National Museum of American History Strategic Plan: 2020-2030

As the Smithsonian’s flagship history museum, the National Museum of American History serves as the steward of the nation’s memory and holds its collections in trust for the people of the United States. The museum is developing a new strategic plan to be implemented from 2020 to 2030. It will guide the museum through one of the nation’s most significant anniversaries, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 2026. The strategic planning process is designed to be ambitious and transparent and to include key audiences and stakeholders in decisions that will shape the museum’s next 10 years. Organized around the vision to be the “most accessible, inclusive, relevant, and sustainable public history institution in the nation,” the strategic planning process is divided into three phases.

Phase 1: Identifying and Serving our Audiences: Of/For/By ALL Project: June – Nov. 2019

In September 2019, more than 100 staff members from across the museum participated in two days of audience outreach workshops organized by audience engagement expert Nina Simon. Through these workshops, the museum identified several key audiences and explored an audience-first methodology that will be incorporated into the final plan.

Phase 2: “Deep Dives” and Internal Listening Tour: September 2019 – January 2020

This second phase of the planning process focused on internal staff reflection, focus groups, stakeholders and outreach to the public. To gauge public priorities, the museum developed and disseminated a bilingual (English/Spanish) survey inviting the public to help create the history museum of the future. An internal exploration of the purpose, mission, and goals is a central component to determining future strategies for the museum. Over the course of eight weeks, 10 small cross-departmental working groups convened to lead explorations of key focus areas and potential opportunities for the museum. Referred to as “Deep Dives,” these conversations began to define the top-level goals and strategies of the new strategic plan. The questions explored were:

  1. Why do we exist and for whom and what do we stand?
  2. How do we do more than pay lip service to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility?
  3. How far do we want to focus our work (research, collecting, scholarship, outreach) on important and contemporary issues facing our nation?
  4. How can we actively participate in the global conversation around decolonization of museums?
  5. What does excellence in collections stewardship mean in the 21st century?
  6. What does it mean for the museum to be an organization involved in civic engagement?
  7. What are the tools, resources, and best participates we need to work more sustainably, efficiently, transparently and collaboratively?
  8. How will the museum need to change to become “digital-first”?
  9. How does the museum become a vital hub that is inclusive and welcoming for all visitors?
  10. How can lessons learned in the museum’s past move us forward to the future we envision?

During this phase, the museum hosted focus groups with key constituencies (its docent council, the museum’s board, the Smithsonian National Board and other internal stakeholders), and launched two surveys: one for internal stakeholders (including staff, volunteers, board members and history and museum leaders and staff) and the other being the bilingual national public survey.

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The results of the museum’s information gathering, from both internal and external constituencies, will feed directly into the strategic plan. This plan, containing high-level mission, vision, priorities, and strategies, is expected to be finalized by May 2020.

Phase 3: Tactical Plan – Creation of Milestones/Timelines/Budgets: February – May 2020

In phase three of the planning process, the museum’s senior leadership will develop a comprehensive tactical pan to map out how to achieve the strategic plan’s high-level goals and strategies. During this phase, the museum’s leadership team will hold a series of facilitated retreats and meetings. In concert with museum staff and stakeholders, the team will develop detailed museum-wide priorities and tactics. This tactical plan will include clear timelines/deadlines, designated points of contact, budgets and funding needs and measures of success for achieving the overall goals of the strategic plan.

The National Museum of American History will use both the strategic plan and related tactical plans as living documents that are constantly referenced and updated, with compulsory and regular check-ins. Success will consistently be measured against the plan’s goals and shared with staff, stakeholders and the public.