Forward Plan or Business Plan – what’s in a name?

Roz Bonnet, 15.02.2017

With multiple schemes designed to support the museum sector, it can at times be confusing.  This blog post puts the record straight on the topic of those all-important plans that should be the springboard for your organisation’s development.

Planning is at the heart of a successful museum: you need to know where you’ve been, where you are now, where you want to get to and how you’re going to get there. The Arts Council Accreditation Scheme calls the document in which all this is set out a Forward Plan, but it could equally well be called a Business Plan or a Development Plan.  These last two terms may sound more, well, business-like and developmental, but at their core you will find the same processes and themes being covered.

The Accreditation requirement 1.4 (Effective Forward Planning) requires a museum to ‘plan effectively for long-term success and to make sure it can adapt in a changing environment in order to survive’.  The plan, whatever you wish to call it, must contain:

  • the museum’s statement of purpose – sometimes called a Mission Statement;
  • a review of the previous forward plan – where you’ve been, what you’ve achieved;
  • an analysis of the environment in which it exists – where you are now, the external and internal factors and policies that impact on and guide your activities, the risks that might prevent you from achieving your goals;
  • consultation and an analysis of views – the views of your audience and stakeholders;
  • its key aims – 3 or so strategic aims for the next 5 or so years;
  • the specific objectives beneath each key aim – the measurable and time-limited steps that you will take towards achieving those key aims;
  • how it will achieve its objectives – an plan which sets out the actions that will be taken in order to achieve each objective;
  • a resource plan showing the people and money available to meet its objectives – the identification of the people and cash needed to carry out the actions and achieve the objectives;
  • the date the plan will be reviewed – the plan should be reviewed every 3 to 5 years, though the action plan should be kept under constant review to watch out for and mitigate the effects of slippage.

To tackle all that is a lot of work, so is it worth it? Are there any short cuts? Will we use the plan? Yes, no, yes.  To quote Benjamin Franklin, ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’.  Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Drawing up the plan

  • Have one person in charge of the planning process, but make sure they involve all sections of your museum, internally and externally;
  • Allocate plenty of time and mental space for the analysis of the environment – it is through this process that the Key Aims will crystalize;
  • Prioritise: Accreditation recommends identifying one organisational aim, one focused on the collections and one on user services;
  • Be aspirational but don’t be over ambitious: objectives should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time limited) and guided by the resources you have or are able to procure;

Using the plan

  • Make sure everyone involved in your museum is familiar with the plan and has access to a copy;
  • Give everyone involved in the delivery of the action plan a copy of the section that refers to their activity; use the plan to direct and monitor their work;
  • Include a progress report on the delivery of the action plan on the agenda of every board meeting;
  • If slippage is evident, take action early to minimise its impact;

You can find lots of useful resources on Forward Planning at and

Finally, if there is one golden rule for any plan, whether it is termed Forward, Business or Development: don’t lose sight of the museum’s Statement of Purpose at any stage of the planning process or in the delivery of the plan.


Vicky Dawson

SW Accreditation Technical Adviser

[email protected]



Leave a Reply