Program Perspectives: Strategic Foresight and Developing Healthy Habits of Futures Thinking

By Lisa Eriksen

A first glance at the Western Museums Association 2013 Annual Meeting Program

Like adopting a healthy diet, or a new exercise regimen, employing futures thinking is about behavior change—a new way of doing things over the long-term. Practicing good foresight techniques does not involve picking up an instruction book or completing a checklist of tasks while in the midst of museum planning—a “crash diet” of strategic thinking. Foresight work is about integrating daily, ongoing tasks of reading broadly and scanning to identify changes and trends. It involves a mental workout of thinking about how these changes and trends might impact your institution’s current and future operations, and, most importantly, crafting strategies to assure more sustainable futures for your museum.

LisaEriksenAs the “personal trainer” to museum professionals in California, the California Association of Museums (CAM) is wrapping up an IMLS-funded, two-year strategic foresight training program for both seasoned and emerging museum leaders. As project director I have had the honor of working with the 38 participants in CAM’s Leaders of the Future: Museum Professionals Developing Strategic Foresight project. After honing our foresight knowledge and skills at two training workshops, we have been continuing our futures regimen by scanning, researching, and identifying critical emerging issues for museums. To share our project’s work with the museum field, we have created a futures online group and invite you to join us in the conversation (you will need to join the CA Museum Community Online to access the group). Here, in the Leaders of the Future online group, you will find a series of Foresight Research Reports developed as part of our project learning experiences, including Expanding Access & Changing Demographics, Museums as Third Places, and Museums and Experience Design. We hope these reports will start a much broader dialogue about the future of museums in California and in the West. In addition, a new CAM Foresight Committee has been formed to continue the important work of researching and forecasting trends that will impact all of our communities.

As we are wrapping up the training portion of the project, I have been conducting interviews with the participants to learn what they took away from the experience and if they have adopted new foresight habits. Across the board, the training exercise of doing foresight activities enabled these museum professionals to integrate scanning and futures thinking into their museum work. Some shared with me that “now it has become a habit,” or that this work allowed them to “get the blinders off and look outside our community and to look at things in broader context.” One participant stated they had a “complete mindset change.” Some participants are using foresight strategies in developing specific programs and strategic plans at their museums. And some have even used foresight techniques in their personal lives; thinking about retirement planning, with their children’s education, and even in purchasing a new home.

We all know the coming decades will bring massive changes in our society and these forces will contribute to the stress that communities and our museums experience. But we will have some outstanding opportunities for facilitating positive change as well. I invite you to join me at the WMA 2013 Annual Meeting for a one-day workshop, Using Strategic Foresight to Plan for a Preferred Future (October 9, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm), to learn more about how to develop futures thinking habits. In this interactive workshop we will learn techniques to monitor change, identify trends, and discover how to integrate futures thinking in our museum work, whether it be daily activities or long-term institutional planning. Who knows, you may even develop some foresight techniques to help you plan your personal life!

If you can’t make the workshop, please join two of my colleagues from the CAM Foresight Committee and me in a session, Strategic Foresight: Techniques to Navigate Change (October 12, 9:30 am). In this session, we will share how institutions can successfully integrate futures thinking into their planning and operations, and we will ask you to give your thoughts future trends.

I look forward seeing you in Salt Lake City and to working with you in the future!

To register for this Workshop or attend this session at the 2013 Annual Meeting, please visit: ‪

Lisa Eriksen is project director of the Leaders of the Future: Museum Professionals Developing Strategic Foresight, Principal of Lisa Eriksen Consulting, and adjunct faculty at the Museum Studies Program at John F. Kennedy University. 

The Leaders of the Future: Museum Professionals Developing Strategic Foresight project is funded in part by a 21st Century Professionals Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the James Irvine Foundation.

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