2010 Horizon.museum Short List

2010 Horizon.museum Report Short List pdf

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

Critical Challenges

Key Trends


Critical Challenges

Content production has failed to keep up with technology. Audiences expect to consume information whenever and wherever they want. Museums have been scurrying to repurpose information already created to try and meet demands. The challenge and the opportunity for museums is to stop for a moment and look at ways to meet the current demands for existing raw data and to look at research about the uses of media in multimodal learning in order to create real, valuable, interesting, and engaging content. While there is currently a lot of pressure on museums to acknowledge user-generated content, this does not preclude museum professionals continuing as content generators.

Creating a digital strategy is critical for institutions today. Museums need to think about creating digital strategies for long-term institutional sustainability. Creating digital learning is only one part of a comprehensive digital strategy, which should also include e-marketing, e-philanthropy, revenue generation, digitization, digital preservation, and issues with regard to general technology infrastructure. Digital learning has linkages to many of these other areas of museum operation.

Embracing change as a constant remains a challenge. Museums are, in general, conservative institutions and because of this, and a variety of other reasons, they often lag behind commercial entities and educational institutions in the adoption of new technologies. Money and staff resources are always cited as reasons for not participating, yet in general the reluctance has more to do with the fear of change. Adopting technologies may well enable museums to better accomplish their missions and serve their audiences but the community needs to become more flexible in its response to emerging trends.

Greater understanding of the relationships and synergies between onsite technology, offsite technology use, and online access to museum resources is needed. Many in museum administration still fail to grasp the notion that a virtual museum visitor is indeed a museum visitor and that our audiences have high expectations with regard to online access to services and information. It is often difficult enough for museums with scarce resources to serve their physical visitors and to keep audiences in their geographical region satisfied; the notion that museums must, in addition, provide information and services to the entire world is often too big a project to contemplate. Museums need help to better understand these mutable relationships.

Improving our ability to measure impact using new digital technologies is a critical need. Museums are good at traditional program evaluation, but determining the impact of new technologies on knowledge, attitudes, skills is more challenging, especially when museum educators are attempting to measure the success of technologies that are unfamiliar to them, are a part of the standard tool-kit to the digital native. In order to improve our ability to measure, we need to be willing to learn as well as to teach.

In many cases, museums may not have the necessary technical infrastructure in place to realize their vision for digital learning. In the United States alone there are close to 17,000 institutions that self-identify as museums; many of these institutions have few staff and fewer resources. While it is practically impossible not to recognize the value of digital learning in today’s connected world, the reality for museums is that the vast majority of institutions do not have the necessary technical infrastructure to successfully pursue goals for digital learning, and often have little time to dedicate to articulating, much less realizing their vision. Museums that do have resources may have to choose to reallocate funds from non-digital education efforts in order to implement the necessary technical infrastructure.

Museum educators do not have the training, resources or support to address the technological opportunities and challenges they face. There are very few examples of best practices for development of educational technology for museums and most progressive examples are being developed outside of the education departments. Professional development and training in how new technologies can be used to further interpretation goals and enhance visitor experiences is needed at all levels of museum education. Without this training the disconnect between museum education programs and the audiences they are intended to serve will increase and museums will be called upon to further justify their declining importance in the lives of students and teachers.

Operationalizing funding for technology projects is a critical challenge. The recent recession virtually brought to an end what had been a promising trend in museums allocating ongoing operational funds (as opposed to capital or project funds) for both experimental and ongoing technology projects. Museums need institutionalized strategic planning initiatives for technology infrastructure and technology-related projects, and information technology staff need better skills and opportunities to communicate the importance of a proper digital strategy. Open lines of communication and a common vocabulary might give administrators a clearer understanding of exactly what should be operationalized rather than left to project funds.

The public perception of the value of copyright is diminishing. The challenge of providing the broadest possible access to content, without depriving artists, authors, and other content creators of their intellectual property and income, continues to be one of the largest issues faced by museums today. Creative Commons and other alternative forms of licensing are quickly becoming mainstream; new business models must be developed that take these forms of licensing into account. And to a large extent, these new business models depend on new content development strategies.

We need to find ways to integrate visitor knowledge into exhibits and objects. We need to stop being afraid of user-generated content, and instead become knowledgeable consumers of information brought to us by our visitors. This is not to suggest that the visitor’s point of view always needs to be the primary point of view, but museum professionals do need to recognize that niche visitor groups and individuals can provide museums with insights that enrich our collections and enhance the interpretive value of an exhibit or objects from collections. The challenge is to provide effective mechanisms to allow for input, review, rankings, and appropriate dissemination of such content.

We should be doing more evaluation, and better, both qualitative and quantitative. Evaluation is critical and should be the starting point of every content/experience design process. Audience evaluation skills are fundamental to the museum profession and should be part of all of our toolkits and standard practices, and not something we do merely to secure funding. Good evaluation practices and meaningful metrics, agreed upon and broadly accepted by the museum community, will enable us to recognize and build upon successes, and learn from our mistakes and failures.