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Transitions: The Next Era of CFM

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
You’ve probably heard that the Alliance’s president, Ford Bell, is stepping down after the upcoming annual meeting. While CFM was conceived under our last president, Ed Able, it launched under Ford and (as I write in the next issue of Museum) it succeeded in large part due to his willingness to let me set nebulous but ambitious goals, try lots of crazy stuff and fail often. It’s fitting that as Ford leaves, CFM itself grows up a bit, and moves into the next phase of its development. Our incoming president, current COO Laura Lott, has identified the expansion of CFM as key to achieving her vision of AAM as “the go-to place for the museum community to find inspiration, information of course, and support.”
So, the next challenge is figuring out what form this expansion will take. As I shared in a New Year’s post, my long-term goals are to scale up CFM’s work to benefit more people and more organizations; create a sustainable business model that is less reliant on member dues; and to move from ideas to action, translating the insights generated through our forecasting and thought-leadership into real-world change.
I spent a lot of time last year thinking about how to realize these ambitions. As I travelled the country I pinged ideas off the smart people I get to work with in museums and in other sectors. After the manuscript of TrendsWatch went off to the editor in December, I sat down to filter, sort and evaluate those ideas, polished with all that good feedback and the input of colleagues here at the Alliance, and came up with the broad outline of what we are calling CFM 2.0. In this second instar of its life, CFM will grow into its role of research and design lab—a place to test and refine practical applications of our forecasting—by launching two new programs:
The CFM Future Lab, an ever-changing series of practicums in a variety of formats (e.g., hands-on learning, retreats, hack-a-thons, video tutorials, on-line learning, mentorships, prototypes) through which museums explore how to apply emerging technologies and approaches. The CFM Future Lab will:

  • Help museums apply the “museums might like to…” suggestions in CFM’s TrendsWatchreports to their own operations
  • Increase the rate at which innovation diffuses throughout the field
  • Facilitate adoption of new practices in small museums
The CFM Fellows Program, which recruits up-and-coming scholars, journalists, artists, futurists, entrepreneurs and educators to spend one to three years helping museums explore the challenges and opportunities presented by trends shaping the future. Focusing on specific trends or issues identified through CFM’s forecasting work, Fellows may:

  • Expand our understanding of these issues via original research
  • Raise the profile of these issues through writing and speaking
  • Foster partnerships between museums and individuals and companies outside the museum field 
  • Work with the CFM Future Lab to prototype and test ways for museums to adapt to change
In accord with the operating principles of CFM, I’m not planning these new programs out in detail, with five year timelines replete with action steps. We are going to start by piloting a few lab ideas, a few fellowships, and flesh out our plans with what we learn from the early experiments. I’ll talk more about Future Lab later this summer, but for now I want to announce our first dive into the Fellows program: a two-year fellowship provided by the American Council of Learned Societies. (Thank you very much ACLS for selecting us to host one of your Public Fellows!)
Most CFM fellows will be recruited to take a deep dive into one of the many topics raised in our scanning—open data, for example, or entrepreneurship—exploring how it may play out in museums and instigating real world experiments. My chicken-and-the-egg, dilemma, however, has been that as a pretty much one-gal operation, it’s hard to get these new programs started.
So this first fellowship will support a Museum Futurist (or futurist-in-training) to backstop my work and increase our capacity to create and fund additional fellowships and prototype Future Lab. In a few weeks, ACLS will send us resumes of the candidates they have vetted for the position, and we will work with them to select a finalist. That person will join me here at the Alliance in mid-July—I look forward to introducing him/her to you.
We already have plans in the works for the second CFM Fellow, this one focusing on issue-specific work, rather than general futurism. That fellowship will be formally announced at the annual meeting at the end of this month, but I’ll give you a sneak preview here on the blog the week before we leave for Atlanta. Stay tuned!

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