What is STEPS?
STEPS is AASLH’s self-study, self-paced assessment program designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, the 1,100+ organizations enrolled in STEPS review their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against national museum standards.
As your history organization makes progress in the program, you will earn progress certificates from AASLH that communicate those achievements to your community and stakeholders.
Who should use STEPS?
STEPS is a self-study program open to any museum, historical society, historic house, site, or related organization. It is an entry-level program intended for small- and mid-sized organizations that might not feel ready for other assessment programs. Larger museums will find the program useful as a refresher checklist and training tool for entry level staff, volunteers, and interns. Unlike other assessment programs, STEPS does not have an application period nor any deadlines.
How does STEPS fit into the work you are already doing?
STEPS is designed to dovetail with the work you are already doing, like caring for your collections, planning exhibits, and working with a board. The STEPS process helps you evaluate this work and identify your strengths and areas for improvement. The workbook is easy to use, and will help you keep STEPS tasks, progress, and planning organized and within reach whenever you need a check-up.
How does it work?
There are two important elements of the program, the workbook and the online community.
The program and accompanying workbook is divided into six sections:
- Mission, Vision, and Governance
- Audience and Community Engagement
- Stewardship of Collections
- Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes
In each section, organizations answer self-assessment questions by identifying their current policies and practices as Basic, Good, or Better. Each level has performance indicators. Performance indicators help your organization determine where it is meeting a national standard. Performance indicator boxes that your organization is unable to check off at the moment become goals and projects it may want to address. Once your organization is meeting all of the Basic, Good, or Better performance indicators in a section, it earns a Bronze, Silver, or Gold progress certificate.
View Sample Workbook Pages
The online STEPS Community provides a pdf version of the workbook, resources organized by workbook section, sample plans and policies, discount codes on AASLH professional development, and a commons space where you can connect with other STEPS participants from across the country.
The STEPS Community is also where STEPS participants submit for and receive their Bronze, Silver, and Gold progress certificates.
There is no limit to the number of people from organizations enrolled in the program that can access the STEPS Community, so AASLH encourages paid and unpaid staff and board members to register with the community, as well.
If your organization is already enrolled in STEPS and you need access to the online community, please check your STEPS welcome letter for instructions or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do we mean by standards?
In this program, a standard is defined as “a generally accepted level of attainment that all organizations are expected to achieve.” For more on standards, read about the museum field’s Continuum of Excellence.
Want to learn more? Watch this free informational webinar, and share it with a board member or colleague!
This video runs a little over 22 minutes and contains captions. Click here for a copy of the slides from this presentation.
What is a STEPS Group?
A STEPS group is five or more history museums, historical societies, historic sites, or related institutions in regular contact and learning from each other as the organizations use STEPS to assess their policies and practices, identify strengths, and plan for improvements.
For more information about starting or funding a STEPS group, and for examples of groups around the country, check out the Guide to STEPS Groups handout below.
Check out the “STEPS Participant List” tab for a list of STEPS participants organized by state. If you are looking for neighbor organizations in STEPS to form a group, this should help you get started!
Do you have a group of organizations that are ready to start a group? Contact Matt Arthur, Professional Development at email@example.com.
Watch for exciting news in 2021 about AASLH’s plan to pilot virtual STEPS groups!
How do you earn certificates?
Each time your organization reaches all the performance indicators for a section level, you earn certificates at the Bronze, Silver, or Gold levels. Earn Gold certificates in every section to graduate from the program. Official recognition occurs each year at the Awards Banquet ceremony at the AASLH Annual Conference.
STEPS certificates are a great way to show your board, community, visitors, and yourself the progress you are making and the achievements you are reaching. Besides local and statewide recognition, these certificates can be used as valuable support material for funding requests and grant applications. Since certificates are earned on the honor system, it is easy to submit for them in the STEPS Community.
STEPS participants must maintain a current institutional membership with AASLH to submit for certificates. Keeping a current institutional membership also continues access to important benefits.
Certificates vs. Certification
Since STEPS is a self-study program operated on the honor system, the program does not grant or constitute a seal of approval, endorsement, certification, or accreditation. STEPS certificates show progress in the program and that you are ready to move on to other assessment programs in the field. STEPS is a great way for organization to work up to the American Alliance of Museums Museum Assessment Program and Accreditation–all of these programs are part of the museum field’s Continuum of Excellence.
Certificates Earned by STEPS Participants
See a complete list of all certificates earned by organizations enrolled in STEPS.
Ready to submit for a progress certificate?
If your organization is already enrolled in STEPS and you need access to the online community to submit for your progress certificates, please check your STEPS welcome letter for instructions or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of STEPS
In 2009, after four years of grassroots research and testing and the efforts of over 130 volunteers, AASLH created the Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations with IMLS funding to fill a specific need within the field of state and local history. STEPS was designed to be an important part of helping history organizations, not matter how small, move along the Continuum of Excellence.
After ten years of helping more than 1,100 institutions move forward through self-assessment, AASLH relaunched STEPS with an updated workbook and online STEPS Community.
Read more on the history of STEPS and updates to the program in a blog post by AASLH President and CEO, John Dichtl.
Please Note: Online enrollment in STEPS and online purchases of STEPS workbooks will be available again on Friday, December 1 due to AASLH transitioning to a new association management system. You can still enroll by mail using the form via the link below. If you would like to enroll online, please visit this page again on December 1.
Enrollment is a one-time fee of $195 (must be an institutional member of AASLH when enrolling).
Important Note for Current STEPS Participants: If your organization would like to purchase a replacement hard copy of the updated STEPS workbook, AASLH is offering the special price of $32 to Institutional Members. Please visit the new STEPS Community for a discount code. Note the special price is only available to organizations currently enrolled in STEPS and applies to one replacement workbook. If you would like to purchase more than one workbook, please reach out to email@example.com for bulk pricing.
*Purchase of the workbook alone does not enroll you in STEPS.