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2015 AASLH Re-Cap: Criteria for Assessing Program Ideas

by Tobi Voigt, Detroit Historical Society on

At the 2015 AASLH Annual Meeting, the Educators and Interpreters Committee hosted a session about large-scale events. We talked about the friction in organizations between large cultivation events (and facility rentals) that have little connection to the mission but bring in revenue, and public programs that tie closely to the mission but can often lose money.

We wanted to know how we, the mission folks, could build better programs that attract new audiences as well as bring in revenue, but also maintain our educational goals.

So, we got together in small groups to come up with a list of criteria we could use to determine if a program meets all of these requirements.  We had a lot of good discussions and went home mulling over the great program examples that Jodi Lewis of the Frazier History Museum provided. (I so badly want to host date nights at my museum now!)

Fast forward to last week. I was in a strategy meeting for a huge community engagement project that the Detroit Historical Society is about to undertake. I had already come up with a list of nine school and public programs I’d like to see developed as part of the project. Our project director, who was brought on to help with both fundraising and project management, read my program descriptions and then gave me a very puzzled expression.

He said, “This is some heavy stuff. I don’t even know how to begin promoting these to potential funders.”

I, of course, was highly offended, and asked him to clarify what he meant by “heavy.”

What he meant was that the program descriptions were detailed and comprehensive from an implementation perspective, but they didn’t provide the answers to his most pressing questions. And his questions sounded a lot like great criteria for assessing the feasibility and impact of a potential program idea.

He introduced the following seven criteria, by which we measured each of my program ideas. At the end, we decided to ditch two and revise three of my nine programs. And I was HAPPY about it. It was a pretty phenomenal meeting.

I knew instantly that I had to share the criteria with you, in case they are as helpful to you as they were to me yesterday.  So, without further ado, here are his criteria:

  • Confidence Factor (High, Medium or Low)
    How confident are you that you have the time and resources to complete this project right now?
  • Budget (High, Medium of Low)
    How much will it cost to put this program on, both with indirect (salaries) and direct costs?
  • Identified/Expressed Needs
    Does this program fulfill one or more identified or expressed needs, which can be internal, external or both?
  • Anticipated Outcomes
    What are the tangible outcomes for this project? How will they meet the indenfitifed/expressed need?
  • Identified Partners
    What, if any, are the internal and external partners that will work on this project?
  • Critical Success Factors:
    What factors absolutely must be in place/met in order for this program to be a success?
  • Risks/Barriers
    What are the existing risks and/or barriers that need to be overcome to make this project a success?

What criteria have you found helpful when assessing the feasibility of a program idea?

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