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TrendsWatch 2018: Our Bright Future

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Check it out! The first sections of TrendsWatch 2018 are now up on the Alliance website.

This year, in honor of CFM’s 10th anniversary, I’m putting together a Scenario Edition of the report designed to help organizations “futureproof” their strategic planning. We’ll release the content a chapter at a time throughout the summer on the TrendsWatch 2018 homepage. Each of the past six issues of TrendsWatch have been improved by the thoughtful input from commentators who reviewed my early drafts. This year I’m democratizing the process by inviting any and all of you to weigh in using the comments feature at the bottom of each chapter on the web.

So what do I mean when I say that TW18 is the “scenario edition” or CFM’s forecasting report? Scenarios are short, evocative stories, each of which describes one possible future. Collections of scenarios help organizations systematically identify and explore multiple versions of how the world, their community, and their operating environment may evolve. Major companies (like Shell Oil) often commission their own internal scenario set to inform planning. My peeps over at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation recently issued a scenario set about the future of P-12 education. There’s even a cool collection of scenarios about the future of the book to help library staff navigate uncertainty about the future of digital v. print reading. It’s high time museums have a set of their own future stories!

TrendsWatch 2018 will include four scenarios to inform museum planning:

A bright future based on the hopes and dreams shared by museum people when we asked, “What’s the best future you can imagine?”

A dark future embodying the fears that haunt museum people in the middle of the night.

An equilibrium that might result from existing limits and challenges as they play out in coming decades. (An early version of this scenario served as the jumping-off point for Museum 2040, last winter’s special “future” issue of the Alliance’s Museum magazine.)

A “wild card” illustrating the kind of low-probability, high-impact event that can disrupt the best-laid plans.

In coming months I’ll put the next three stories up on the web, and the Alliance will publish the compiled report in November together with a workbook and discussion guide. (I’ll be available to present workshops on how to use the scenarios for museum planning—if you want to book an engagement through Alliance Advisory Services and Speakers Bureau for your museum or conference, lob me a message via the Jotform at the bottom of the Advisors and Speakers page.)

We’ve launched the TrendsWatch 2018 site with two chapters:

  • An Introduction to Scenarios, explaining how they are used in planning with introductory notes on our museum stories
  • Our Bright Future—an optimistic version of the year 2040 that might result from idealists and pragmatists working together to build a sustainable world. As I note in the text, picturing a best-case scenario is not just an exercise in wishful thinking. Exploring optimistic outcomes helps organizations test their assumptions, build alignment among stakeholders, and identify actions that can turn vision into reality. (Besides, spending a little time in our dreams can be a welcome relief from reading about current events.)

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This scenario, like its three brethren, includes:

A synopsis describing this version of the year 2040 with respect to culture, technology, the economy, ecology, and technology.

A selection of real news stories and research from the present illustrating trends and events that could create this version of the future.

A discussion guide that invites readers to critique the plausibility of this story, tweak the plot to align with their individual or institutional values, explore the implications for museums, and identify what individuals and organizations can do influence how our world evolves. After all, the most important part of planning is figuring out how to build the future in which you want to live.

So go, read, download, comment, and share. Set aside a little area of your brain for futures-thinking throughout the summer and together we’ll create a powerful tool to help museums change the world for the better.

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