Cooking up the MCN 2017 Theme with 50+ Chefs in the Kitchen

Photo of the Heinz History Center

 

After days of virtual sharing, commiserating, wordsmithing, and voting, the MCN 2017 theme has arrived!

 

MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action

 

Every year, MCN explores topics of relevance to museum practitioners working with, or affected by, digital media and technology. In 2017, MCN will focus on how museums can use technology to innovate and emphasize transparency, individual action, and institutional bravery. We are interested in cases where a creating an open museum culture encourages bold action to confront challenges in our field, our communities, and our society, including issues of diversity and inclusion.  

Submissions on any topic from people at all levels of the institution and all parts of the field are welcome, and we especially encourage proposals that present new ideas to leverage technologies which help museums evolve, create institutional partnerships outside the sector, and use lessons from the past to act for the future.

The forty-four members of the program committee represent various areas of expertise in institutions of different sizes and types, from locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. They spent two hectic weeks on Basecamp compiling their individual perspectives of what is relevant, meaningful, and critical to the future of the sector. That 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Museum Computer Network as an organization gave the discussion special resonance, especially in light of political and social turmoil around the world and its impact on the museum field.

To start the discussion, committees members were presented with a few open ended statements to consider:

  • “What MCN50 means to me is …”
  • “What interests me in the field is …”
  • “What work outside of the museum sector is informing your work and would help other museum practitioners with their work?”

The group mused on how the view of technology in the museum had changed over the past 50 years, from a thing apart from museum practice—though a view all-too-often still present in our institutions—to something intertwined with the everyday work of museum professionals. What will technology mean to us, and our visitors and remote audiences in another 50 years?

Libraries (which are now represented in the MCN community), game design, theater design, and the growing organizational culture field all were cited as influencing the way the committee members viewed their own museum work. And many members were naturally interested in how technology can impact visitor experience, contribute to a sense of playfulness and joy for visitors and staff alike, and build equity and dismantle oppressive structures that museums are often a part of.

After a week of sharing, dozens of points and threads of discussion were distilled into several large ideas:

  • Bringing actionable steps back to our museums
  • Inclusiveness and advocacy        
  • Museum technology and solving problems         
  • Innovation, Change, and Progress           
  • Being Brave and Bold    
  • Welcoming   
  • Openness and transparency

Another round of discussion ensued, including a cameo appearance from the haiku exercise from last year’s committee. Committee members wrestled with wording around a commitment to action and bravery—were these matters for individual attendees? For their institutions? For society?

The committee then voted on 65 variations of the potential theme in a semifinal round, leading to a final vote on six possibilities. The vote was close, reflecting the many concerns that committee members have in viewing the role of technology in the museum field.

Ultimately, the honor went to “MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action.” (To take a page from the Oscars, we won’t call the other finalists losers, and all reflected an interest in openness, action, and bravery.)

As the program committee moves on to discuss keynote speakers and other conference questions—not to mention preparing for the joyous onslaught of proposals later this spring!—the spirit of this nearly-50-person conversation will continue to enliven the preparation for MCN 2017 in Pittsburgh. The co-chairs can’t thank the committee members enough!

As you consider what type of presentations to propose, keep in mind the “other” category. While most presentations will fit into 15-minute case study, 30-minute talk, or 60-minute multi-speaker panel formats, we are open to ideas. Some that we have held, or considered in the past, for you to propose:

  • “Unconferences”: more informal discussions usually focusing on a particular topic, sometimes over lunch. Last year we had an unconference on “views-my-own” bloggers in the museum field.
  • A series of grouped short ignite talks, similar to the popular opening-night event.
  • Round tables, but consider how this differs from simply a multi-speaker panel.
  • Remember that many kinds of longer formats such as hackathons and prototyping can be proposed as a workshop, provided there is opportunity for interactivity and learning.
  • In fact, a 60-minute time frame affords many opportunities for interactivity, workshopping, etc., with the audience. Think of ways to keep the audience involved!
  • Group or affinity discussions

We can’t wait to see proposals from across the field and from staff at all levels of their institutions. Attending MCN is great, but participating in a presentation is a great way to have a voice in the many discussions so important to museums today.

 

Your friendly co-chairs,

Trish Oxford

Jennifer Foley

Rob Weisberg  

 

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