Strategic Planning at Museums

in #strategicplanning3 years ago (edited)

This week our class is discussing strategic planning. In preparation for this, I’m looking at and comparing two strategic plans—one from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and the other from the National Museum of American History (NMAH).

A quick overview of each plan shows several similarities: both include mission or vision statements and a core values statement near the beginning. Both set four main goals/priorities. Both discuss private funding, and set goals for increasing funding after discussing their goals. Finally, both devote a lot of space to vague, trendy language explaining how important they are and how important their work is. Their four goals are almost the same, but with slight differences.

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Picture of the PMA from their strategic plan.

The PMA plan outlines their broad goals then explains the why and how for each. They include:
Engaging audiences, enhancing the visitor experience, activating their collections, and strengthening their commitment to community Overall, these are goals that each department could take and make more detailed plans from.

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NMAH’s slogan, from their strategic plan.

Unlike the PMA, NMAH begins by specifically discussing their strengths, but not their weaknesses, which makes for a half-hearted self-assessment. The NMAH then discusses their four priorities, which share some similarities to the PMA. They each contain strategies, while the PMA had initiatives. They are: to lead the nation in understanding the American experience, to expand, strengthen, and share their collections, to engage diverse national and international audiences, and to revitalize and expand staff and facilities. The NMAH plan then concludes with a year-by-year timeline of milestones.

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NMAH’s analysis of their strengths in their plan.

These plans should be useful tools for their staff to refer to when making decisions. They succeed in reaffirming the museums’ missions and values, outlining general goals, and providing broad strategies for achieving those goals. These can be used by department staff to create more concrete operating plans. The timeline included in NMAH’s plan is also a useful tool to staffers and administrators to ensure the museum is on track. However, the plans are overly celebratory in nature, and don’t address their museums’ weaknesses or discuss major problems. A more critical and honest plan would be more useful to museum staff. Unfortunately, these plans seem to be written more for funders than for the museum, which probably explains the pages devoted to highlighting the importance of the museums and identifying the increasing need for more money.

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Is bald honesty combined with complete transparency really the best policy? Does it really serve an institution well to publicly reveal its weaknesses and vulnerabilities in a strategic plan?

I think bald honesty is essential internally to identify issues and correct them or find a workaround, and it should be part of the strategic plan. Otherwise, the plan is useless to the institution as a plan (although maybe useful as a marketing document). Perhaps there should be an honest internal strategic plan, for use by the institution, and an external statement of goals and priorities which can serve the public accountability and marketing function.