Saturday, March 28, 2015

Six Strategic Questions

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 Say your museum wants to do strategic planning. It’s really time, in fact, it’s overdue, according to staff and board members . It’s been 6+ years since the last strategic plan. There have been some ongoing shifts locally in the educational landscape, competitive environment, and the funding scene. The museum has been experiencing, if not growing pains, signs of growth that are, fortunately, manageable–so far. The executive director is relatively new in her position, and she isn’t sure the museum is prepared for, or clear about, what comes next.

In a situation like this, some museums would prepare for a major strategic planning effort lead and facilitated by an experienced museum strategic planner. Other museums wouldn’t follow this route. Perhaps they can’t find a strategic planner familiar with their type of museum, in their budget range, or available in their time frame. Other museums might be interested in building internal capacity around strategic planning, and equally important, strategic thinking. This can be a right choice.

Armed with confidence, an appetite to learn by doing, and a firm commitment to building internal capacity, these museums put together and field their own process. They draw on the strategic planning experience of board members who have participated in strategic planning in their organizations as well as staff who have been part of a previous process at this or another museum.

Museums can easily find resources for non-profit strategic planning on line and in books and journals. Resources specific to museums and their circumstances are especially helpful. (See below.) Many museum strategic plans are posted on-line and are useful references. Equipped with a familiarity with strategic planning and these resources, a museum is ready to put together a team with both board and staff and designate a leader. During this pre-planning phase,  a planning horizon is set; a facilitator is selected; and key steps, tasks, and a timeline for completing the plan are identified. Getting organized and marshaling these resources assist a museum in ramping up and preparing to conduct solid strategic planning customized to that museum.

I would add one more piece to this thoughtful do-it-yourself strategic planning process: A really good set of strategic planning questions.

Over the years, through teamwork, testing, refining, and the sharp thinking of my strategic planning partner Andrea Fox Jensen, we have developed a set of 6 strategic questions instrumental to developing strong strategic plans. They have worked well across a variety of strategic situations and museums and with a variety of strategic planning processes and approaches.

Like any tool or template in books or articles, they are somewhat generic, needing to be customized to a particular museum and where it is in its life cycle; its purpose and audience; and what its community values. Cast at a strategic level, these questions focus on a museum’s context and enduring interests. They are aligned and readily build on one another. At a practical level, they point to the nature of information and stakeholder input to gather, topics for discussion, and areas of decision-making.

1. What do we know about our community or region–the children, families, residents, and community’s well-being–over the next 10-15 years that will affect the museum?
  • This question … sets the museum’s thinking and work in the context of its community and updates its awareness of current and future priorities, especially related to its broad interests and potential audience.
  • Related Museum Notes post: Public Value: From Good Intentions to Public Good  

2. What positive change do we, along with our stakeholders and partners, believe is possible for the community and its families/children/citizens/etc. over the next generation?
  • This question is about … identifying the community’s challenges and promises that the museum believes it is able to address and improve in concert with other organizations.
  • Related Museum Notes post: Re-envisioning Vision 

3. What distinct and valued contributions can our museum make to help realize this change?
  • This question is about … focusing on where the museum can concentrate its attention, energy, and expertise to bring change for the community.
  • Related Museum Notes post: Missions that Matter 

4. Who must we serve deliberately and well to make progress towards this purpose and be a valued community resource?
  • This question … deepens a critical understanding about whom the museum is for, and who it must serve and reach to fulfill its aspirations.
  • Related Museum Notes post: Audience, An Area of Enduring Focus 

5. What experiences, environments, and opportunities that bring distinctive value to our audience do we need to provide? 

  • This question is about … thinking intentionally about the museum’s programmatic work, where it needs to improve, and opportunities for growth in order to benefit its end-users–its audience. 

6. What are the foremost capabilities and resources we must have to make achieving our programmatic efforts possible?

  • This question looks at … the operational resources–communication, infrastructure, fundraising, management, and governance–most critical to implementing the programmatic work and promising and significant growth opportunities.

These questions don’t guarantee a stellar and compelling strategic plan. But they will push hard and productively on the team's thinking, challenge its assumptions, enliven its discussions, and make connections among vital areas of the museum’s interests more visible. And that will help make a noticeably stronger strategic plan that will serve a museum well.


Related Museum Notes Posts

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