Interpretive planning is like taking a deep breath before tackling an important project, preparing an outline before writing an essay, or creating a blueprint before building a house. It provides a critical moment of focus, a mental review of the nature of the tasks at hand and, perhaps more importantly, a vision of what success looks like.

Because the actions that flow from an interpretive plan will be more purposeful, inevitably they will make the best use of the resources available and more than compensate for the effort invested at the onset of a project. A well-conceived plan will allow anyone, at any time, to review progress and assess what remains to be accomplished.

Interpretive planning is about discipline. It’s a common sense approach that first defines tasks and then selects the best tools to accomplish those tasks.

Step One

Define messages and explain why those messages are important. Identify the types of activities, experiences, that will reinforce the stories to be told. Think about audiences and what might stand in the way of success. End with a review of what’s realistic and choose a limited number of achievable goals.

Step Two

With achievable goals in hand, review the available interpretive tools (exhibits, publications, audiovisuals, guided tours, etc.) and select those that match the tasks, levels of staffing and budget, and facilities.

Step Three

Create a schedule for progress, flagging projects that are most important or urgent. Decide who will be responsible for each task. Link each project with a source of existing or likely funding.

But wait, the planning is not over. In order to get the most out of an interpretive plan, it needs to undergo periodic review, a tune-up that assesses success, removes tasks completed, and adds any new projects that surfaced.

One of the advantages of interpretive planning is that the blueprint created at the onset can be used as a guide for evaluating changing conditions. When a new idea inevitably surfaces, pull the plan off the shelf again. Does the idea preserve the intent of the original plan? Will it blend well with the rest of the interpretive framework you’ve constructed?

Planning should not be an obstacle to change, but an ally. Nimble plans acknowledge that change is going to happen and, in that context, provide a consistent path toward the new horizon.


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