19 May 2011 // Thoughts

JRA Guest Blog: Strategic Planning

Please remind me again…why are we doing this?
Why Good Strategic Planning Makes for Great Guest Experiences

In this guest blog, are lucky to have Hugh Spencer of Museum Planning Partners help us tackle that penultimate question in undertaking a museum project: why?

In our line or work, we use leading edge technologies, employ advanced logistics and even run our interpersonal professional relationships according to sophisticated human management models.  This can sometimes make it hard to have the courage to ask what might seem like some really simple questions when we undertake change or initiate new projects.

How does a project help us to achieve our goals?  How are we going to carry out this project?  What’s going to change in the world once we’re finished?  Who is going care that we’re doing this project?  Creating great exhibitions and public experiences is hard work; it can take a lot of time and many resources.  So why are we doing all of this?

These questions may be awkward to ask, but finding reliable answers can be extremely important to your future and success.  More and more museums, art galleries, science centers, zoos, aquariums and theme parks are turning to master planning and strategic planning as a way of finding the essential information to help them grow and better serve their markets and communities.  Strategic planning helps you to better understand who you are, what your roles are, what challenges and opportunities you’re facing, what resources you can use, and what steps you can take.

There’s a vital connection between strategic planning and exhibition and attraction design, because your exhibits, shows and even architecture are all very powerful ways to express your organization’s identity and mission.  These are also the experiences that will attract people to you and keep them coming back.  The results of a good strategic plan will help you to define your brand, craft your core messages and identify the markets you need to serve.

Working with JRA has given me some really wonderful and, I come right out and say it, fun opportunities to apply the results of strategic planning to help create some great exhibitions and attractions.  The American Royal Visitors Center in Kansas City needed more market and educational curriculum information so that we could design exhibits and programs that would make it a year-round rather than just a seasonal attraction.  KIA Motors presented us with the unique challenge of converting a temporary World’s Fair pavilion into a permanent science center.  The resources and operational requirements identified in our planning study told us how we could recast the visitor experience and specify the best possible back-of-house infrastructure.

I worked with the JRA team on the development of new master plan for one of America’s more prestigious educational attractions. Throughout the project, it was clear that strategic planning would serve as the foundation for the development of the institution’s new exhibit program, operations and, perhaps, branding.  It is this holistic approach that gave the institution the best chance to succeed for the long term. It was an incredibly fulfilling project to work on.


Hugh Spencer is a writer, interpretive planner and museum consultant and has participated on projects around the world such as the White House Visitors Center in Washington D.C. the Natural History Museum in London, the Singapore Discovery Centre, and the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, the Khalsa Heritage Centre and the Massar Discovery Centre in Damascus.  He has been a cultural and attractions consultant since 1987 with groups such as Lord Cultural Resources, Cultural Innovations, Hall Train Studios and Arius 3D.  Hugh is currently President and Senior Consultant at Museum Planning Partners.