Reimagining our institutions in North America for a post-COVID world.



Following gradual museum reopenings worldwide, the heritage community has been identifying what our new normal is and what needs to change. Concerns about operational and financial circumstances accompany these queries, leading to vital reconsiderations about operations, business models and relationship to audiences.

As consultants serving this sector for 40 years, we have inevitably been thinking about the impact of these challenges and potential solutions.  We know there is always space for innovation and positive change when the need for reinvention calls. In trying to define the support that museums need right now, we have identified a few key areas of development that are the starting point for this process of reformulation: business planning, operational realignment, and design considerations.

Having worked with many clients in the sector to develop strategic plans and feasibility studies, we understand the impact busines and operational assessments have on the healthy functioning and development of an institution. They are intrinsically linked to the institution’s mandate, vision, mission, and overall programming. With COVID-19 creating a significant drop in museum attendance, the main revenue stream for museums and cultural institutions, the need for new business models within the sector has been brought to the forefront.

During lockdown, museums have demonstrated an incredible capacity for creativity and innovation, developing digital initiatives for audience engagement, programming, and education. High quality content and engagement programs have helped museums stay alive and connected to their audiences. Next comes the need for creating a business model that capitalises on this shift. Some museums have resorted to charging admission fee to special virtual events, organize online fundraising events including galas, and develop online summer camps and courses. These previously unusual programs for museums have opened new revenue streams that insinuate new business models of financial sustainability and audience engagement for the museum and heritage sector.  

Operations are tied to business models and we know those operations are shifting. Most immediately we are seeing aspects of onsite visitor flow management, ticketing, sanitization, and physical distancing procedures radically shift, each presenting new challenges. Managing finances and staffing, as well as identifying new priorities and needs, are essential areas to address when reactivating your operations and planning for the post-COVID-19 museum.  

At hsd, we have considered the impact these circumstances could have on audience experience, design and operational choices. Digital and immersive design companies have been publicly sharing ideas about contactless technologies and motion-activated interactives, as well as apps to manage visitor flow and room capacity.

Museum organisations such as the American Alliance of Museums have forecasted that museums will put considerable focus on rebuilding their audiences and designing new storytelling strategies. From an exhibition design perspective, operational changes such as new spatial requirements might bring different ways to tell stories and a distinctive design approach.  Confirming this new operational plan in time for reopening will help to define other key areas of the museum’s offer moving forward.

We are ready to tackle these challenges and to combine our experience with yours to help define the next chapter of your institution. If you are looking for a partner to help work on these challenges, we would love to hear from you and offer our support in any of these areas:

  • Operational Planning
  • Business Planning
  • Digital Strategy
  • Programs Development
  • Feasibility and Options Appraisals
  • Funding Advice and Fundraising Support
  • Audience Analysis and Assessment
  • Market Testing and Evaluation