Setting Exhibit Goals; Why Bother?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 7:30 PM by Betty Brennan in Professional and Industry Tips

We assist our clients in setting goals and objectives around their projects and mission. I’m rethinking this because they rarely track them. If you are not going to track them, how do you know you are going the right direction?

What do you think the goal of this exhibit was? Have you ever tried to lose weight? How do you go about it? When I have gone on a lose weight campaign, I set a goal. I want to lose 15 pounds for instance. I won’t tell you what it said when I first stepped on the scale. However, you have to know that number first, then plan daily tactics to get there. The best thing you can do to lose weight is to track your daily calorie intake. If you only do one thing, then that is the best thing you can do. I used an app and typed in everything I ate. I also learned to cook healthier, set up daily exercise rituals and even brought my own food to cook outs and such in order to keep those calories down. I also didn’t have sweets in my house. I don’t have that much self-control around ice cream.

Some of the common goals our clients set are as follows:


  • All visitors will be able to identify at least three wildlife species they see in the park.

  • 50% of visitors will be able to identify at least one historical influence that has shaped the park.

  • When asked what the exhibits are about, 75% will mention the importance of the Cedar River and/or the relationship between people and the river.


  • 25% of visitors will report planning to plant only native species at home in the future.

  • Visitors will stay an average of 50 minutes in the exhibit hall.

  • There will be a 10% increase in program participation.

Live animals and nature displays can increase the length of visitor stay. Project or Success objectives:

  • Increase donations from $150,000/year to $400,000 in year three.

  • Increase traffic to the site from 55,000/year to 150,00/year within three years.

  • By the end of year one there will be a 10% increase in the number of volunteer hours.

  • The majority of exhibits will incorporate interactive, discovery-based elements.

The majority of the time when we check back with clients years after exhibit installation, they cannot answer whether they have hit many of the goals they set. Most do track the number of visitors to their site, but rarely anything else. This doesn’t mean setting the goals in the first place was a complete waste of time. It does help establish a shared vision. It assists communication and steering of the team. Yet, unless it is tracked how do you know if you are on course?

When you set goals and objectives it is important that you consider the following:


Why does this goal matter? Is it something your visitors want? Will it change behavior and lead you to more success? Losing weight is important for health and for fitting into your favorite pair of jeans.

Be Realistic

Will you really double visitation in a year? Is this objective obtainable? Dang it, I can’t lose 15 pounds in two weeks!


If the objective isn’t specific enough, you cannot track progress. There has to be some way to measure it. You know you have to start by stepping on the scale.

Time Related

When do you plan to achieve the goal? It’s best to set both short and long term goals. I will lose 15 pounds in eight weeks.


How will you measure your effectiveness? What actions and tools will you use to track this goal? If you don’t state that up front you probably won’t do it. Maybe it is not the goal to set if you don’t have a plan of action to track it. How will data be captured? For losing weight, there is a new tool besides the scale and calorie tracking: new activity-tracking wrist bands.

Action Plan

What specific actions are you going to take weekly, monthly, yearly to achieve this goal? What can you stop doing that isn’t moving you towards these goals? How will you change how you do things in order to get there? You have to eat less and more to lose weight.

Gauging Performance

How will you report on these goals? Who will be in charge of reporting? Who will look at the reports? How often will there be reports? It’s a good idea to have goals that you watch weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly to be on top of trends. This is normal business practice like watching cash flow, net income, productivity and the like. The same mindset can be applied to tracking goals around your exhibit. Yes! I can fit in those jeans.

Contingency Plans

What do you do if your goals go off track and you are not hitting them? It’s best to decide this before it happens, so you don’t have to make decisions during crises mode. Or maybe the goal was unrealistic and you need a better one. It’s a good idea to set challenging goals. If after time you realize they were unrealistic, it’s ok to modify them along the way. Maybe I need three months to lose 15 pounds.

Going forward, we are going to be tougher on our clients to set reasonable goals that they truly plan to track. We will help them come up with tools to track them. These could include simple things like audit cards that visitors fill out, set up a weekly random sample of length of stay of visitors, simple forms that help tabulate and more. What would be really cool is tools like the activity wrist band. Yet that is only as good as the data entered.

Without a destination in mind you will never get there. Set those goals and objectives and it will increase your odds of success!

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