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Communicating the museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

By Maryke Benadé


Purpose, mission, vision and values. You may have seen these words once or twice on the first page of an annual report or museum's strategic plan. These are not the only times you should be seeing these four concepts.



These concepts are instrumental in how the museum makes high-level strategic decisions, and guides daily operations. They can play a role in organisational culture and the public's perception of the museum.


Let's look at each concept:


Purpose


The museum's purpose should answer this simple question: Why does the museum exist? Does it exist to benefit a specific region, subject matter or group of people? Be clear and specific. Often purpose and mission are used interchangeably, but they are different.


Example: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


"A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity."


Mission


A museum’s mission states what actions the museum will take to fulfil its purpose. Since it is action-driven, it can help direct the museum’s strategic planning, operations, policies and how it engages with the public.


Example: The South Street Seaport Museum


“The South Street Seaport Museum preserves and interprets the ​origins and growth of New York City as a world port, a place where goods, labor, and cultures are exchanged through work, commerce, and the interaction of diverse communities.”


Vision


The vision statement looks ahead to the future of the museum. Vision is primarily focused on aspirations, but acts as a guide the museum can follow to ensure that it is heading in the right direction. The vision statement can also include action points of how it will achieve its vision by asking these questions:


  • What will the museum look like in the next five years?

  • What does the museum aspire to be in society?

  • Who else does the museum want to serve?


Example - Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum


What do we see in place for HWT in 2047, as a result of our collection action?

In 2047 we see… An inclusive and welcoming culture in a mission-supporting space (“A museum with walls built around it”) that is a community keystone with an infrastructure that provides comprehensive digitization for accessible experiences, and preservation and protection of the collection; [with] sustainable financial security: HWT is a unique model for a vibrant working museum.



Values


A common thread that should be evident in these four concepts is what the museum values as an organisation. An example is soft power: influence, education and connection with the community.


Example: Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum


“Welcoming: We want you to feel at home.

Community-minded: We like sharing and being connected.

Open: We are authentic and transparent.

Responsive: We listen and act.

Passionate: We love to tell our story.

Steadfast: We keep and make history.”




Identifying the museum’s purpose, mission, vision

and values



If the museum already has its purpose, mission, vision and values, how are you communicating these concepts internally and externally? Complete the following three steps in a group. It will give you a starting point to better communicate these four concepts:

  • Take 20 minutes to identify what the museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values are.

  • Discuss with the group what everyone has written down

  • If there are different answers, work together to finalise the museum's purpose, mission, vision and values.


The Chicago History Museum A Vision for the Chicago History Museum document provides a great example of a comprehensive process to identify a museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values.



Are the purpose, mission, vision and values easy to understand and accessible?


  • Which concept did you find difficult to understand?

  • Can you explain each of these concepts to a class of 7-year-olds?

  • Where did you find the information?

  • Is it easy to access the information internally and externally?


Communicating the museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values




What are you communicating?


The museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values should always inform your museum’s overall communication plans for museum activities.


These concepts should be evident throughout your communications, not just in annual reports or the ‘About the museum’ section of the website.


The museum’s purpose should always direct any other communication plans you implement and inform the overall message you are creating. Here is an example of how you can include the museum's purpose, mission, vision and values in a message about the opening the new archive building:


“The new archive building will continue to preserve the town’s history for future generations by safely storing the museum’s document and photo collection in an energy-efficient controlled storeroom.”


This is how the purpose, mission, vision and values are covered in the example above:


  • Purpose - preserve the town’s history

  • Mission - safely storing the museum’s document and photos

  • Vision - continue to preserve the town’s history for future generations

  • Values - energy-efficient controlled storeroom (sustainability is a value in this example)


How are you currently communicating those concepts to different groups?


Create a table like the one below to get a better understanding of how you are communicating the museum's purpose, mission, vision and values and who you are communicating to:


Method of communicating

Group

Museum website

General visitors planning their trip to the museum

Employee handbook

Museum staff

Annual report

Museum staff, volunteers, donors, museum board, public


Are you missing opportunities to share the museum’s purpose, mission, vision, and values?


Consider how people in and outside the museum walls might not know about the museum's purpose, mission, vision and values:


  • Are there volunteers who only come in once a month?

  • How do you include these concepts in your staff and volunteer orientation?

  • Do school teachers know how to use these concepts when they need to explain the benefits of a museum class trip to their head of department?


Effectively communicate the museum's reason for existing by looking at different channels you can use to share the information. Start with how you are currently communicating information.


For example, do you send internal newsletters or hold meetings to discuss organisational changes? If you have updated or created a new purpose, mission, vision and values, you could host an event for museum staff, volunteers, museum board and governing body. Gathering together to communicate the museum's organistational direction is a great way to unify and ensure that everyone receives the same information at the same time and the same place.


Over to you


Regularly review the museum’s purpose, mission, vision and values and how it is currently communicated and interpreted. It will ensure that the museum clearly explains why it exists and how it will continue to fulfil its purpose. The museum will share what it aspires to be in the future, and the values it will align with. The four concepts direct the museum's strategic operation but also helps to create a space for everyone to learn and discuss stories, ideas from the past, present and future.




Reference:


About the Museum — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). https://www.ushmm.org/information/about-the-museum


Mission. (2021, January 25). South Street Seaport Museum. https://southstreetseaportmuseum.org/mission/



About - Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. (n.d.). Hamilton Wood Type Museum. https://woodtype.org/pages/about



 

Huberta Consulting blogs covers communications strategy, museum communications, content strategy and a range of other museum-centered topics.


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