My 4-year-old son googled for the first time the other week. We were going to Portugal and he was curious to see what it looked like there. He took my smartphone and managed to spell Portugal in the browser window. He was instantly rewarded with a map and nice photos of Praia de Marinha. He was learning, unbound by a particular time or a particular place and trigger by nothing but curiosity.
Planetariums are well positioned to be relevant in the future of learning. The last 20 years has set the stage for a new vision for planetariums. By understanding where we stand today and what the major tendencies are for the next two decades, we can shape a strategy to remain and grow increasingly relevant. By relevancy, I mean maintaining current, growing and recurring audiences, and provide to them experiences that feel meaningful and inspirational.
In a white paper (that Sciss is publishing today!), The next 20 years: A vision for planetariums in the 21st century, I identify three major trends that will decide the future of planetariums:
The competition for talent. Digital planetariums are now competing for talent with almost every other IT industry on the planet. Whether the planetarium community recruit from the top or bottom of that talent pool will define the success of planetariums in the coming two decades.
The data explosion. The public remains highly interested in astronomy and space exploration, and related data keeps making it to the front page of the Internet. How we produce and promote programming related to this data, and that of other sciences, will define our competitive position against other mediums including virtual reality.
The evolution of the education system, from a facts-first paradigm to a curiosity-first. This is a wonderful development for planetariums partake in, both because we have a unique contribution to make and because it makes us more relevant and can help draw audiences.
I will also review some existing surveys, and present a new one from our own research team, to outline what planetarians think and want, what our visitors think and want, and what the public in general thinks and wants. My intention is not to offer a secret silver bullet to success. But I hope to add a reasonable voice to the debate, to provide a view on the choices and major tendencies that planetariums as an industry is facing, and hopefully provide some guidance or inspiration to institutional leaders in the field.
You can read and download the white paper here. And please feel free to add a comment below to contribute to this discussion. I'd like to hear your thoughts!