken so far.  

Alex Marsden is the national director of
Museums Australia
Jilda Andrews  is a member of the Yuwaalaraay nation, National Museum of Australia and PhD Candidate, Australian National University. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Recruiting a Diverse Workforce Through Unbiased Hiring

In spring 2017, CFM launched a FutureLab project to help museums explore new hiring practices to create more equitable workforces. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site was one of the first museums to sign up as a lab partner. In today’s post Matthew Murphy and Lauren Zalut, who are responsible for hiring Eastern State’s tour guides, reflect on their experiences with unbiased hiring.

Change is good: In order to attract a diverse applicant pool, museum hiring officials must be ready to embrace new and sometimes challenging processes. This proposition was validated through Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site’s participation in the FutureLab: Hiring Bias Project. We had been working to diversify the tour staff since Lauren began working at the historic site nearly six years ago, but with limited success. We were excited when we were invited to join the FutureLab Project. Our answer was a resounding YES! The blind audition format GapJumpers created for Eastern State Penitentiary’s open seasonal tour guide positions nudged us out of our comfort zone and into uncharted territory. We hired a talented cohort of guides through this process.

Lauren attended a session at the American Alliance of Museums 2016 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo entitled “Reducing Hiring Bias in Museums.” This was where we first learned about GapJumpers and their work helping employers outside the museum sector diversify their workforce by hiring through blind auditions. A blind audition is pretty much what happens on the TV show The Voice. Applicants respond to a challenge (creating a presentation in our case) and those who advance to the interview round are chosen without a hiring manager knowing the person’s name, gender, background, etc. Using this process instead of the traditional resume and cover letter submission can result in a more diverse pool of candidates from which to make the final selection.

Open House and New Artists Installation 2017
Eastern State Penitentiary
In six years of hiring, we had established a rhythm when it came to the process of recruiting seasonal tour guides. With multiple waves of hiring per year, that rhythm bordered on tedium. We sometimes found ourselves worrying more about the energy and time we were expending on the process rather than focusing on how to recruit inclusively and with the ultimate goal of hiring a diverse staff. We posted to the same job banks, used the same position listing, and asked the same questions in a traditional interview format. When we reviewed resumes, we checked off all the same boxes. Degree from a good school? Check. Customer service experience? Check. Experience in education/museum? Check. Theatre background? Check. The result? A highly-qualified staff with homogeneous lived experiences.

Using the blind audition model had three major benefits from our perspectives: 
  • First, the “blind” part of the process surfaced candidates we might not have been selected for an interview based on their resumes. The people who we ultimately hired came from professional and experiential backgrounds not well represented in our staff.
  • Second, our old process, from reviewing resumes to the interview stage, focused on probing someone else for the qualities that felt made a strong candidate. The audition flipped this dynamic. We handed control over to the candidates, and they got to demonstrate their strengths to us through a presentation challenge that GapJumpers helped us create. Requiring applicants to research and create presentations on real Eastern State Penitentiary content allowed them to demonstrate their creativity and talent. By abandoning the traditional “Q and A” format, there was more opportunity for them to highlight their unique personalities, research skills, and demonstrate how engaging they could be as public speakers. These are all critical traits for a tour guide. This made it easier for us to see the potential for a great interpreter.
  • Third, the blind audition process kept us engaged and present as hiring managers. We could stay fresh and give every candidate the same amount of attention. The presentations were often funny and intriguing. Even though applicants weren’t very familiar with Eastern State Penitentiary’s complex history and relevance, they were often able to approach this all-too-familiar content in novel ways that we had never considered.


Tour in Soup Alley at Eastern State Penn
Unfortunately this round of hiring did not meet our goal of increasing the racial diversity on our staff. We operated on a short timetable which resulted in a smaller candidate pool, but we are confident that the process could attract more candidates of color with a better timetable.

 Every institution has its trusted interview methods and hiring systems, but challenge-based hiring offers a practical tool for museum hiring officials dedicated to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. For us, the FutureLab Project was a welcome shake-up to a process that had become routine and yielded the same results over and over again. Maybe it can do the same for you. (To find out how you can join the FutureLab: Hiring Bias project, please contact nivy (at) aam-us (dot) org.)

Matthew Murphy is Tour Programs Supervisor at Eastern State Penitentiary. He joined the staff as a Tour Guide in 2013 and was promoted to Tour Programs Supervisor in 2015. Matt oversees the hiring, training, and evaluation of a staff of up to 20 tour guides. Matt has spoken about Eastern State Penitentiary on multiple media platforms, including interviews for PBS and NPR. Matt has worked as a heritage interpreter at major sites across the nation, including Alcatraz Island and Independence National Historical Park.


Lauren Zalut is Director of Education and Tour Programs at Eastern State Penitentiary. She leads the guided tour program, which served over 30,000 people in 2017. In an effort to foster empathy in Eastern State Penitentiary’s visitors, she most recently designed a groundbreaking program to employ formerly incarcerated people as tour guides, allowing visitors to hear firsthand about the human experience of incarceration. Using the historic site as a catalyst for conversation on social issues, Lauren has worked to incorporate dialogue facilitation techniques and content about mass incarceration into guided tours, as well as into youth and family programming.