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Completion: A New Beginning
By Dr. Michael W. Hager and Mr. Robert F. Smith

Baja water and cactus.

Museum Mission
"To interpret the natural world through research, education and exhibits; to promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of Southern California and the peninsula of Baja California; and to inspire in all a respect for nature and the environment."

New theatre.

Completing construction of our new building might seem like the final step of our 1992-2002 Full Circle Strategic Plan. However, as momentous as the moving into our new facility is, the final task of the 1992-2002 plan is the preparation of our next 10-year strategic plan for 2002-2012. We cannot rest on our laurels. In 2001, with the new building finished and the old building remodeled, the infrastructure at last will exist to let us focus on our real mission—research in the natural environment of our region, education, and outreach.

The 1992-2002 Full Circle Strategic Plan was the result of a year of work, involving more than 75 people in research, planning sessions, task force groups, and synthesis meetings. The plan had 6 major areas of focus, 35 strategies, and 161 action steps. It was the product of more than 2800 hours of effort by individuals representing a cross section of the community, under the guidance of Bob and Mary Smith of Strategies and Teams, Inc. Major gifts from the J. W. Sefton Foundation made the 1992-2002 plan possible, and will also fund the new plan for 2002-2012. Once again, Robert and Mary Smith of Strategies and Teams, Inc., will lead the plan, assisted by Cynthia Carson.

Before moving on to the next decade of goals, we should reflect on major accomplishments of the 1992-2002 plan:

  1. A museum mission was created that refocused on Southern California and the entire peninsula of Baja California.
  2. The Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias was established, new staff leadership recruited, and new endowments created.
  3. The Environmental Science Education Center was established, new staff leadership recruited, and many new programs offered.
  4. New Board of Directors was recruited and new policies and operational procedures established, which have led to balanced budgets and a threefold growth in income, as well as a growth in overall programs.
  5. Ocean Oasis, a large-format film about Baja California and the Sea of Cort?s, was produced and premiered at the Smithsonian. It will be featured in our new theater as an overview of the region.
  6. An exciting new facility is being completed this year. As of the fall of 2001, nearly thirty million of the construction costs has been raised, as well as $2 million for programs, and an additional $10.5 million committed for future endowment.
  7. Preparation of a new strategic plan is underway, to start the next ten-year cycle in July 2002.

Before beginning our next strategic planning cycle, we have had to plan the transition into the new facility. Staff and other participants in this activity have focused on immediate activities: installing the final traveling exhibits in the old building, planning operations and staffing for the new building, and arranging for the debuts of Epidemic! The Natural History of Disease and Ocean Oasis at the facility's grand opening. We are also involved with the awesome task of carefully moving 8.2 million specimens from the collections, 92,000 volumes in the library, and the offices of 65 full-time staff members.

From January through June 2001, we will be recruiting community leadership to participate in our renewed strategic planning process that will determine priorities and strategies for the Museum's next decade. The success of the plan will, in large part, be determined by our ability to recruit creative "big picture" individuals with a keen interest in the natural history of our region and the ability to facilitate implementation of the plans created.

The Strategic Plan for 2002-2012

The Strategic Planning Team will consist of 21 members. Experience tells us this number works well, bringing diverse expertise with manageable size. Seven will be from the Board of Directors, seven from senior museum staff, and seven from leaders of educational and research institutions, businesses, and other professional organizations from our region. Co-chairs will be the president of the Museum's Board of Directors and the Museum's executive director, who also manages the overall process.

Supporting the Strategic Planning Team's work will be the Museum's senior staff, strategic planning facilitators, a survey research firm, visiting museum experts, technology consultants, and financial and legal advisors, as needed.

The process will draw upon the experience of trustees and staff who participated in planning for the comprehensive Full Circle Plan during 1991-92, the Environmental Science Education Center Plan in 1997-98, and the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias plan in 1999. The valuable knowledge and talents of individuals new to the Museum's process will augment this experience.

One of my favorite phrases in the planning process is the Plan for Planning. While it may sound redundant, the Plan for Planning is the road map for the year-long strategic planning excursion upon which we are about to embark.

The first part of the plan will be to revisit our mission and purpose, our present positioning and niches, our key values and culture, and our organizational structure. We will "backcast," reviewing the Museum's programs and operations, looking for trends and examining the results of the previous plan. With that historical perspective, we will determine critical factors for success in fulfilling our mission, as well as identifying our main internal strengths and weaknesses.

The next step will be to define our primary constituencies or target audiences. Who are they? What do we know of them? What perceptions and expectations do they hold? What are the key factors that determine their ongoing interest? How will we best serve our audiences, and what new technologies exist to help us?

Another essential step in our planning is to make critical assumptions about the external environment that will influence the Museum over the next decade. As part of this, we will perform an analysis of our principal competitors and do assessments of other factors, such as available free time of our public, general economic conditions, governmental rules and regulations, and other conditions that will affect our plans. We must identify our competitive advantages and disadvantages, as well as our main external opportunities and threats. Because of our vast binational region, it also will be important to identify potential partners for leveraging our resources.

Armed with such information and analysis, we can begin to determine where we want to go and how we're going to get there. Our formidable database will help us identify our core challenges and create a vision for the long-term future. In order to reach that vision, we must decide upon priorities, pinpointing what we most need to make happen. We call these Millennium Priorities.

For each Millennium Priority, we must establish specific, time-certain objectives, as well as strategies for achieving them. We will then prepare action plans, including resource requirements and a cost/benefit analysis. And finally, we must determine the impact of the plan on how we are organized, make provisions for effective interaction with departmental plans, and plan for communicating our plan. We must provide for periodic review of action plan implementation and results, and monitor any changes in the external environment.

We will create task forces of museum staff to perform much of the research. An outside firm will design and carry out survey and focus group research for such database components as defining the Museum's present and future primary target audiences and measuring their perceptions and expectations of the Museum. Other task forces will carry out preparatory work for the Millennium Priorities as the latter are determined by the Strategic Planning Team. Outside authorities from museum, technology, exhibition, science, and education worlds will be invited to be resource professionals at various task force meetings. In addition, visits by Strategic Planning Team members to other museums with reputations for the most advanced exhibition techniques, education programs, technologies, and financial development will be scheduled during the course of the planning sessions.

Facilitators Robert F. Smith and Cynthia Carson, both experienced in the Museum's earlier planning, will assist in process design, preparations, and coordination. They will also facilitate the Strategic Planning Team sessions, work with task forces, and provide counsel during the early implementation stages.

Starting in summer 2001, a series of six one-day sessions will be scheduled to work on the new plan. Task force meetings, organized around specific Millennium Priorities, will occur between regular planning sessions. The wrap-up session will take place in the fourth quarter of the 2001-2002 fiscal year, and the 2002-2012 strategic plan will be presented to the Board of Directors at the July 2002 board meeting.

In reality, planning, implementation, and assessment never cease. We were extremely successful with our last plan even though, at the time, the plan was judged to be very bold and required an extremely high level of performance of trustees, staff, and volunteers. Our next plan must be equally bold, demanding, and visionary to meet the future needs of the people of our region.

Published in Field Notes, Winter 2001.

Photo credits: Isla Esp?ritu Santo by Bradford Hollingsworth; Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater with Manta Ray from Ocean Oasis by Jim Brady

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