“The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful actions in the present”Paul Saffo
But forecasts based on trends can be radically disrupted by another major driver of change: events. While trends represent gradual change, events introduce discontinuities into the timeline. Those trends-based demographic forecasts I said were so reliable? The 1918 influenza pandemic caused about 50 million deaths worldwide—up to 6 percent of the entire human population—and lowered the average lifespan in the United States by a decade. India
was plagued by famine in the 1960s, but Norman Borlaug’s development of dwarf wheat saved over a billion lives by increasing agricultural productivity. Events can reshape our lives for better or worse, generating the kinds of headlines that, read over breakfast, make you realize that the world changed overnight while you slept.
These forces of change intertwine, of course. Trends are made up of microevents that, cumulatively, can reach a tipping point that becomes a disruptive event Events can accelerate or slow a trend, even cause it to stop dead and reverse direction.
I bring this up because 2017 may well be a year shaped as strongly by events as it is by trends You can’t read about mass migration without reflecting on how the Greek economic crisis, military and terrorist actions by the Islamic State, and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union have and will influence the movement of people across the world. You can’t contemplate the future of criminal justice without taking into account how recent elections in the United States, France, Germany, and elsewhere may affect the recent push for reform.
Because our social, political, economic, and environmental circumstances are particularly dynamic and unstable, it’s hard to forecast where the trends discussed in this report may lead us in coming years Now more than ever, I encourage you to develop a regular habit of scanning the news to stay on top of current events, assess where these forces may take us, and identify where you can take action to influence the future that will unfold.
After all, this third force—human choice—is the whole point of strategic foresight. Futurism challenges us to cultivate a vision of the future we want to create, and teaches us to use that vision as a lever to change the world Even small actions can create huge ripple effects through time Who thought, when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 that her small act of defiance would help catalyze the civil rights movement and end legal segregation in the United States?
As we go to print in February 2017, the immigration and refugee policies of the new administration are receiving a lot of public attention. These are indeed serious topics worthy of debate. I’ve been working on this year’s topics for at least a year (more in the case of mass migration), and hope that the timely release of this report will help inform thoughtful conversations in our sector and beyond.
Making informed choices requires up-to-date information For that reason, this year for the first time we are providing a digital presence that complements the print edition of TrendsWatch. Using this digital edition, you can follow all the trends, or those of particular interest to you, to find related news stories, Web posts, Twitter feeds, and research reports unearthed by Center for the Future of Museums staff I hope this resource will help you become the agent of change that I know you can be.
Yours from the future,
Vice President, Strategic Foresight
Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums American Alliance of Museums
2017 TrendsWatch Trends
About this Report
At the Alliance, we love the opportunity to engage with our community face-to-face. Each year we make time for CFM staff to “take the show on the road,” via lectures and workshops.
This year CFM’s founder and director Elizabeth Merritt, and CFM museum futurist Dr. Nicole Ivy are available for a limited number of engagements. Areas of focus can include:
- An overview of TrendsWatch 2017 and implications for the museum sector
- Diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion
- Financial sustainability: exploring new business models for museums
- Strategic foresight: using futures methodologies to improve museum planning
Fees depend on the length and nature of the presentation, and Alliance member museums receive a discount. These paid engagements help underwrite the free content CFM provides including TrendsWatch, our weekly e-newsletter Dispatches from the Future, and the CFM Blog.
If you would like to invite Elizabeth or Nicole to speak at your museum or conference, contact us at emerritt (at) aam-us.org.
TrendsWatch 2017 highlights five trends that Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) staff and advisors believe are highly significant to museums and their communities, based on our scanning and analysis over the past year. For each trend, I provide a brief summary, list examples of how the trend is playing out in the world, comment on the trend’s significance to society and to museums specifically, and suggest ways that museums might respond.
Here are just a few of the ways people and organizations have used recent editions of
- Students at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow used TrendsWatch 2016 in their courses, and interpreted the trends from a Russian perspective.
- Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California, made TrendsWatch one stop on a “Field Trip to the Future” auctioned off at a benefit. (CFM Director Elizabeth Merritt served as one tour guide for staff of the McConnell Foundation, which put in the winning bid.)
- Journalists often use the report to frame their local, national, and international reporting on museums.
To instigate these and other creative uses of the report, I encourage you to share copies with:
- the museum’s executive and planning teams
- the entire staff (paid and volunteer)
- members of your governing authority
- local foundations and major donors
- policy makers and government representatives
- members of key community groups and museum partners
- the press
To foster discussion, you might host brownbag lunches, make the report an agenda item for staff or board meetings, or organize your own forecasting workshop. (The CFM report Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California provides a brief guide to organizing such events.) At these gatherings, encourage people to explore the following questions:
- How are these trends playing out in your community, state, region, or country?
- Which trends are likely to have the greatest effect on your organization?
- How might your museum take advantage of the opportunities or avoid the risks these trends present?
If you are not directly involved in museum planning, you might organize similar conversations in other settings, such as museum studies classes or professional conferences.
Another way to use TrendsWatch is to make it a guide for your own scanning—helping you focus your attention and filter news, essays, and social media that land in your mailbox or cascade across your screen. In the coming year, keep an eye open for news and opinion pieces illustrating how these trends are playing out.
The PDF version of this report includes copious embedded links to news stories, blog posts, research reports, videos, and other resources. (These links were all working at the time of publication, but we can’t guarantee they will remain stable over time.) If you are reading a print copy of the report, you can access the digital version with links, as well as all of CFM’s other forecasting reports and scanning tools, at futureofmuseums.org. The report is complemented by a digital site, trendswatch.aam-us.org, that features related news stories, Web posts, Twitter feeds, and research reports.
Please share any stories you think shed light on these or other important trends with me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@futureofmuseums). And please tell me what you think about TrendsWatch and how you use it in your work. Together we can build a formidable forecasting network to help museums chart a successful course to the future.
Her first paid museum job was at the Children’s Museum of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where one of her responsibilities was to kill rats for feeding the resident boa constrictors. Even that was not enough to dissuade her from a museum career, and she eventually became director of collections and research at Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC). Her notable experiences at CMC included sneaking into a secure quarantine area at the airport to top up the liquid nitrogen of frozen tissue transport containers, and disarticulating a dead baby walrus in the parking lot with a meat cleaver.
Moving to DC, her first job at AAM was directing the Museum Assessment Program (MAP). Eventually she became director of all the “excellence” programs at the Alliance, including MAP, Accreditation, peer review, and the Information Center. In 2006, when the Alliance Board approved the creation of a futurist initiative as one of the AAM Centennial projects, Merritt made a successful bid to lead the new project and hightailed it to the University of Houston for a certificate course in strategic foresight.
Her areas of expertise include strategic foresight, museum standards and best practices, ethics, collections management and planning, and assessment of nonprofit performance. Her books include National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums and the AAM Guide to Collections Planning. She blogs for CFM at
futureofmuseums.blogspot.com and tweets as @futureofmuseums.
1The #butterflymoment hashtag was coined by CFM in tribute to Bill Stanley, director of the Collections Center at the Field Museum of Natural History, who died in 2015 during a field expedition to Ethiopia. Bill narrates the moment he fell in love with museums in a beautiful animated video that won a 2016 MUSE award from the Alliance Media & Technology Professional Network.
The Alliance’s Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) helps museums explore the cultural, political, and economic challenges facing society and devise strategies to shape a better tomorrow. CFM is a think tank and R&D lab for fostering creativity and helping museums transcend traditional boundaries to serve society in new ways. For more information, visit futureofmuseums.org.
The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit aam-us.org.
“We are thrilled to support the research and insights that the annual TrendsWatch report provides. Elizabeth Merritt and all of our partners at AAM are moving museums forward, pushing us all to become better together, and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this important work.”Kevin Knight, SVP & GM, Arts & Cultural Organizations, Blackbaud
Blackbaud is a leading provider of solutions and services for arts and cultural organizations, including Altru for consolidated ticketing, membership, fundraising, and more! Blackbaud has partnered with more than 2,400 arts and cultural organizations worldwide to provide solutions and services that meet their unique goals in development, marketing, ticketing, and more.
“I always look forward to reading CFM’s annual TrendsWatch report as it provides a window into the world of what concerns museums most. The highlighted trends often provide a spotlight on current perils and exposures and thus potential helpful clues about how we need to modify risk management techniques to better serve the museum community.”
Joe Dunn, president & CEO, Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc.
Huntington T. Block Insurance manages AAM-recognized insurance programs, offering museum collections, exhibitions & temporary loans/fine art; property & casualty; and trustees/directors & officers liability insurance. Each unique program strives to provide broad coverage at very competitive premiums with service from a knowledgeable and responsive team of risk professionals.
PGAV Destinations supports TrendsWatch for the same reason we conduct our own primary research: we believe museums thrive when dedicated to better understanding their audiences.
Dreamers, thinkers, and makers
PGAV Destinations. We’re sculptors, designers, architects, artists, and strategists devoted to creating experiences that will inspire and empower guests to change the world.
Master Planning. Storytelling. Experience Design. Architecture. Media Installations. Retail Design. Museums. Science Centers. Zoos. Aquariums. Historic Sites. Brand Destinations. Themed Attractions.
“I’m proud to be able to say Solid Light is where great ideas come to life, and we are passionate advocates for rich and rewarding visitor experiences. We’re also proud to support CFM’s TrendsWatch, because it shows us all ways to innovate and bring fresh approaches to our work.”Cynthia Torp, Owner/President, Solid Light
Solid Light designs and builds exhibits and visitor experiences that engage, enlighten, and inspire. We are passionate champions of a client’s vision, bringing powerful stories to life through comprehensive, start-to-finish, content, design, fabrication, and installation services.
Sea Tree, by Waterstudio. Lead Architect: Koen Olthuis
The Dutch architectural firm Waterstudio designed Sea Tree in response to the challenges of providing city green space in the face of urbanization and climate change. This floating structure provides multiple layers of plantings dedicated to birds, bees, bats, and other small animals—no people allowed! Underwater, Sea Tree provides habitats for aquatic life—even, where the climate allows, for artificial coral reefs. The flora and fauna living in and around a Sea Tree will enrich the environment in a zone extending several miles around the moored location.
Sea Tree is based on offshore technology similar to that used for oil storage towers on the open sea. Waterstudio sees an opportunity for large oil companies to donate a Sea Tree to a city to show their concern for better urban environments. Waterstudio believes Sea Tree will be the first floating structure 100-percent built and designed for flora and fauna.