Planning for the Future of Museums

Topics: Vision and Culture

Guest post by Marsha L. Semmel, author of Partnership Power and a national museum leader who consults with organizations to examine museum-related partnerships, collaborations and networks within today’s dynamic, ever-changing environment.

My work with organizations such as museums, libraries and universities has given me insight into many different areas of the educational and cultural infrastructure. While my role at and with these institutions has changed over the course of my career, one thing has remained constant: each type of institution has had to evolve, and continues to evolve, to meet the changing needs of society while also maintaining core services. Striking that balance between continuing the mission, purpose and services around which an institution was established, while also adapting to what lies ahead, can be challenging. Among the effective tools I have used to help facilitate that process are KnowledgeWorks’ forecasts on the future of learning.

In my work as an independent consultant for museums, I engage people in conversations across disciplines and departments to explore and plan for the future of their institutions. The results of looking to the future and identifying an organization’s place in a larger learning ecosystem can really change approaches and outcomes. The forecasts are one way to ground the conversation with shared terminology and concepts, including broader relevant trends with real-life examples that may, but don’t necessarily, reference museum practice. When KnowledgeWorks creates a new forecast, this doesn’t make the past ones irrelevant to my clients. I’ve referred to the trends and infographics from previous forecasts—from 2013 on—as starting points for looking ahead to 2028. Using these alongside the 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning provides an even deeper way to engage with the future, today.

While some museum education departments have important overall strategic roles and stature in museums, others remain pretty siloed, with well trained, education specialists fully occupied with their myriad responsibilities for on- and off-site programs, including work with schools. As such, the rank and file museum education staff don’t necessarily have the time or opportunity to go beyond this immediate focus on their own museum’s pedagogy and programming—including ways to improve both—in order to envision and address a potentially radically different future. For many museum educators, the entire notion of their role in a broader community-wide learning ecosystem takes a back seat to their immediate concerns of championing resources for themselves within the museum. And many museums, further, do not integrate their specific education mandate with community-wide resources, educational needs or broader trends.

A Glimpse into the Future of Learning: An Infographic tells the big story of KnowledgeWorks third forecast on the future of learning. Comprised of twelve key insights with accompanying graphics, it points the way toward a diverse learning ecosystem in which learning adapts to each child instead of each child trying to adapt to school.

Download the infographic.

Two concepts from KnowledgeWorks’ forecasts have been of particular use in my work. The first is the idea that learning occurs in both formal and informal ways, which KnowledgeWorks started to explore in the 2020 Forecast. The second is the concept of putting the student at the center of learning, which was illustrated very clearly in the A Glimpse into the Future of Learning infographic. If one begins by putting the learner at the center of a system that includes home, family, school, museums, libraries and online resources, and if those environments work together to respond seamlessly across time and space to a learner’s needs, the learner will reap significant benefits. This infographic has been equally useful in driving home the point that keeping the learning ecosystem disconnected and fragmented limits each of those venues’ potential for the learner.

In my book, Partnership Power, in which KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince has a chapter, I share perspectives from related, but different, sectors, including libraries and other nonprofits. I also share current museum case studies from a broad and diverse spectrum of museum types. Woven throughout the book, the authors examine problem-solving techniques across silos and through partnerships to explore what a sustainable, relevant future could look like for education-based institutions. Using forecasts on the future of learning to help inform that inquiry has, in my experience, made it more robust and more strategic.

See how you can apply the future of learning with our Forecast 5.0

2020 Forecast Retrospectives