Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (STEPS) 

After several years of work by AASLH staff and STEPS Enhancement volunteers, an updated version of the STEPS workbook will be released in October 2020. Enrollment is a one-time fee of $195 (must be an institutional member of AASLH when enrolling).

Important Note for Current STEPS Participants: After the updated workbook version is released, you may continue to earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold certificates based on the current workbook for another 18 months (through January 2022). If, however, you would like to begin using the new workbook version, you will receive access to the workbook section pdfs via the STEPS Community website. Additionally, if your organization would like to purchase a hard copy of the updated STEPS workbook, AASLH is offering the special price of $32 institutional members/$45 non-members. Please contact the AASLH office to place your order (note the special price is only available to organizations currently enrolled in STEPS).

What is the Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (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 1,000+ 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 certificates from AASLH that communicate those achievements to your community and stakeholders.


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.


What is the STEPS online community?

The STEPS online community offers sample policies, forms, and a wide variety of other helpful resources. It’s also the place to find program announcements, discount codes for webinars, and share issues and questions in the STEPS Commons forum.

Program Structure: How Does it Work?

The program and accompanying workbook is divided into six sections:

  • Mission, Vision, & Governance
  • Audience
  • Interpretation
  • Stewardship of Collections
  • Stewardship of Historic Structures & Landscapes
  • Management

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 in 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. Use the STEPS Community online site to help create new policies or forms or watch a webinar recording to gain new information. 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.


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.

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 does it have eligibility requirements.

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 the STEPS program to assess their policies and practices, identify strengths, and plan for improvements. The simple act of periodically meeting together helps to hold each other accountable and inspire change.

For more information about starting or funding a STEPS groups, and for examples of groups around the country, click below to read the Guide to STEPS Groups. Ready to start a group? Contact Cherie Cook, AASLH Senior Program Manager at cook@aaslh.org.

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 AASLH’s Annual Meeting.

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 send in the form after completing a section.


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’ MAP and Accreditation programs; both programs are part of the museum field’s Continuum of Excellence.

See a complete list of all certificates earned by organizations enrolled in AASLH’s Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (STEPS). See the List

History of STEPS

In 2009, after four years of grassroots research and testing and the efforts of over 130 volunteers, AASLH created StEPs 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.

In 2017, we launched, and in 2020, we completed a project to review and update the program.

STEPS Program Update October 2020

After several years of work by AASLH staff and STEPS Enhancement volunteers, an updated version of the STEPS workbook will be released in October.

Important Note for Current STEPS Participants: After the updated workbook version is released, you may continue to earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold certificates based on the current workbook for another 18 months (through April 2022). If, however, you would like to begin using the new workbook version, you will receive access to the workbook section pdfs via the STEPS Community website. Additionally, if your organization would like to purchase a hard copy of the updated STEPS workbook, AASLH is offering the special price of $32 institutional members/$45 non-members. Please contact the AASLH office to place your order (note the special price is only available to organizations currently enrolled in STEPS ).

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