Now online: NEMO Webinar on modern museum practice and climate change

 This is a screnshot of a webinar. Videos of two speakers are next to each other.

On 14 February 2023, Michael Peter Edson, Digital Cultural Strategist, drew on 20+ years of experience in the museum sector to challenge NEMO Webinar participants' view on the role of museums and their purpose in the modern age. Edson concretised the discussions by focusing on how museums deal with the climate emergency, a topic he finds to act as a kind of x-ray on museum practice.

Michael Peter Edson opened the NEMO Webinar by stating that ideas about what a museum is and does were developed in slower, simpler times. But the realities of 2023 - including the climate emergency, armed conflict in Europe, and global technological and social change reveal gaps and flaws in the traditional boundaries of our work.

Building on his well-received keynote speech at the 2022 NEMO European Museum Conference in Loulé, Portugal, Edson’s webinar "Create Dangerously: Museums in the Age of Action" argues that we need to dramatically update our concept of museum practice if we are to create a meaningful response to today’s most important questions about culture, society and change. How will we get across The Big Frikin’ Wall that separates conventional museum practice from deep engagement with societal challenges? And what can museum workers do to get action started regardless of their position, authority, or pay?

In the webinar, Michael Peter Edson questioned why the museum sector is so passive and slow to respond to one of the biggest challenges of our times:  climate change. Afterall, he pointed out, the climate crisis can be approached from several angles that all should apply to museums to some degree: science, art, culture, community, wellbeing, truth, knowledge transfer etc.

He carried on to address the concept of Standard Museum Practice, which he finds to be based on an outdated notion of the world we live in and the job we have to do. He continued to explain Kathy Sierra’s theory of the Big Frikin’ Wall that keeps us from achieving true impact through museum work. By only focusing on incremental activities and tasks we might get close to the wall, but without pushing for true action we cannot get through. Action is needed to, for instance, actually contribute to a better society and fighting climate change. However, factors such as incrementalism, trust (and risk), culture, politics and incomplete change models are holding us back. Although it is important to reflect on what is holding us back, Edson does advice people to focus on the goal(s) that waits on the other side of the wall.

Edson also introduced a matrix that can be used when evaluating and having conversations about actions and true impact. The matrix maps actions from thin to thick engagement and from symbolic to impactful outcomes.  With effort and intent, it is possible to turn a symbolic action to increasingly impactful by adding the appropriate elements. Check out the webinar recording to learn more.  

Michael Peter Edson

Michael Peter Edson is a strategist and consultant working at the intersection of technology, culture, and global social change.

Michael was the Director of Web and New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian Institution and co-founder of the Museum of the United Nations – UN Live, a start-up NGO designed to catalyse civic effort toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

Michael is a Salzburg Global Fellow, a Fellow at the Getty Leadership Institute, a Distinguished Presidential Fellow Emeritus at CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Services, and Michael was named a “Tech Titan” person to watch by Washingtonian Magazine.

Learn more about Michael on his blog and website.