Based on research about current trends, indicators and technologies, together with researchers from University of Newscastle, we imagine a future where museums are so overwhelmed by the amount of items that should count as heritage; they can no longer keep their full collections and must delete 20% of it every year. To figure out what to delete and how this challenge would affect the museum experience of this future, on the day of the workshop, we invited a group of heritage experts from different museums to form the Deletion Bureau.
We used speculative design and design fiction methods to create materials for this future, such as newspapers, films and a series of physical prototypes, to immerse our participants in this future scenario.
Two major tasks were designed to stimulate debate and push our participants to articulate their values and visions for the futures of their institutions’ heritage. The experts came from European museums, thus the activities focused around issues regarding European heritage and personalised the materials around the scenario and the problems their institutions face.
We sought to communicate and demonstrate how our participants might push their own pre-defined assumptions and have a productive discussion about the future of their institutions by using co-creation and speculative design methods. Together, we embraced the potential of speculative design to create a new space for meaningful reflection by inviting participants to tangibly interact with their visions and build new ones. The project demonstrates how futurescaping can be used as a research tool to reflect and spark discussion– in this case about the current hopes and fears around the digital and a clear need for reshaping the societal value of museums and cultural institutions in the future.
While the workshop is specifically shaped around challenges that the heritage experts and practitioners from various European cultural institutions face, the future challenges that our scenario poses are ones that many organisations can relate to – and the structure could be reconfigured to apply to other sectors. The methodology of futurescaping and its accompanying speculative design tools allowed us to investigate how values, decisions and overall missions do or do not align – in an open, discursive and imaginative way.
The museum professionals created collages and prototypes that communicated their desire for a more universal, shared and personal experience of heritage in the future. While such a vision might be in their museum’s missions, the disparity between 2018 reality and 2038 imagination was clear. The underlying needs were articulated and ignited in such a way that the participants pledged to ground the concepts and bring them back to their respective institutions.
Our Deletion Bureau articulated hopes, fears and desires around the future of (European) heritage – they designed shared and universally accessible collections, affirmed the subjectivity of heritage artefacts; and fears, such as losing the material object for its digital version.