Strategic Planning Banner quail logo

Recorder's Notes for The San Diego Natural History Museum
Strategic Planning Session #2

September 25, 2001

History | CFS | Strengths/Weaknesses

Attendees: Mr. Richard Benard, Ms. Darcy C. Bingham, Mr. Richard Bundy, Dr. Paisley Cato, Ms. Charlotte Chandler, Dr. Tom Deméré, Ms. Denise Moreno Ducheny, Dr. Iris Engstrand, Dr. Anne S. Fege, Mr. Steve Gautereaux, Dr. Michael W. Hager, Mr. Enrique Hambleton, Ms. Ann Laddon, Mr. Steven P. McDonald, Mr. Jerry Navarra, Mr. Richard J. Roncaglia, Mr. Robert Sharp, Ms. Ruth Shelly, Mr. Bill Trumpfheller, Ms. Ann White, Ms. Delle Willett

The session began with an "Aloha" from Dr. Hager who had recently returned from Hawaii. Dr. Hager introduced SPT members joining the sessions for the first time: Dr. Iris Engstrand, Professor of History at University of San Diego, and the author of the book presented to each member at the first session, Inspired by Nature, The San Diego Natural History Museum After 125 Years; Ms. Ruth Shelly, Deputy Director of Public Programs for the Museum; and Mr. Richard J. Roncaglia, Managing Director of Private Client Group, US Bank.

Dr. Hager asked Ms. Chandler to read a letter she had written for Field Notes about appreciation, grief and hope for the Museum and the community after the September 11th tragic events (Attachment 1).

Dr. Hager said he personally felt a renewed sense of commitment to nature and the Museum and thanked Ms. Laddon, Ms. Shelly and Mr. Benard for their leadership during the tragedy.

Dr. Hager thanked the SPT members for their homework and then introduced Ms. Laddon who gave a report on Culture and Values homework from the SPT. All the information from the small groups was put on a spreadsheet and consolidated. Those involved have further evaluated the information and asked "why" and "so what." The results will be presented in Session #3 on November 20th.

Dr. Hager asked Mr. Sharp to do a summary of previous Museum management reports for SPT purposes and also what he believed the impact the terrorist attacks would have on the Museum. Mr. Sharp asked if fundraising can exist in a terrorism environment. The answer is that it can, relative to the rate of inflation, or possibly more. Mr. Sharp distributed a graph of U.S. Market Recovery after Tragedy (Attachment 2). Follow-up data will be emailed to SPT members as it is prepared. Dr. Hager asked why the market recovered so well, as the normal tendency would be to hold back. Mr. Sharp said that general fundraising equates to capital fundraising and that some people retain their wealth and others make wealth during a recession.


The term backcasting was used as Dr. Hager asked Dr. Engstrand for a report on Museum history. She gave a slide presentation showing old documents, letters and pictures of local pioneers of the Museum and San Diego that illustrated the beginning of outreach, collections and fundraising for the Museum. A few of the historic perspectives she shared included:

  • The Museum dates back to 1874. Since then, there has always been support.
  • Several families have been strong and continual supporters of the Museum
  • Conservation/preservation is not a new idea. In 1880 there was concern about the future of the Torrey Pines.
  • Over the years the Museum has collected valuable books.
  • Historically there has been tremendous leadership within the Museum.
  • There were outreach programs early on.
  • The Museum started collecting in Baja early on. Cooperative efforts were going on with Mexico City in the 1920s.
  • The Museum has some very valuable unique paintings.
  • The Museum in its present location opened in 1933.
  • The Museum has been and continues to be known as a world renowned scientific center.
  • During WWII the museum was taken over by the military and turned into a hospital.

Mr. Smith called our attention to the "Detailed Schedule for Strategic Planning Session #2, Tuesday, September 25, 2001," our agenda for the day. Mr. Smith pointed out that each member was given new rosters to replace those given at the first session. Also to be filed in the Notebooks are two handouts entitled "Museum Facts" from the American Association of Museums and a New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman titled "Museums in a Quandry: Where are the Ideals?" These should be filed under "Session Handouts/Readings." Mr. Smith said that over the strategic planning process there will be results from 21 research projects that will be blended into the backcasting information.

Three such research project reports were made in this session. The first was by Ms. Nancy Owens-Renner of the Exhibits Department regarding a visitor research study funded by the National Science Foundation. This is front-end evaluation to learn what types of exhibits draw people to the Museum. Reasons for visiting museums were education, place (location), fun, social reasons - everything that the Museum offers. All themes were given value on a scale. The study was not directed at non-museum users; that will be addressed later. Ms. Owens-Renner said focus groups would help the Museum evaluate in tracking visitor interests and that it is essential to NSF funding. As part of this research there will be visitations to other museums, including Canada, and perhaps other parts of the world. Mr. Hambleton asked if ethnic demographics was part of the research, which it was. The Museum Experience by John Falk and Lynn Dierking (Whalesback Books) and Learning from Museums, Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning by John Falk and Lynn Dierking (AltaMira Press) are two tools for reference that Ms. Owens-Renner mentioned.

Mr. Benard spoke from a handout containing information from the audit report showing the 8-year history of support/revenue and expenses of the Museum from 1992-93 to 1999-2000. Dr. Hager said an audit was impossible in 1992 because of the state of the books; therefore, the first audit for this record was done in 1993. It was pointed out that 1998-99 income was higher because in those years extra income was received. Other points made were exhibits relate to store sales; government support is less than 8% of Museum's yearly funding; Proposition 13 was a major factor in the consistent decline in local government support (true for other institutions as well) and the higher the operating budget, the lower the support from government agencies. The suggestion was made for Mr. Benard to separate the report into three categories:

  1. day-to-day operations
  2. special exhibits
  3. store sales
Dr. Hager said they couldn't be separated this way because costs come out of all areas and suggested dividing it into two categories:
  1. operating budget
  2. capital budget
It was felt this would be helpful for the SPT members. It was decided that the issues involved in revenues, support and expenses were so important to understanding Museum finances they should be taken into consideration again at a later time. Dr. Hager will see that the figures given to the Board will be provided to the SPT at the next session.

Ms. Shelly, Deputy Director of Public Programs, who provides staff support to the Museum Technology and Public Programs committees, addressed backcasting from the past to the present. The Technology Committee (made up of mostly the tech-related staff and Board) assessed Internal Strengths and Weaknesses as portrayed on the handout for this purpose. Concerning #5 of the weaknesses, "lack of a philosophy that supports overall Museum data integration; lack of someone in authority to implement," the question was asked: What need is not being met because of not having integration? Ms. Shelly said this is for analyzing research data among different departments and interests and also for the public for locating and understanding data. She said that another issue is that of assessing systems uniquely created by outgoing personnel. There is also the issue over control of items and inventory and licensing of same - essential management of assets.

Ms. Shelly then distributed the Internal Strengths and Weaknesses identified by the Public Programs Committee. A question was asked if the Youth Advisory Committee is functioning. Ms. Shelly said one is being formed with leaders in place who are on the floor to answer questions and will serve on committees. Some are Spanish-speaking.

Ms. Willett distributed information from ArtsMarkets' surveys as related to the Museum. The overall study was done by a cultural research firm that helps institutions obtain their share of support from the arts community. Several institutions within Balboa Park, including the Museum, are participating in the project. Mr. Sharp asked if there was a standard so that the Museum could compare its penetration with other institutions. Ms. Laddon answered that one of the important things was to compare our target markets. Mr. Hambleton asked if the immigrant population was included in the study. Mr. McDonald wanted to know the zip codes related to demographic groups. Ms. Shelly said it was really a neighborhood consensus and that the Museum's own survey will be more individual. The ArtsMarket research is for all fourteen participants of the study. The Museum's survey is only for two markets relative to the Museum. Dr. Hager said there will also be focus group research addressing the minority population.

Critical Factors for Success

Mr. Smith distributed handouts related to Critical Factors for Success. The first handout is a definition of Critical Factors for Success; the others are examples of them from other organizations. A final example is from the Museum's 1991-92 Full Circle Strategic Plan.

Mr. Smith, referring to the earlier examples, asked for nominations for CFS for the Museum now and for the next ten years. The following were suggested:

  • Inspiring Mission and Vision
  • Credible, valued, distinctive programming
  • Well-led and well-managed organization
  • Happy staff
  • Quality exhibits at a good value
  • Integrity - i.e. accuracy, trustworthiness
  • Financial strength based on reliable and continuously expanding funding base
  • Being community leader and facilitator
  • Well-defined, recognizable identity
  • An understanding of the population of San Diego
  • Externally recognized program of research
  • Identifying and surpassing our competition
  • Relevance and flexibility -adaptable - quick on feet
  • Being aware of educational changes in our schools
  • Having a unique niche of being "real" - connected with nature
  • Visibility in the community and among educational institutions
  • Growing and attracting qualified volunteer organization
  • Collaboration with other institutions
  • High-quality entrepreneurial board, staff and volunteers
  • Development
  • On-site sales - merchandising
  • Ability to foster and manage positive change - internal and external
  • Long-term credibility of the organization in all areas
  • Being perceived positively
  • Results-driven
  • Competitive in all key areas across the board
  • Humane attitude to visitors and staff (user-friendly)
  • Creativity
Responding to Mr. Smith's request that the above nominations be summarized and prioritized to seven or eight, the first product was:
  • Inspiring Mission and Vision
  • Well-led and well-managed
  • Leadership in its various applications
  • Quality
  • Integrity
  • Competitive
  • Unique niche
  • Identity
  • Positive visitor experience
Further elaboration produced these observations:
  • Good management is important, probably at the top
  • We must be well-led and well-managed
  • First and foremost is the quality of exhibits - offering quality and value
  • Unique niche
  • Our identity
  • The experience within the Museum, which goes back to staff and patrons having a positive experience. Needs to be in both directions - staff and visitor both need a good experience
  • Creativity should be added
  • Inspiring mission and vision are the foundation

Mr. Smith suggested that a new draft of CFS for the Museum be created from the above brainstorming, under Dr. Hager's direction, for the next session. Ms. Laddon agreed to review the above list for redundancies and refine it. Mr. Smith then asked Mr. Gautereaux to read for the group the "CFS in Operating Museums" handout, as determined by the SPT in 1991.

Mr. Bob Ross came to take pictures of the SPT members during the afternoon session.

A handout, "Knowing and Analyzing the Competition," was distributed. The matrix on page two was described for possible use in comparing ourselves and our competitors against what are we determine to be the Museum's CFS.

Internal Strengths and Weaknesses

Ms. Carson next talked about Main Internal Strengths and Weaknesses, as seen today by the SPT, using the CFS as reference points in both inventorying them and judging their importance. The handout "Internal Strengths and Weaknesses Work Session September 25, 2001" was provided as guideline for the three groups for carrying out their discussion.

GROUP 1 - R. Roncaglia reporting

  • Identity
  • Facility
  • Management, staff, volunteers and Board
  • Efficient allocation of resources
  • Scientific reputation
  • Location
  • Name
  • Loyal and valued donor base
  • Mission and Vision


  • Lack of exhibits
  • Lack of interactive exhibits
  • Lack of funding
  • Transportation and parking
  • Name of Museum
  • Find dinos and parts

GROUP 2 - T. Deméré reporting
Strengths "U" = under-utilized


  • Leadership/Board, staff, volunteers
  • U - Tradition and history
  • U - Collections
  • Region/location
  • Biodiversity/Cultural diversity
  • Balboa Park
  • New facility
  • U - Programs
  • Research, Education, Exhibits, Website, field trips
  • Environmental relevance


  • Visibility
  • Endowment
  • Unfinished empty building
  • Understaffed
  • Internal system
  • Financial
  • Communication
  • Consistent systems
  • Record systems
  • Archivist
  • Identity - natural history - what do we do?

  (Solution idea): a North campus; an East campus; a South campus
  (Solution idea): Chula Vista, Quail, Parks

GROUP 3 - R. Shelly reporting Strengths * = Top picks

  • *Strong, qualified, committed, competent staff (leadership/management)
  • Sound financial system
  • *Fundraising
  • *Research and collections program - good science, respected
  • *Regional/binational focus
  • *New building and infrastructure
  • *Strong volunteer corps/board
  • *Education and traveling exhibits, programming, outreach
  • Strong partnerships
  • Under-used potential membership pool

Weaknesses * = Top picks

  • *Short on staff, esp. in critical positions
  • *Too dependent on external funding, (low endowment) regardless of source
  • (Binational focus - difficult to raise funds in Mexico: external rather than internal factor)
  • *No permanent exhibits, not a compelling destination… yet
  • (Insufficient parking; difficult access: external rather than internal factor)
  • *Limited marketing budget
  • *Low salaries - not competitive
  • *High fixed costs - physical plant/staff

It was noted that there was much crossover in all three groups… and our culture and values overlap with our main internal strengths and weaknesses. Another comment was that parking is a problem already, so it will really be worse as time goes on - and the Museum building is in full production. Dr. Hager said we had no control over parking but the Museum does work with other Balboa Park institutions on the matter. In the short term, 150 spaces will open as soon as contractors have completed their work on the building. Also the Museum can have more remote parking locations using shuttles and busses. Now there is sufficient parking except for in the summer months of July and August.

Mr. Smith spoke of our Primary Constituencies and distributed a handout with the definition of "constituency" and said they need to be identified, both internally and externally, for the Museum: The following list was generated:


  • Members
  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Trustees
  • Binational Advisory Board
  • Board committees


  • Students (public school)
  • Educators
  • Researchers/scientists
  • Conservationists
  • Elected officials/politicians
  • Media
  • Visitors (tourists on-site and virtual)
  • Facility users/clients
  • Other cultural institutions
  • Vendors
  • Partner organizations (e.g. agencies, universities)
  • Contracts/land developers
  • Foundations
  • Graduate students
  • Lifelong learners
  • Mexican audiences
  • Professional services
  • Professional organizations
  • International museums
  • Future generations
  • Government staff/park departments)
  • Youth organizations (e.g. Scouts, YMCA)
  • Military
  • Agriculture and fisheries (natural resource users)

Mr. Smith spoke to the handout "Linkages of Research to Museum's 2001-2002 Strategic Planning Process" excerpted from the Museum Plan for Planning. Referring to Part II: Our Primary Constituencies, Mr. Smith said Campbell Mithun Company will do related research; Mr. Sharp will be asked to help with the forecast of growth or decline; SPT members and staff task forces will be asked to identify key factors in their growth or decline.

Part III relates to "A Tool for Predicting External Forces" which was handed out in Session #1 and needs to be completed by each SPT member and returned to Dr. Hager by October 1. The 21 projects that Mr. Smith mentioned earlier will be completed as the planning process progresses. Findings will be electronically mailed to the SPT.

Mr. Gautereaux said he would like to know some details of the day-to-day Museum operations so he and others could have a better idea of what the Museum does, what the departments' visions and priorities are and other related information. It was suggested the Museum Annual Report be provided for such a purpose. Also the financial report from Mr. Benard has some pertinent information regarding this. Dr. Hager said that the detail was not necessary because as the planning continues, an expanding information base will be taking shape. Mr. Benard said that much of it is covered in the organization chart as well. One possibility for gaining further insight is for the SPT to attend the Museum's Annual Meeting on Friday, October 5. Ms. Carson said there is an advantage in not having the details, because this process should be taking a big, strategic picture look with less focus on day-to-day management.

Mr. Smith asked for each member to review all the handouts as preparation for the next meeting.

The next SPT session will be on Tuesday, November 20.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:35 p.m.

SP Home | The Process | Background | Calendar | FAQs | Findings

© 2013 San Diego Natural History Museum