Planning a Collection Development Project

Ensure the success of a heritage collection development project through effective planning.
Reading: 10 to 15 minutes Quiz: 15 minutes.

Review of Documentation and Examination of the Planning of a Standardized Collections Documentation Project

Now that we understand what a heritage collection documentation process involves, we will review the main steps to project planning.

Development of an Action Plan

Why Have an Action Plan?

To think before acting. To create a written reference document that will:

  • announce and justify the project both internally and externally;
  • adequately guide the work of the staff involved in the project;
  • make required changes along the way, stay on schedule, etc.;
  • identify needs;
  • identify necessary resources;
  • keep a record of the project.

Content of an Action Plan

An action plan should contain the following parts:

  • 4.1) Assessment of the situation
  • 4.2) Project objectives
  • 4.3) Operating scenario
  • 4.4) Evaluation of human resources and of equipment
  • 4.5) Schedule
  • 4.6) Budget

Let's look at each of these parts in order to specify its content, and above all, identify the questions that need to be answered for adequate project planning.

4.1 Assessment of the situation:

This is the present. It represents the point from which we start.

  • Type of objects
  • Objects numbered or not?
  • Documented or not?
  • Documentation reliable or not?
  • Documentation on different supports — which ones?
  • Adequate storage areas or not
  • Objects together or spread out, in one building or several?
  • What do we have in terms of equipment and human resources?

4.2 Project objectives:

This is what we hope to achieve based on the identified needs.

  • What do you want to achieve at the end of the project?
  • Assessment of the situation.
  • Foreseeable solutions to observed problems.

4.3 Operating scenario:

How are we going to go about it? Which methods will we apply?

  • What type of approach?
  • Counts: what, how many, where?
  • Physical inventory: with or without photographs?
  • Starting with the objects, starting with the existing documents, or both?
  • When starting with the objects, either one person or a team systematically goes through all the areas (storerooms, exhibition galleries, laboratories, etc.) to create an exhaustive list of the objects, taking note of the selected information.
  • When starting with the documents, a person or team collects data without having to go to the objects as such. Be careful! You must make sure that the inventoried objects and the information taken from the reference documents match, if only by verifying the inventory number and its location. Otherwise, we risk inventorying the information found in documents instead of the objects in the collection.
  • The idea is to create an estimate based on a representative sample taken from your institution.

4.4 Work calendar


  • Translate the operating scenario into an action plan.
  • Plan the steps by making a list of tasks.
  • Determine the time required to complete each step.
  • Create a timeline for each step.
  • Think about splitting up the work into different phases as needed.
  • Always add a buffer for the unexpected.

4.5 Budget

Evaluation of human resources and equipment.

  • Calculate the costs of equipment, salaries, and all other project expenses.
  • Determine whether resources are available to achieve project goals.
  • Revise the project in light of allocated dollar amount or increase funding.

In conclusion, the planning of a heritage collection development project involves:

  • Learning to ask the right questions :
  • What is our assessment of our current documentation system?
  • Since when has it existed, and is it up to date?
  • What information do we have at our disposal? Are the objects numbered?
  • What is the scale of this information? Is it complete? Is it reliable?
  • Who uses the information on the collections? etc.
  • Realizing that the more we want to do, the more demanding it will be.
  • Finding a balance between a short project and one that takes longer to complete.
  • Finding a balance between a project requiring specialized staff and one that does not.
  • Finding a balance between an expensive and less expensive project.
  • Fully understanding that the system being put in place will require follow-ups.
  • Providing the means to achieve the desired results.

Lastly, remember that the more accurate you are when preparing your action plan, the better prepared you will be when you encounter something unexpected. In addition, a well-structured action plan is a very useful tool when preparing requests for funding support from within the institution or from recognized financial backers.

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This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on

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