How to Build a Successful Museum Strategy

April 10, 2019

Museum missions are universal—every museum has one. Additionally, in the last 20 years strategic plans have become so commonplace that many museums now produce them in-house as opposed to hiring an external firm to complete them. However, just because a museum has a mission and a strategic plan, it does not necessarily mean the museum has a successful museum strategy.

The 3 Components of Museum Strategy

A successful museum strategy has three main components: operational, funding, and digital.

  • Operational includes the museum’s mission and guidelines for how the museum makes business decisions. For example, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion practices, exhibit calendars, and event programming all stem from the museum’s operation strategy.
  • Funding is a critical component of a successful museum strategy as nothing can be achieved if there aren’t the resources to do it.
  • Digital is an increasingly influential component of museum strategy as almost every operational facet – including museum collection management and display – is digital.

Where to Find Strategy Ingredients

It’s important for museum staff to consider all facets of the museum strategy and take the time to identify and articulate guiding principles and priorities. This is where the mission and strategic plan can be referenced; however, more work will be needed. Here are 5 prompts for museum staff to consider when gathering ingredients to compose their museum strategy:

  1. What are the museum’s top 3 challenges now and in the future (next 5 years)?
  2. What are the museum’s top 3 priorities or opportunities now and in the future (next 5 years)?
  3. How does the museum need to operate in order to meet its challenges and priorities?
  4. What funding resources are available to the museum to help it overcome challenges and meet priorities? What does the museum need to do in order to secure that funding?
  5. How can digital programs and projects be leveraged to meet museum priorities and support the museum’s operation and funding strategies?

When to Use and Reference the Museum Strategy

A museum’s strategy should be referenced often; it’s meant to ensure the decisions made by each department are aligned with the museum as a whole. Strategies are most effective when they’re specific to each department. As a result, staff should spend time reviewing the 3 components of a successful museum strategy in order to figure out how they can participate via the services they perform and projects they undertake. Questions to think about are:

  • Services: What services does our department perform that are in alignment with the museum strategy? Are there services that can be altered or improved upon for even better alignment? What services aren’t in alignment and does the department need to consider minimizing or eliminating those services?
  • Projects: What projects are slated for our department this year? Are they projects that support the museum strategy? Are there projects that can be altered or improved upon for even better alignment? What projects aren’t in alignment and does the department need to consider minimizing or eliminating those projects?

Help Ensure Success with a Master Plan

Once the department’s services and projects have been evaluated for their alignment with the museum’s strategy it’s now time to plan for success. Remember my earlier post 2019 Master Plan for Museum Professionals? You can use this same framework for identifying projects that support the overall museum strategy and how you can break those projects down into achievable chunks to help increase your success rate.

As with anything in life, we’re the most successful when we follow these 3 rules: be intentional, adjust our actions to meet our intentions, and make a plan for success and follow it!

<a href="" target="_self">Rachael Cristine Woody</a>

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody has worked and advised on museum strategies and collections management at institutions like the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. Read more of Rachael’s posts on museum strategies for success. See also more on Lucidea’s solutions for museum collections management and digitization projects.

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