Mission statements and strategic planning

Harvey E. Ballard, Jr. hballard at STUDENTS.WISC.EDU
Thu May 2 08:55:00 CDT 1996

Since I resumed an academic career after serving in the "conservation
biology" work force outside of academia for several years, I've concluded
that we biologists do ourselves a disservice in many ways by not
approaching the maintenance and development of our scientific programs and
institutions (such as university-related museums and herbaria) as a
non-profit business venture.  I'm convinced that museums and herbaria can
benefit immensely by reevaluating their multiple roles to both the academic
and non-academic communities (users, one could call them), their current
and potential programs that contribute to the garnering and dissemination
of scientific information, and the maintenance of important scientific
collections and accessory resources.  In this context--I differ with one of
the comments regarding mission statements recently posted on Taxacom in
this regard--a concise and somewhat specific mission statement should
"drive" the remainder of the strategic planning process.  I don't believe
it's possible or even desirable, given that none of us have complete
objectivity or can think of all possible, useful angles on a topic all by
ourselves, to develop "mission statements" or do strategic planning to
overhaul and reevaluate the purpose, programs, resources and users of a
museum/herbarium.  I believe it's best done with a small committee of
professional academic systematists, museum/herbarium staff, other
curatorial/director staff of outside institutions and some representative
user groups.  Doing such "visionary" work in a vacuum ensures that the
university and outsiders have no vested interest in museum/herbarium
programs.  I think of botanical institutes with their associated museums
and herbaria in Europe and how these academic institutions are an integral
part of the community as well as the university.  Like it or not, I believe
that as scientists in museums and herbaria, we cannot afford to maintain or
separation from the surrounding academic and non-academic communities any
longer; by doing so, we promote the idea that we contribute in no tangible
way to the greater good of the academic and non-academic community of which
we should be a strong part, and we also cut ourselves off from potential
sources of political and financial support.  I'm sure it was delightful at
the turn of the century to be left alone to do research for its own sake,
with no responsibilities to the greater community.  That's not now.

Once again, it seems to me more than late enough for museums and herbaria
(indeed, entire departments) to take--to overuse a distasteful 80's
buzzword--a "proactive" approach by reevaluating the purpose, programs,
resources and users of a museum or herbarium, in the context of a
full-fledged strategic planning process with a committee of insiders and
outsiders, professionals and users from other agencies.  Only through this
process will one arrive at a complete picture of what the museum or
herbarium has to work with, the direction(s) one has decided on both in the
immediate and long-term, which programs are top priority and which would be
nice in the ideal world, what resources in personnel, supplies and
equipment and finances are available and what needs to be fundraised, etc.
The talents and contributions of personnel (faculty and staff) should also
be reevaluated in light of the strategic plan as it develops--and that
often makes people very nervous.  But if the goal is to get a clear idea of
how a museum/herbarium might not only survive but flourish into the next
50-100 years, ALL factors potentially affecting the short- and long-range
objectives of the institution should be reconsidered.

That's my two cents--and I'll fundraise for more!

(Thanks for your patience with my rantings.)

Harvey Ballard

Harvey E. Ballard, Jr.
Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison
132 Birge, 430 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1381
phone: (608) 262-2792 (Rm. 161, Herbarium); fax: (608) 262-7509
e-mail: hballard at students.wisc.edu

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