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Data is the New Oil

May 27, 2014

For the past three years (since I've been writing this weekly blog), I've paid more attention to the vast amount of reading materials that cross my desk as part of my constant search for content. One such "find" is the 2014 Trends Watch published by the Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums. This lively and well-written booklet contains a wealth of information about current trends - a sort of Fast Company for the museum field.

Organized into six sections, Trends Watch lays out how each of six trends is playing out in the world, it then offers observations on what these mean for society in general and for museums in particular, and shares examples of how museums are engaging with these trends, and finally it offers ideas on how museums might like to respond.

The six trends are:

  • For Profit for Good: The Rise of Social Entrepreneurs. This report defines "social entrepreneurs" as a growing realm of mission-driven business enterprises that view financial success as a way to create more and better good. Their business models are structured around providing products or services that address social or environmental needs. The authors of the report argue that the growing importance of these social entrepreneurs or social enterprises may signal a shift in the traditional division of responsibilities between the three sectors of government, business and not-for-profits. And for museums, they ask the question, "What if for-profit businesses become effective competitors in delivery of traditional museum missions?"

  • Synesthesia: Multisensory Experiences for a Multisensory World. Thanks to emerging technologies, sensory impressions can be captured, mixed and presented in new ways to enrich and refresh traditional cultural experiences. And, the demand for multisensory experiences is accelerated by discoveries documenting the utility as well as the artistic challenge and fun of engaging all of the senses. According to the authors, the psychology of scent has implications for architecture and urban planning, and this phenomenon could expand the design palette to include scents to improve mood and promote good civic behavior. Museums are finding that heritage is being defined as multisensory as well, and many countries are identifying and controlling names associated with traditional foods, which are increasingly seen as part of a nation's cultural heritage.

  • A Geyser of Information: Tapping the Big Data Oil Boom. While the human race is rapidly depleting natural resources, the resource of data is growing at an exponential rate, and analysts of "big data" are becoming savvier at reading the digital footprints that we leave through social media. Big data is being used by both for-profits and not-for-profits to help with not only marketing products and services, but also the prediction of earthquakes, finding lost hikers and mobilizing relief after natural disasters. At the same time, society is grappling with questions of how information should be used and questions pitting an individual's right to privacy and the public interest are becoming more prevalent. Big data allows museums to become more efficient in their operations, and data mining can help them predict attendance patterns and create personalized promotions.

  • Privacy in a Watchful World: What Have You Got to Hide? In a world where companies and governments can, and increasingly do, track vast amounts of personal information, where will we draw the line? Many people enjoy the benefits of social media and big data (like Amazon and Spotify suggesting what you might like), but the era of constant surveillance also has its detractors. Museums are adopting their own surveillance technology for their security purposes, and some have even toyed with measuring the physiological reactions of visitors to exhibitions. Society is struggling to find the appropriate boundaries, and museums are learning to balance the benefits of using tracking technologies with the potential backlash from visitors.

  • What's Mine is Yours: The Economy of Collaborative Consumption. The new Sharing or Peer-to-Peer Economy generates an estimated $3.5 billion annually and is projected to grow to $110 billion in a few years. Driven by companies like Airbnb (people renting rooms and homes to one another) and Lyft (people pairing drivers and riders), and Millennials, the idea of sharing goods and services has reached a new scale because of the Internet and social media. But, it has also served to humanize transactions by valuing trust and community rather than faceless corporate entities. The potential effect on tradition commerce might be catastrophic, but it might also stimulate travel and new forms of employment. The fact that Millennials seem to prefer spending money on experiences rather than goods should open the way for museums to positions themselves as a "good buy."

  • Robots! Are Rosie, Voltron, Bender and Their Kin Finally Coming into Their Own? While we have had effective industrial robots for some time, this century is seeing the rapid development of smaller, mobile robots with a far wider range of capabilities. The media has been fixated on drones, but the first robots to become truly ubiquitous may be self-driving cars, which are already legal in three states and the District of Columbia. These developments have raised important ethical and practical questions, and concerns have been raised about everything from the possibility of "killer robots" to the increasing loss of white-collar and blue-collar jobs to robots. To some, the real question is not whether robots will replace people, but how they will supplement their work. Museums are confronted with questions of how much to invest in technology rather than staff, and how they might use robots to enhance the museum experience for visitors, especially for those with disabilities.

What do you think about these trends? Do they make sense to you? Do you think that museums should be concerned about these trends or ignore them? Please share your thoughts with us by clicking here. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues, and participating in the conversation.

P.S. Did you know that 54 percent of Millennials either want to start a business or have already started one, and 85 percent of Millennials want to make a difference in the world?

P.P.S. Our next CSR Now! posting will be Monday, June 9, 2014.


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