Master Planning for Museums

Our Museum Planning Process

While every planning process is customized for each museum, a typical process will include the following components:


Discovery tells us where you are now. Discovery is deeply inclusive; we want to hear every opinion and harvest every idea.  It identifies opportunities, issues, and constraints: What could you accomplish? What do you have to work with? What do we need to be aware of? This phase helps us to understand the crucial questions that must be addressed as we begin the planning process.  

Community Engagement

Understanding the needs of different community groups and finding ways the museum can meet those needs is crucial to a successful plan. We engage directly with community members and community leaders in a series of interviews, workshops, and targeted surveys to fully understand how the museum can best serve each group.


With Benchmarking we study and visit comparable museums to identify successful models, understand best practices, and to learn what works. As important is benchmarking museums that have failed to meet their goals to understand the pitfalls to avoid.


While the first three steps are about the present, visioning is about your future. We use what we've learned in a workshop to help you shape a broad vision that draws on your resources, meets community needs, addresses issues and concerns, is informed by benchmarks, and makes a compelling case for the museum’s future growth and development.

Development and Analysis of Alternatives

We work with you to develop multiple scenarios that illustrate the outcomes of different approaches to exhibits, programs, operations, and facilities. These scenarios illustrate how changes in scale and scope, program selection, target audience, construction cost, marketing budgets, and other variables will affect the sustainability of the museum.

We then discuss the pros and cons of each scenario and continue to test variations until we find a solution that balances compelling programs (vision) with reasonable and sustainable capital costs and operating budgets (pragmatism).


Documentation brings all of the pieces together into a compelling, yet realistic and sustainable, business model and master plan that will guide the future development of the organization, its site, and buildings.

Follow Up

We work with you to ensure that the architects and exhibit designers fully understand all of the components of the plan and the reasons the museum made the decisions it made. We also help the museum in making decisions about any issues that arise during the design process.

The resulting Strategic Master Plans are comprehensive, clearly organized, and free of jargon and unnecessary filler. Discussions based on our plans begin with a shared understanding of the issues and move into the architectural and exhibit design stages quickly and effectively.

When we develop a museum plan, we seek to answer six questions:

What are the museum’s Mission and Vision?

Collect? Preserve? Exhibit? Educate? Value? Engage? Connect? Inspire? Provoke?

What are the museum’s resources and constraints?

Collections? Exhibits? Staff? Board? Site and building? Endowment? Membership? Community support? Government funding?

Who are the museum’s constituents?

Tourists? Local residents? Families? Seniors? Children? Collectors? Scholars?

What kinds of programs will best meet the community's needs?

Collections? Long-term Exhibits? Temporary Exhibits? Classes? Lectures? Workshops? Demonstrations? Publications? Online activities?

What kinds of facilities are needed to meet the programmatic needs?

How much space is needed? What kind of building would be best? Is the existing site adequate? If not, should the museum be located?

How does the money work?

Where does operating revenue come from? How many staff are needed? Is a capital campaign feasible? What are the other program and administrative expenses? How do we balance investments in exhibits, architecture, and endowment?