The future of museums: report TrendsWatch 2015

The American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) has published their annual report TrendsWatch, the fourth they issue.  The CFM is a think tank and R & D lab for fostering creativity and helping museums transcend traditional boundaries to serve society in new ways.  The CFM helps museums explore the cultural, political and economic challenges facing society and devise strategies to shape a better tomorrow.


Each edition summarizes emerging trends identified through CFM’s research. The reports explore how each trend is playing out in the world; investigate what this means for society and for museums; share examples of how museums are engaging with this trend; and suggest how museums might respond, as well as providing links to additional information on each subject.

This year’s edition highlights:

Open Data
“The open culture movement in all its permutations—open source, open software, open government calls for a fundamental cultural shift from the assumption that information should be tightly controlled to the presumption that content should be made available to everybody, absent a compelling reason to keep it locked up..”

“Once data is “out there”, people find all sorts of wonderful ways to connect, analyze and mash it up to serve a variety of goals.”

“Museums already hold their collections in trust for the public, both from an ethical and a legal perspective. Should the same principles apply to associated data? In that case, building digital infrastructure to support data sharing is as fundamental as creating exhibit galleries and collections storage facilities.”

Ethical Consumerism
“[…] in this Internet age, we could research and vet the entire life cycle of a product or service, creates an expectation that we should. And this, in turn, leads to increased demand for transparency and accountability in behavior, sourcing and production.”


“[…] a majority (of citizens) feel that business can do more to tackle resource scarcity, climate change and income inequality. Pay equity is ballooning into a huge issue, whether it focuses on providing a líving wage or reining in CEO salaries. And ethics get personal when the public feels that a company has violated ethical norms regarding their personal data.”

“Museums Might Want to review and revise their ethics statements to address emerging issues. Traditional areas of concern like conflict-of-interest and provenance research may need to be expanded to include sections on internships, privacy of digital data and the ethical provenance of art displayed in the museum.”

“…technology makes it relatively cheap and easy to personalize goods and services to each individual user, or use “mass personalization” to create the illusion of individual attention.

This trend is playing out in three arenas: the creation of personalized goods, the filtering of personalized content and the creation of personalized experiences.”

“While technology fuels our sense of alienation, it also provides the tools to fight back against being treated as interchangeable cogs in the digital machine.”

“Museums Might Want to restructure membership programs to create relationships that respond to individual preferences […]. Consider how to customize their offerings. […] Museums can also keep it simple: use an individual visitor’s past interactions with the museum to suggest similar events or products they might like.”

Rising Sea Levels
“To safeguard the artistic, historic and scientific resources they hold in trust for the public, museums need to adapt to a world where change—and water—are the new normal.”

“[…] sea levels are rising, and we know that large areas of coastal land will be inundated in coming centuries. […] (In the USA) 34.6 percent (12,236 out of 35,364) of museums and related organizations are within 100 kilometers of the coast.”

“(Museums should) study long-term risk projections for their current site, and make resilience a key factor driving renovations and new construction. […] Choose sites for new construction with an eye to relevant environmental projections. […]. Individually or in collaboration with other museums, create offsite collections storage in areas that have lower risks, or in buildings that can be designed specifically for risk mitigation.”

Wearable Technology
“[…] functions that currently reside in our computer, tablet or phone migrated to our body and our clothing. Wearable tech is about seamless integration, invisibility and blending technology into everyday life. Tech is a wearable win when it becomes an unremarkable part of what we put on each morning.”

“The first great challenge for wearable tecnologies is justifying their existence by doing something your smartphone can’t, or doing it better…”

“In addition to collecting data from your body and surroundings, well-designed wearables can provide a graceful, less obtrusive (read, less rude) way of monitoring your various data streams, including e-mail, without looking at your phone.”

“Wearable technology is a logical extension of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Museums are already taking advantage of the fact that many, if not most, visitors enter the building with a hand-held device (notably smartphones or tablets) that can deliver interpretive content.”

”Museums may want to monitor the wearable technologies used by visitors, and be prepared to integrate them into BYOD delivery of content and experiences. Support the use of wearables (…). Explore (with permission, of course!) how data from personal biomonitoring devices might be integrated with indoor GPS to track how visitors experience the museum physiologically and psychologically.”

Slow Culture
“In the past few decades, there’s been a growing awareness that while “fast” may look efficient, in the end it may not be effective.”

Slowing down takes conscious effort because our internal clocks have been reset by over a century of technological advances aimed at doing things faster.”

A 2012 study by Pew Research showed that 87 percent of teachers feel technology is creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” At the same time we are beginning to document that “slow” has health benefits—for example, increasing well-being and reducing stress in children.”

“As the world bifurcates into fast and slow lanes, museums will have to find temporal or spatial ways to accommodate different paces.”

“(To promote slow experiences, museums can) Participate in Slow Art Day—one day each spring (it will be on April 11 in 2015) when people are encouraged to visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly, select five works to ponder for 10 minutes each and then discuss them over lunch.”

Anna Guarro
Head of Educational Services and Activities

Related links
TrendsWatch 2015

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