I’m finally back from a week in New York, attending more conferences, meetings, and receptions than I would care to count. Lots to spin out and explore in the coming blogs about all I discovered and discussed along the way.
A large bulk of my visit (two full days) was spent at the Music & Media Forum sponsored primarily by public radio organizations. The event was a focused scenario exercise intended to gather “charter sponsors and key stakeholders of public media organizations, musicians, educators, artist managers, label representatives and music industry service organizations” to explore together the “possible futures for music and media in order to build and broaden audiences for the musical arts in America.”
A tiny task, as you can imagine.
There’s much to come from the meeting, which should make its way to the initiative’s web site. But I was particularly intrigued by the process we used to work together. Building on scenario planning methods (perfected by the good folks at Global Business Network, and detailed in this publication), a group of about 60 participants spent the bulk of our mental energy not on projecting what we believe we know, but exploring what we’re sure we don’t know.
Scenarios — or possible visions of the future — are built from ”critical uncertainties,” or those dynamics in the environment that are particularly unknowable, but central and essential to the future of the topic at hand. As an example, in the future world of digital distribution of music, the state of copyright and content ownership agreements is both central and uncertain. Rights to use and distribute existing audio content (by musicians, composers, arts organizations, record labels, and others) could either be generally resolved in the coming decade, or increasingly contentious. In a scenario exercise, the groups envision both possible futures, and how they might react to them.
For our scenario group, a critical uncertainty was how ”free and equitable” the technology of digital receivers would become. Since an essential element of public media’s mission is easy and ready access to arts and information, it would be important to know whether emerging digital distribution systems (satellite radio, podcasts, and such) would eventually be available to everyone, or only those who could pay for the receiver or the media stream (or both). A mission-driven institution would need radically different responses to their work depending on how this uncertainty evolved.
In the end, scenario planning is not about predicting the future more accurately. Rather, it forces groups of people to explore multiple possible futures — none of which will actually come to pass, but all of which might play a part.
It was clear that this was an essential moment for terrestrial (ie, broadcast) public media and place-based cultural organizations to explore their common future.