Planning…. for what?

Hearing the phrase “museum planning” conjures up many different ideas, ranging from developing a strategic plan, constructing a new building, improving a mission statement, incorporating technology, creating a whole new museum, or even just putting together an exhibition. With all these facets, what exactly is museum planning?

According to Gail and Barry Lord in The Manual of Museum Planning, museum planning is “the study and practice of facilitating the preservation and interpretation of material culture by ordering all those components that comprise a museum into a constructed or renovated whole that can achieve its functions with optimal efficiency.” By being both the study and practice of creating an efficient museum, planning includes both “planning the plan”, and putting the plan into action. “Planning the plan” refers to making a basic schedule that outlines the steps an organization will take when creating a new plan. Taking the time to do this is a necessary first step for creating a good overall plan.

Many kinds of organizations undertake “intelligent planning” to help plan for the future. Amy Cunningham, executive director at Everybody Wins! VT, a literacy and mentoring program, helped develop a three-year strategic plan with her organization. From her experience, the keys to devising a good plan are to tailor the plan to what a specific organization needs, and to evaluate whether a planning process is right for the organization at the moment (i.e. is the organization financially stable enough to conduct a strategic planning process, or should something else take priority, like finding new donors?). There is no one way to plan, and for that matter, planning never actually ends. Since planning is such a broad concept, even when a strategic planning process is over, planning for programs, visitor evaluation, financial development, and even the next strategic plan, continue.

Strategic planning, or any plan that will effect the whole organization, should be an organization-wide effort. Each organization must critically look at itself and its objectives to create reachable goals, no matter the project. When done correctly, planning can bring together an organization and focus its resources productively. Planning is, at its root, a process of organizing and focusing an organization for future success.

Given that planning is a highly organization focused process, where do outside consultants fit into the picture? Many consulting firms specialize in developing and designing plans for museums, and undertake planning, construction, implementation, etc. How much outsourcing should occur when an organization needs to develop a plan? Does it depend on the project, the organization, or something else? What do you think?

By A.Jahrling

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2 Responses to Planning…. for what?

  1. ocothren says:

    I think the level of outsourcing that can occur when an organization needs to develop a plan depends on the funding available to this organization. The catch-22 is, of course, that those most in need of outside help probably are small organizations who lack the funding to pay for consulting firms. So what do you do?

    Why not….contact a local museum studies program to help? Cha-ching!

    Unfortunately not every small historical society or museum is lucky enough to have a program like us in their background. But I think the takeaway is to be creative when seeking help in planning. Look first at whatever resources are available to you in the area. What works for another organization might not necessarily work for you, so be aware of what has been done in the past but don’t limit yourself to those tactics. I think you said it nicely, Ashley–“there is no one way to plan.”

  2. sbudlong says:

    I definitely agree with the previous response that an organization can only use an outside consultant to the extent that they have the funds. To answer your question differently, I am going to pretend for a second that money is no object (ha!). In that fantasy world, the amount of outsourcing necessary depends on the individual museum’s organizational culture.

    I believe that all museums should undertake an internal evaluation during the strategic planning process. When tension exists between the occasionally competing interests of director/board/staff, an outside consultant can facilitate discussion in a way that an insider simply cannot do. Staff and board members are more likely to be honest about the challenges facing the organization if they feel like their comments won’t be used against them. Outside consultants can conduct honest and confidential interviews with pertinent staff members and write up a report about the state of the organization that is direct, honest and informative. Such an evaluation is crucial to the planning process. For museums with a board and staff that are already completely on the same page about the state of the organization, an outside consultant may not be as necessary (but such a situation is probably rare!).

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