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The Long View - Futures Thinking for Museums

3 March 16 -- jsuess
Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager, Oxford University Museums

In February 2016 we hosted the second in our Oxford Cultural Leaders events series - a number of day long workshops developed out of our learning from creating and delivering our residential leadership programme, Oxford Cultural Leaders, and from our partnership with the Saïd Business School.

For this event we worked with Melanie Howard, Chair of the Future Foundation, to deliver a workshop around futures thinking, and how the tools of futurologists can be used by cultural organisations to support strategic planning and innovation.

Over the course of the day Melanie aimed to help participants deepen their thinking about their own institutional challenges in the longer term; identify the ways that futures thinking can help address these challenges; and empower participants to return to their institutions with the confidence and capabilities to lead futures activities in a way that inspires action.

Melanie introduced the idea of spotting future trends - and there are many people out there who do this professionally. She then placed trends within the context of time - trends can vary significantly in their pace: there are slow trends like climate change; medium trends, for example changes in attitude towards marriage equality; and fast trends like self monitoring (e.g. fitbit). Slow moving trends should influence your organisational infrastructure, medium trends your mission, and fast trends are where there is an opportunity to quickly innovate and corner the market.

The group then worked with a number of identified trends that Melanie thought might have the biggest impact on museums and the cultural sector, and tried to tease out what they could mean. We then decided for our selves what we thought the key trends were, and did some scenario planning for these hypothetical futures.

A key part of the day was a presentation from Traci Dix-Williams, Director of Operations at Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust and a 2015 Oxford Cultural Leaders alumna, on how she has used the futures thinking techniques she learnt on the residential leadership programme to inspire colleagues in her organisation to think differently about their challenges. Hearing Traci's experience made applying these tools within cultural organisations seem more tangible.

By the end of the day we felt we wtill had some way to go in definitively identifying all the most important trends for the sector, however, participants ledt with the tools for understanding and implementing futures thinking with their own organisation. A key discussion point throughout the day was the importance of taking stakeholders with you in order for this type of activity to have a true impact on an organisation.

As delegates reflected at the end of the day, the key point on which the group seemed to agree was that taking this kind of long view was empowering. Dealing with the churn and urgency of the now can make you feel reactive and lacking power to steer things in the desired direction. Giving yourself permission to take a long view, and to plan solutions to future challenges, provided perspective.

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