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.

Members can join StEPs for only $175, which includes the workbook and access to an online community for support. Once you have enrolled, there are no more costs, no matter how long it takes to finish.

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 is a place to discuss your challenges and share your successes. Some states also have StEPs groups that enable related organizations to work through the program together.

Program Structure: How Does it Work?

The program and accompanying workbook is divided into six sections that can be addressed in any order:

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

In each section, organizations can identify their current practice as Basic, Good, or Better. Each level has its indicators, allowing organizations to set realistic goals and tackle challenges in small, manageable steps. Work in each section at your own pace using checklists, worksheets, sample documents, and the 24/7 online community.

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, see the 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 do 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.

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 or certification. 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 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 a project to review and update the program. The StEPs Enhancement Project will begin by taking a look at the current workbook content. AASLH staff will work with current program participants, members of the Field Services Alliance, and others to update the workbook and expand any topics that deserve more attention