Search Museum Next

Film: New strategic thinking for museums

This presentation will define a new strategic thinking for Museums.

Identifying what museums role should be in the Creative Industries and the purpose of innovation and sketching an alternative marketing model, “Stop being so fragile” will show that museums can be more than just resilient, and do more than just survive, they can flourish if they redefine who they are in a data-driven world.

Chris Michaels
Digital Director, National Gallery

So there’s going to be no PowerPoint this morning because I want to explore an idea today and that idea doesn’t mean fixers. And I think also having just seen crazy Hawaii.


Nothing. I had I could put on screen will be quite as interesting as well. So my name is Chris Michaels. I’m gonna try this one. I’m pouring water I am as Tony said digital director at the National Gallery where I’ve been since April 2017 and I came to the British Museum beforehand, where I spent three years there as head of digital publishing alongside the webpage at the National Gallery I sit on an advisory board For Ace when you turn your strategy a trustee of the brilliant collections trusts and I’m an advisor to the humble forum in Berlin. So that means basically wanting things want to spend a little time sitting in meetings and to I spend a lot of time thinking about what museums mean my areas of responsibility at the National Gallery of digital I run a digital strategy. They’re hoping the first place I also lead our communications membership and ticketing and is functions. So what that means is I’m interested in the series of questions I’m interested in what data means for museums, how it can be used to make museums better economically strategically I’m interested in how the experience can be better all those brilliant things in the trends space that we just saw in that presentation I’m interested in innovation, because I think innovation and the things that innovation means have more potential to change museums and we possibly explored at this point I’m interested critically and how we work when You walk into museums, you work in a way that you could have worked in the 1980s 1990s sometime in the 1840s and that’s okay.

But we certainly don’t work in the way that we possibly could or should do in the midst of 20 teams today, as I said, is no PowerPoint because I want to explore an idea about the future of museums and what the road ahead means I want to do that because a because it’s really what I’ve been thinking about over the last four years and it’s a chance for me to try and summarize where I’ve got to in thinking about what the future of museums means and to because simply while there’s amazing things happening Out there in the trend space. The world is a pretty scary place at the moment. If you just let the words that we hear every day, hang in the air and think how complicated our environment is it’s obvious that things will have to keep on changing, whether it’s Brexit, whether it’s Trump North Korea blockchain AI climate change whatever those things are all of these things or big things the museum’s have a critical and fundamental place in responding to, but I don’t think we’re set up to respond to them as they are now.

I also don’t think deep down in the heart of museums, mostly in a way that we want to and I wanted to just kind of start with an anecdote about what I find odds in museum behavior and then try to unpack from that where I think we have to change to get to a future that is meaningful. I said in a very uncertain environment.

So you’ve all been in meetings Like this I think in museums. I’m going to guess you’re sitting around the table different people, different departments someone comes up with an idea, everybody feel scared.

The idea is different. It doesn’t kind of fit with what you do and everybody’s feel scared and someone says we Can’t do that we shouldn’t do that if we do that, the sponsor will leave the exhibition Whitesell the public will haters, the government will haters. Everyone will hate us and eventually we’re all going to die.

And so you don’t do it and it’s a shame because that was an idea that Could have, whether it was cute Japanese assistance or whatever the hell it was it was an idea that could lead to something different and led down a different road and coming from startup where I came around before I went to the museum space infuses I wasn’t used to me, things like that and start your face existential peril like really deeply everyday you run out of money and you can’t pay yourself and then some of them quit. You are really ever a couple of weeks away from dying completely, but then you go into institutions that are hundreds of years old that that lived every company on the footsie 100 every company on New York Stock Exchange and everyone feels like they’re about to die all the time and I couldn’t figure out. It took me a long time to figure out why that was because it just was very odd to me but seems so natural to everyone in that museum environment that that was the right way to do things.

And so I wanted to try and find incentive that led to the and The problems in the culture and the behavior that thurs and the obvious truth is the museum is try and run systems that make them adverse to risk.

Not that risk culturally is the wrong thing. But that they can sustain themselves against a very risky environment and of course in and read very risky varmints always easier to say no even society. Yes.

So That’s the line of thought, I just kind of puzzled away on for the last couple years and then I read this book, which I’m going to talk a little bit about called anti fragile.

If you’ve got your friends wouldn’t get on every haven’t read it. Go on Amazon and read it now Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of those thinkers Who kind of everyone hates you read interviews with him in The Guardian. The Telegraph wherever everyone meets even thinks this guy’s a real douche bag.

He’s an unpleasant difficult person, but his big ideas are ones that stick they stick. I think because they try and ask the nasty questions that people find difficult to answer. So his first big idea was an idea called the Black Swan back in 2006 2008, where he realized the recession was going to happen where no one else was going was was going to and so what he said is the way the financial world works is that they try and build models around risk, but always just look at the worst. The last worst thing that happened and try and make sure that never happens again and of course the true thing with real risk is you can’t plan for the worst thing that’s going to happen. The worst thing is always much worse than the things you’re planning for anyone who’s ever read King Lear knows that’s exactly what they say an X ray thing we’re the worst is still if you can still say the worst. The worst is yet to come.

But finance people don’t read Shakespeare then realize this.

And so the Black Swan said the worst thing is beyond planning ability and he kind of left the idea hanging in the air and then the anti fragile who comes back to it and he says, well, actually what we have to do is designs our systems and processes differently. You have to flip them around and work from a different way and we got to with that is that I said if you create systems designed to prevent risk, you will always be most effective when the real thing risks. You can’t see him because museums suffer that and the recession, along with everyone else, none of us could quite for seniors recession hit quite how deep those cups. We’re going to be none of us. He lived through the last round of public sector spending review a couple of years ago quite seen how what it could be like if we lost 50% of our funding all at one time. How do you plan for that you can’t plan for that. And so it just means the way that we’re modeling our institutions is Somehow wrong because in the environment we live in now in an environment where we live in the least the next 10 years to come. Some of those awful transformative changes are going to happen at some point.

And so I wanted to ask the question then based on this idea about anti fragility is like, well, how would you Design Museum, a kind of hypothetical Museum, not one that really exist and certainly not an astral gallery. So I’m not speaking specifically about a stretch you know that could pretend to be kind of protected against race. Like, what would you do now that can make us more strong stronger, the more weird things get out there, finding that Right questions asked took me a while but then I started to look at what museums are doing now and I think the beginnings of a model that is better hedged against risk more structured for change is starting to emerge through things that people are doing all around the world. So aren’t just described now is where that started happening where I think that starting to come from.

So I think somewhere, the chain to starting to happen to museums, is it somewhere with stopping thinking them about being things that are purely about making a better society and starting to think about and things That make for a better economy that’s not what museums were created for in the first place from coming from the British Museum that idea. The museum oven for the world such a strong idea about the principle of the museum in society.

Look at Liverpool museums. Now, this idea that museums, there exists For the achievement of social justice museums and the individual and society has been there. Oh really, for 250 years but if you flip that strategic position around and say well how does a museum participate generate and creates a role for itself in the economy, what happens and this I think is what I think around the world you’re starting to see examples of where people start to position museums inside a particular bit of the economy and then start to see how it can achieve a type of resilience scalability growth that doesn’t happen when you think in a more abstract way about the role of Museum in society.

So how could you create this kind of museum that as I said was built to resist racing was built to scale.

Well, I think if you think of it from an economic point of view for many museums, where would you position it your position inside of the creative industries design museums, Art Galleries history, possibly not natural museum and sciences, but you can see there a network of industries which particularly in the UK is highly invested growing extremely strongly and is critical to the future of this country.

And of course, the truth is museums are part of the creative industries. If you repeat visitors Brilliant reporting the creative industries from last year museums are in there. But the very loosely defined about what therefore the art sector is one of the nine bits of the creative industries. It’s hard really for even spoken speech president directly about it to really define what its purposes as yet because the bits that would make museums, A strong part of the creative industry hasn’t been fully defined here.

So where would you start if you were a museum and you decided to say, Okay, I was thinking of ourselves in an economy was thinking of ourselves as part the creative industries.

What would you do that starts to define your role inside that and Where could it leads you to one of the things I’ve done a lot over the last four years is really kind of series of tactical partnerships with creative industry businesses to find out what it’s like to work together, particularly given my background and my focus particularly the tech sector, you know, strong pieces of work with Google with Facebook BBC And with others to understand how to work together and every time you work together with a different bit of the creative industries, you learn something from an about their practice about how they work and you generate kind of open new features around it. I would never work with Facebook if I hadn’t worked with Google or never have done the work with BBC I’ve done. If I hadn’t done it with Facebook first. And so all of those things start to lead to each other and you learn as you go through that process when you’ve done that, and he starts to do something again it floats through the institution.

Those first partnerships will cause more of those meetings about we can’t do this. Everything will die then possibly anything else you’ll ever do. I certainly have most many of them in both institutions and work for on that subject but then you can start to build where I am on the journey. I’m taking with us at the moment is about trying to build specific discipline of innovation into The institution. I work for earlier this year is called the cultural digital program that Tony work front as as part of the government DCMS as initiative around that we announced an innovation lab for the National Gallery.

That’s part of a series of things that we will do to build strong strategic structured relationships with the creative industries into how we work into how we think about the future and into what we think the National Gallery means in the 21st century.

It’s not my idea. There are brilliant institutions around the world, including in London, but particularly places like Singapore, New Zealand, which I’ve been doing it for some time already National Gallery in Singapore is built from an innovation lab this thought very deeply about the role of digital experience there to pepper in New Zealand’s again brilliantly built the creative industries inside the fabric of what it is and who it does.

And that gives us the chance to tie into the wider spectrum of things that are happening around the creative economy in the UK build a strong relationships with people like Mr with people like digital catapult who both understand measure and help identify investments into this sector, it gives you different types of conversations with universities and the Ones who traditionally have through the HR so your other equivalent bodies and it starts to open up a space where you can do different things that you couldn’t do before.

For me, that’s a critical moment now for museums, because the creative industries in a world where Brexit is coming I having a suddenly see a huge investment for the Government in a way that we on the museums and art sector never see new investments from the government.

So if you look across the things that happened just in the last few months for new funding from the government. They’re investing in 5g, because 5g will change the economy, they’re investing in things program called audiences of the Future fantastic highly invested program 33 million pounds worth of funding to think about the economic role of virtual reality, augmented reality and other immersive technologies and in the sector and they in the country and they want museums and arts institutions to be part of it, but they only want them to Be part of it if what they’re thinking of is something that can achieve economic growth and it’s the same thing with the HR sees fantastic crazy clusters program. And again, another very significant investment by the government into the creative economy that needs arts institutions and heart of it, but only needs them again if what they’re Investing in can create new jobs new skills and economic growth and those are difficult questions. Some of the meetings for our audiences, the future. I’ve seen museums turn away from wanting to participate. They see or as Apple’s with a mission but these are some of the difficult questions we’re gonna have to address if we use it if we want A new way of operating in the years ahead.

So those are benefits. I think are on the table now and it’s not that these are going to be one of investments from government. These are the paths to economic sustainability for the country as a whole in the post Brexit environments, they will be more money that comes from this in the years ahead.

Alongside these This work around new types of investment. There’s new types of business model that come from my understanding how the creative industries were better I’m responding to them.

A lot of my work at the National Gallery is about thinking about how to evolve our business models so much of what museums do is rooted in business practice that stems somewhere between the 1970s and the 1830s when we sell tickets from exhibitions comes from the 1970s where we have subscription models for membership is really an 1830s innovation. It’s all a very long time ago and it’s not what the digital and creative economy is based on digital and creative economy is based on things like dynamic pricing for thinking, the way that you buy products Rams and the way that you buy products from EasyJet whoever it’s based on subscription economy that’s based on single recurring monthly fees. Not that 200 pounds or 200 pounds a year that we’ve run on membership businesses from and so Those changes are coming through.

But we have to respond to them. And I think, again, as you get closer see yourself as an economic object, rather than the social objects. Usually the incentive to change some of the business models that you work with an update to how you live in a digital economic environment also done some of that foundational work. That’s the point where the way that we talked to the public is going to have to change and this is somewhere over the next few years that you’ll start seeing examples is happening, but we’re going to have to see the way the programming works with education works again start to respond to the Need of the creative industries to Craig skills to create jobs to create a pathway for people that’s different from the one you have now there’s one brilliant example, I’d like to use about that that’s happening in Liverpool already the Liverpool cultural education partnership is embedding curricular develops between museums and Schools in schools across Liverpool is one of those parts of the country that suffers from economic deprivation and quite a significant level and they’re building very, very close links between the schools and the museum’s much closer than most museums around the country have ever achieved.

And again, if you think of what that’s going to have to mean In terms of focus points.

We need people to come through schools and get jobs for this country to prosper in any kind of post Brexit world desperately people to do that and we need them. Therefore, to be skilled in the types of skills, where there will be jobs in the future creative skills, whether that’s you’re going to go and work in A special effects house in southeast London helping make the special effects with Hollywood movies, which this country is absolutely incredible or whether that’s going to be teaching the next generation skills, whatever that thing is that role is going to be.

That’s a sweet spot in talent and capability museums can participate. We can help make People more creative, we have the objects we have the knowledge and we have to find direct links into education that helped to rebuild. But, and then we’re going to have to think about the financial model and museums, it’s themselves.

One of the things I find most surprising particularly I spend time with the Arts Council is going back into history or Post of the post war world and understanding why museums haven’t done things like innovation, research and development over the last 70 years.

And for those of you know you can have a history blame john Maynard Keynes much of what we do in this country economically is based on keys, including the creation, the Arts Council itself And in a peaceful world every other industry was built and driven on a principle of innovation and research and development. It’s how you get to computing, so you get to the car industries that we’ve had is how you get to the world that we live in today except for the arts world because kings who also created the arts council said no, that’s not what the arts. Do we excluded from the definition of all industries that are able to innovate formally on the government rules and so in the years ahead. That’s got to be unpicked Creative Industries again they’re starting to unpick this but it means that the tax credits that come from research and development that everyone else benefits from we don’t benefit From as it stands today and it means that in our budgetary processes we are not putting 5% of our money that we create we invest every year into a pool that is designed to learn from it means that everything we do has to work. But of course, most of the time it doesn’t it fails. And so we’re economically structured The wrong way to prosper in an environment and we’re going to have to change that in the years ahead.

So these are start pieces of a puzzle that we’re starting to build and the last bit of the puzzle, I think, which will be the most important whether it’s an incredible examples already happening is Really, where we let the wolves through the doors and build those creative industries into the fabric of our institutions.

I think when I most amazing examples. This is Somerset House just down the road from where I work, where they’ve got 100 artists practitioners creative industry businesses now working inside the building, You’re seeing examples for the future and places like the new Museum in New York again fundamentally institution which built taken a building next door and filled it full of technology designed startups who are they’re connected into the museum using museum knowledge to develop their propositions as organizations and creating opportunity creativity for the future.

You’re seeing it in the plans for the big name Stratford east part of the expectation of what will be a digital design focused museum is how that they will be digital design businesses again inside the fabric of that institution And you’re seeing it somewhere like actually in in Belbin again this is a museum about moving image and you’ll see broadcast. Moving Image businesses inside an incubator hub inside that music.

These are incredibly important things that we’re doing, which is said starting to build a news type of structure and relationship with the Creative Industries, which will create innovation and prosperity for both.

So again, we’re starting to build something different here starting to build something that again start. So I think from an idea that museums have an economic role to play, not just a social role to play, but actually ending up I think with a much stronger social role that we can play as a result of it,

we get a different outcome if we start to think this way. But what we’re going to have to do is to think about all of these challenges together.

It’s hard. I said to turn not to turn away from but to move away from that principle of social value that museums have come have lived from for last 250 years but I think we have to do this, particularly in Britain right now with where we are.

The world is too uncertain. It’s too messy to keep worrying too much about abstractions and not to focus as hard as we can on very particular measurable deliverable outcomes as Kids who smoked three seven and nine and I worried about the features because they will have to get jobs in a different economy, they will have to get an understanding of society that’s very hard to give and the structures we have now and we frankly with it when they go to museums. I’m not sure the museum’s totally benefit them all the time and What they come back with and how they bring it back into their daily lives. So we can have to join the dots much harder than we do today to make this work.

But if we can do this, we start to build a case that we make to society that we make to the government and we make to all of our funding bodies about Our role which is based on measurable value you will never convince the Treasury as much as we will try we’d like to that the value of museums lives in obstructions the value of museums will live in the things that we can measure in the things we can we can define in these much more rigid terms and I think that’s good and I think it’s what we have to do to make ourselves sustainable for the future.

The piece I want to close on that is just to think through then what the next 30 years ahead look like because as we’ve seen in the printing presentation before the speed of trends is going up, but also the speed of innovation in society itself is going up a second book that I would absolutely urge you to read is this by Jeffrey world West’s per core scale which I think explains where society is that probably better than anything else.

Well, Jeffrey West talks About he’s a leader, an instinctual satisfy Institute, which is the kind of home of complexity theory what he talks about is how you can measure right back from the beginning of human history, the time, the timeline of innovations it speeds up on measurable art and every time it gets foster one big rupture in society follows with a relatively regular rhythm. The next because there are laws of physics. The guide. Some of the things that biological organisms are capable of in the next 30 years we will probably get to massive disruptions in human society, one way or another.

It’s 10 years now since the recession and I don’t think museums are really absorbed. Even the shock waves that the last major shift forward that happened to him years ago economic disruption, the technological disruption, the social disruptions come from, whether it’s social media or globalization. I don’t think we barely absorb that if you think through a situation where in 2013 we get another one of these great fits and then in 2014 get a mother, one of these great hits. We’re not set up to absorb this kind of changes now and I think it’s only by strategically rethinking D at a deep level what we mean and what before we’re for that we will be able to prosper in a world that’s going to get screwed before it gets easier.

Thank you very much.

Chris Michaels spoke about New Strategic Thinking for Museums at MuseumNext London 2018.

Related Content

Thinking beyond the walls: learning from the V&A’s pivot to virtual learning environments

As a Microsoft employee I’m often moved to sing the praises of the tools and technologies we offer to museums and galleries. Yet I know...

National Museums Liverpool Reveals New Branding

National Museums Liverpool has unveiled its new brand as it opens up its galleries and museums once more following enforced closures as a result of...

Birmingham Museums Trust seeks masterplanner for new city museum

Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) has put out to tender a feasibility study for architects and designers to visualise its plans to create a new museum...

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week