One of the great things about working for Oxford University are the professional development opportunities: the university has a number of excellent training programmes and really encourages participation in conferences and the like.
More specifically, one of the activities of the Museums Partnership Team is running the museums’ professional development and knowledge exchange programme. As a member of the partnership team I get to help shape these events (and yes I often suggest themes and speakers on the basis that they sound like things I would really like to go to) and also attend our events.
This week was big in terms of our events. On Thursday morning we had a mini away day free from the distractions of the office and planned our programme of events for the next 2 years. There are a lot of exciting things coming up extending our existing series on Commercial Enterprise and Fundraising and Philanthropy, a number of spin out events from our residential leadership programme Oxford Cultural Leaders, and also events under the new themes of Digital Engagement, Communications and Audiences. The only downside with planning a two year horizon is that some of the events I am really excited about won’t happen for quite some time!
Then on Friday we had our Futures event. An event we spun out from last year’s Oxford Cultural Leaders Programme, Melanie Howard from the Future Foundation came a delivered a day long workshop on identifying future trends, predicting the impact they may have on your organisation, and responding the these as part of strategic planning.
Melanie introduced the idea of spotting future trends – and there are many people out there whose job it is to identify these. Trends or changes can vary significantly in pace: there are slow trends like climate change; medium trends like changes in attitude towards marriage equality for example, or fast moving trends such as self monitoring (read fitbit). Slow moving trends should influence your organisation infrastructure, medium trends your mission, and fast trends are where there is an opportunity to quickly innovate and corner the market.
We worked with a number of identified trends that Melanie thought might have the biggest impact on our sector, and tried to tease out what this could mean. We then decided for ourselves what we thought the key trends were, and did some scenario planning for these hypothetical future worlds.
While at the end of the day we did not think that we had definitively identified the most important trends for the sector for us to report back to all and sundry, we did walk away with the tools to understand futures thinking and conduct these kinds of exercises within our own organisations. A key part of the discussion was the importance of taking stakeholders with you in order for this type of activity to have a true impact on the organisation.
The day also included a talk from Traci Dix-Williams, Director of Operations at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust who attended our Oxford Cultural Leaders programme in 2015, where she participated in a similar workshop. She has since used this kind of futures thinking within her organisation and gave some insights into how it worked for her.
One of the key things we all agreed on at the end of the day was that taking this kind of long view was actually quite empowering. Dealing with the churn of the now can make you feel very reactive and lacking the power to steer things in your desired direction. Giving yourself permission to take a long view, and to plan solutions to factors that aren’t yet on your doorstep provided perspective.
Looking forward to some similarly inspiring experiences over the next two years.