Digital Strategic Plan

Mission Statement

Our digital strategy creates a vital virtual “third gallery” for the museum. Cultivating digital attitudes and utilizing digital tools, we will transform how we explore and study our objects and Asian cultures; we will also reshape how we attract and inspire diverse audiences. Our commitment to thoughtful experimentation and access will ensure that our public offerings will be oriented toward excellence, driven by innovation, focused on visitors, and centered around interactive experiences.


Excellence oriented: We seek to infuse our digital programs with different formats and voices for various audiences while maintaining a uniform commitment to excellence.

Innovation driven: We are driven by innovation, defined as creativity and the ability to think quickly and adapt.

Visitor focused: We will promote meaningful conversations with visitors near and far, both in person and online.

Experience centered: We believe experiences—multilayered, multi-sensory, and interactive—create relevance, deepen loyalty, make meaningful connections, enable collaboration, and stimulate active learning and a sense of wonder.


Goal 1. Think digitally

Digital thinking is transforming how we operate as a museum. Increasing staff capacity and becoming a digitally literate community will allow us to carry out bold initiatives. Embedding into our standard practices agile principles and the continuous cycle of development, distribution, evaluation, and redevelopment will transform previously siloed work patterns and drive new conversations with visitors both on-site and online. The resulting content will be characterized by collaborative tools and interactive experiences. This realignment will create the foundation for our digital strategy, amplifying our institutional identity and mission.

Introduce a digital mindset and digital proficiency in work culture
  • Offer staff training on digital tools to generate knowledge and excitement
  • Develop shared resources for digital projects, processes, and goals
  • Develop a library of templates and examples to help staff think of ways to add digital elements to their work
  • Embed digital thinking across museum departments to promote collaboration, transparency, and knowledge sharing in formal and informal ways
  • Promote a creative culture so that staff are willing to experiment and adapt based on experience
Provide infrastructure for digital projects
  • Provide budget support to expand and enhance digital initiatives
  • Provide resources and support for key digital positions, such as a senior producer for emerging media
  • Provide technology resources, including hardware and software, for experimentation, innovation, and development
  • Partner with foundations and trusted advocates to secure the philanthropic support necessary to achieve the goals of this plan
Adapt and adopt agile practices
  • Be iterative in our approach, working in shorter incremental cycles of planning, design, development, testing, release, and evaluation (agile project management)
  • Review project feasibility prior to the inception of a project
  • Integrate evaluation throughout the development and post-development process
  • Create flexible processes that allow for change, adaptation, and innovation as digital trends evolve
Develop a brand personality for the digital space
  • Prioritize projects that match the goals in the museum’s strategic plan
  • Develop an institutional tone that is both friendly and knowledgeable, and train staff to share content in relatable ways
  • Create digital experiences that are beautiful, creative, and aligned with our identity
Prioritize evaluation and feedback
  • Develop a comprehensive evaluation plan that includes listening to staff and outside advisors and regularly surveying audiences
  • Include visible feedback tools for visitors so they can more easily comment on the quality and/or utility of digital experiences
  • Ensure staff have access to evaluation tools and are trained to use them and to interpret results
  • Ensure that evaluation is both quantitative and qualitative
  • Use analytics, including social media engagement feedback, to make data-informed and not data-driven decisions
  • Provide the resources, staffing, and time needed to evaluate projects

Goal 2. Build a sustainable digital infrastructure

We intend to build a digital infrastructure that offers broad access, well-defined processes, an optimal level of standardization, and a thoughtful approach to sustainability. We seek to promote a digital mindset: one that fosters digital awareness and proficiency among our museum staff, critical thinking about our choices, and response to assessment to continuously bolster and strengthen our digital infrastructure.

Increase staff capacity and define workflows for the production and dissemination of digital content
  • Increase staff capacity (which includes hiring additional staff) in order to adequately support new plans, processes, and infrastructure
  • Define and document processes for digital projects and encourage more communication between departments to promote efficiency and effectiveness
  • Create criteria and determine best practices for sustainable and efficient projects and initiatives
  • Use project management tools and systems to support content creation on different platforms
  • Add flexibility to responsibilities and workflows according to the demands of the project
  • Establish a digital innovation lab with rotating membership to ensure freshness of thinking, an openness to experimentation, and a willingness to test ideas and foster shared ownership
Invest in the museum’s digital infrastructure
  • Manage life cycle and capacity planning for all types of digital assets
  • Upgrade technology—including hardware and software—in office facilities
  • Foster innovation without compromising a high standard of work
  • Utilize cloud-based technology services for efficiencies in collaboration, communication, and project management
  • Leverage support of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and available Smithsonian systems like TMS/DAMS/IDS/ArchiveSpace and create in-house systems as needed to increase access and to preserve assets
  • Create an information architecture that is adaptable from project to project and is efficient in the flow of content from internal to external sources
Prioritize assessment in digital project infrastructure
  • Integrate feedback, evaluation, and lessons learned from completed projects in the planning, design, and implementation of new projects
  • Plan for the life cycle of digital projects, including archiving, maintaining, and transforming content as digital technologies evolve
  • Periodically revisit processes and projects to improve knowledge integration and communication among staff

Goal 3. Share our collections and our knowledge in new ways

Using social media, the web, and other digital media, we plan to open our unique collections and expertise to a global audience. We will better understand our current audiences and identify new ones in order to connect to people wherever they find us. We seek to tailor our tone and action plans so we can respond to the interests, needs, and challenges of our audiences.

Understand our audiences
  • Use audience research to inform our decisions
  • Challenge our current assumptions about our audiences, especially our assumptions about their prior knowledge and their understanding of what we present in the museum, both physically and digitally
  • Create tools to identify specific audiences for different purposes and to understand how needs and interests intersect between identified groups
  • Understand the “digital divide”—the gap between those who have access to the internet and other information and communications technology and those who do not—and consider audience challenges and obstacles when planning our digital activities
Find ways to balance our efforts across audiences
  • Distribute our content both online and on-site to reach all our target audiences
  • Develop content that can be adapted for different audience types, and adjust writing tone and style for different digital platforms and formats
  • Increase our commitment of staffing and funding for the digital presence of educational and family programs and resources
  • Create resources, especially those that are interactive, that appeal to the many different ways people take in information
Find new and creative ways to present our research, resources, and collections
  • Share content in the galleries and online to create a continuous digital and physical experience for the visitor
  • Package related resources (including videos, programs, exhibition content, and collections information) so audiences can easily find, browse, reuse, and enjoy them
  • Highlight behind-the-scenes activities
  • Present our research using more dynamic formats, and use 3D models, graphics, and interactive features more regularly

Goal 4. Maximize visitor experiences

We intend to prioritize the visitor by developing digital experiences that are easily discoverable, accessible, fun, and participatory. By pursuing a visitor-focused approach, we can create a better understanding of the connections between form and content, the digital and the physical, and the object and its context. Maximizing the visitor experience also invites a participatory culture in which the digital medium facilitates active visitor engagement. Understanding, enhancing, and integrating the visitor’s digital experience is an opportunity for accomplishing our institutional mission.

Make digital content easily discoverable and understandable
  • Make the tools to search and browse our collection more visible, more appealing, and more user friendly
  • Increase the number of collection objects that have descriptions and/or label text online, and set a clear word count and format for display
  • Provide more cultural and historical context for our collections online
  • Create browsable archives of past content (videos, programs, etc.)
  • Use digital interactive storytelling to engage visitors
Ensure our digital content is accessible
  • Define the museum’s commitment to accessibility
  • Create an accessibility plan for digital content
  • Train staff to make content accessible: e.g., how to write descriptive text for collection objects and promotional images for individuals with hearing loss or low vision
  • Provide audio descriptions, captions, and transcripts for videos
Integrate the physical and digital experiences of the museum
  • Integrate digital initiatives into the planning for exhibitions, programs, and publications
  • Maximize hybrid experiences available to the visitor through livestreaming and recording of on-site events and through other established and emerging technologies
  • Use digital tools to enhance visitor experiences in the galleries
  • Include more digital interactive experiences, such as web-based apps, videos, multimedia tools, and touch interactives in the galleries
  • Install creative orientation experiences that foreground digital content in the galleries
  • Promote information about digital resources throughout the museum space using the Smithsonian Hi art guide, QR codes, brochures, wall labels, print and digital signage, verbal invitations, etc. in strategic locations (e.g., restrooms, shop, café)
Create digital experiences that are fun and participatory
  • Create experiences that allow visitors to actively engage with museum content, share their experiences, and curate their own visits
  • Direct visitors to digital resources, such as online programs, interactives, etc., and help them find related content
  • Use digital tools to inspire curiosity and to connect to personal experiences
  • Leverage digital tools to help staff, docents, and volunteers better serve visitors
Engage our visitors
  • Develop and implement a digital marketing plan for promotion of all content with a digital component to create sustained awareness across target audiences
  • Encourage visitors to explore our content using existing tools such as the Smithsonian API/Open Access initiative and social media, or develop new tools
  • Invite audiences to share their perspectives and experiences
  • Participate in digital culture and help visitors engage with the museum’s resources via wiki platforms

Goal 5. Lead as a digital innovator in the museum space

We embrace our trailblazing history while imagining new models for digital thinking. Prioritizing partnerships will infuse our activities with resources, expertise, best practices, and expanded reach. Our embrace of digital methods, experimentation, infrastructure, and collaboration will lead to innovation and active engagement as we become a vital component in a network connecting industry, academia, museums, and cultural heritage preservation. We aspire to become a digital innovator in the museum space to further our educational mission and to move our field closer to twenty-first century audiences, reimagining our potential to catalyze new and important conversations beyond our walls.

Leverage partnerships within the Smithsonian
  • Work across the Smithsonian to share platforms, strategies, resources, programs, and initiatives
  • Identify and join ongoing Smithsonian programs, initiatives, and resources
  • Codevelop projects with other Smithsonian units that may have different and/or larger online audiences
  • Encourage the sharing of information, both informal and formal, with counterparts at other Smithsonian units
Develop a culture of co-creation and co-learning among peer institutions beyond the Smithsonian
  • Encourage collaboration and problem solving with outside partners
  • Deepen existing networks, professional memberships, and partnerships with arts and cultural organizations (e.g., Google Arts & Culture, Smarthistory)
  • Learn from innovators in the museum field, including national and international groups focused on digital technology (e.g., Museum Computer Network, MuseumNext, International Society for Technology in Education)
  • Establish a Smithsonian-approved platform of digital collaboration and partnership with peers both within and beyond the Smithsonian
Choose digital partners that complement our mission and will help expand our thinking and/or reach
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of our current digital experiences
  • Investigate extant out-of-the-box approaches and tools in other industries that can be applied to our work
  • Develop criteria for evaluating potential partners based on their past successes and reach as well as our needs and strengths
  • Prioritize global partnerships—particularly with institutions based in Asia—in addition to national and local ones
  • Establish a digital advisory council of industry experts who will challenge our assumptions and support the ambitions of this plan