Planning Museums; Quotes that Push Us Forward

When I think of planning, I think of my old tennis coach who used to yell at me, “A failure to plan is a plan for failure!” –he would yell because either I forgot to set up my body for a shot, prep my racquet, or discuss with my partner our strategy. I, the snotty preteen, would reply, “If I am planning to fail is it really a plan for failure?!” As I moved further in life, I realized that his advice on the necessity of planning fits well with where I wanted to go and was almost essential for most goals or pursuits in life. 

In the museum world understanding how to plan, when to plan, and how to execute a plan is critical to moving forward.   When looking at planning within museums there are many aspects of planning– planning for people, planning for collections, and planning for construction, rehabilitation, and renovation. In order to begin planning in these three areas, understanding the differences between planning strategically and planning long-term are vital to growth. When interviewing museum planner Anne Ackerson of MANY, she describes the differences between the two with a simple chart— planning strategically takes into account a number of factors such as: non-linear movement, external and internal assessments, change as a key element, scenarios, critical issues, and goals to flesh out concepts and make choices, while planning long-term focuses on a linear structure (timeline) and is approached with a specific goal in mind. While discussing the steps necessary to start planning she suggested another resource that she created to help others understand the process, her 10 steps are: organizational self-assessment, community assessment, other assessments/research, visioning (developing a compelling picture of the organization’s future), aligning mission, developing a statement of organizational values, setting overarching goals that support mission and vision, establishing strategies to achieve goals, creating an annual workplan, and updating the Strategic Plan and annual workplan. By breaking it down into 10 steps or planning activities, Ackerson helps guide museums in an exercise that highlights more than peoples’ attachments to objects but how and what is essential to a particular group.Planning for museums is complicated and is an ongoing process in moving forward.

Find out Anne’s favorite planning quotes and thoughts on strategic planning at her blog “Leading by Design” and at her website

Thanks Anne Ackerson for sharing your time and resources with CGP ’12


About sneakystuffmensay

Upwardly mobile professional (née yuppie) woman seeks fearless mid-20 something male--must be tolerant of a little drama, some bumps in the road, and visiting museums. Cowards, cheaters, and ego-centric monsters need not apply.
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2 Responses to Planning Museums; Quotes that Push Us Forward

  1. Amy Hollister says:

    Using a chart to visualize the planning process makes a lot of sense. With so much activity occuring in so many areas (internal and external) it really helps keeps things clear — definitely something we’ll be able to utilize with our fall project.

    I think we all learned a lot from your discussion on Thursday. Good work!

  2. Gretchen Sorin says:

    Too few museums create their plans as living documents. They just sit on the shelf. I agree with you and with Anne that it is many faceted and ongoing and can really help institutions move forward.

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