National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums

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Mission and Institutional Planning

Standards Regarding Institutional Mission Statements

  • The museum asserts its public service role and places education at the center of that role.
  • The museum is committed to public accountability and is transparent in its mission and its operations.
  • The museum has a clear understanding of its mission and communicates why it exists and who benefits as a result of its efforts.
  • All aspects of the museum’s operations are integrated and focused on meeting its mission. 
  • The museum’s governing authority and staff think and act strategically to acquire, develop and allocate resources to advance the mission of the museum.

Purpose and Importance 

All museums are expected to have a formally stated and approved mission that states what the museum does, for whom and why. A museum’s mission statement is the primary benchmark against which to evaluate the museum’s performance. One of the two core questions underlying any assessment of compliance with national standards is: How well does the museum achieve its stated mission and goals? This emphasis acknowledges an effective and replicable practice: Museums that use clearly delineated mission statements to guide their activities and decisions are more likely to function effectively. 

A clearly delineated mission statement guides museum activities and decisions by describing the purpose of a museum—its reason for existence. It defines the museum’s unique identity and purpose, and provides a distinct focus for the institution. A mission statement articulates the museum’s understanding of its role and responsibility to the public and its collections, and reflects the environment in which it exists. Activities of the museum should support, directly or indirectly, the mission.

Standards Regarding Institutional Planning

  • All aspects of the museum’s operations are integrated and focused on meeting its mission. 
  • The museum’s governing authority and staff think and act strategically to acquire, develop and allocate resources to advance the mission of the museum.
  • The museum engages in ongoing and reflective institutional planning that includes involvement of its audiences and community.
  • The museum establishes measures of success and uses them to evaluate and adjust its activities.

Purpose and Importance

Strategic planning produces a mutually agreed-upon vision of where the museum is going and what it wants to achieve. It ensures this vision meets the needs of its audiences and community and that the museum identifies how it will obtain the resources to fulfill this vision. Planning allows the museum to make sound decisions in response to changes in its operating environment.

Museums use planning to set goals and establish strategies by which it will achieve them; to ensure that the museum acquires, develops and allocates its resources (human, financial, physical) in a way that advances its mission and sustains its financial viability; to gather appropriate information to guide its actions, including input from stakeholders and data from benchmarking; and to establish measures by which the museum will assess its achievements. 

Implementation

Museums should engage in current, comprehensive, timely and formal planning for their future. Planning is current when it is up-to-date, and reflective of an ongoing process; comprehensive when it covers all relevant aspects of museum operations (e.g., not just a facility master plan); timely when it is geared to significant events in the museum’s lifecycle (e.g., changes in size, scope, purpose, governance, etc.); formal when the process and outcome are documented in writing and approved by vote of the governing authority. The process should be inclusive of all stakeholders: staff, governing authority, audiences and community; ongoing; reflective; documented.

Documentation

As evidence of its institutional planning, museums should have documentation of the planning process (e.g., committee lists, meeting minutes, planning schedules) and a current, comprehensive, timely and formal institutional plan that includes both strategic and operational elements. Each museum’s written institutional plan should include a multiyear and an operational plan, a combination of the two or the functional equivalent. 

Each museum’s planning documents will look different. However, the plan(s) should: be captured in written documents and approved by the governing authority; be based on the mission; be tied to other relevant planning documents (e.g., financial plans, development plans, interpretive plans, collections plans); set priorities helping the museum make choices and allocate available resources; identify how the institution will secure the human and financial resources needed to implement the plan by bringing resources and goals into alignment; be living documents, continually used and updated by the staff and governing authority; establish measurable goals and methods by which the museum will evaluate success; and include action steps, establish timelines and assign responsibility for implementation.

Planning by Museums Within Non-Museum Parent Organizations

Museums operated by a parent organization for which museum management is not the primary purpose (e.g., a university, or government agency) are expected to have a museum/site-specific planning process and plan, both of which should be linked to the parent organization’s planning. The parent organization’s planning process and documents should also reflect support for the museum’s mission and ensure that museum/site-specific goals can be achieved.