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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday May 26, 2016

Updated on Friday July 13, 2018

(The making of) business plans at Europeana Part 1: wooden blocks & shopping bags

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Maybe the word ‘business’ in my title gives a false impression, as Europeana is not ‘in business’ so to speak. Our aim is not to maximise profit or optimise cash flow.

Europeana Business Plan 2017 workshop in 60 seconds. Video by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA

Europeana is a public, not-for-profit organisation that aims to make digital cultural heritage available for everyone to use. We believe that this is a fundamental right. Pretty much in line with what has been so eloquently stated by Mikkel Bogh, Director at the Statens Museum fur Kunst (SMK).

”With our digitised collections, we can support people in being reflective, creative human beings. But the precondition is that cultural heritage is common property, and that each and every one of us can use it for exactly what we dream of (…) Our role is still more to facilitate public use of cultural heritage for learning, creativity, and innovation. Today, learning happens in reciprocity. We are all a part of the web. We shape each other.”

So why write business plans? The main reason (in my opinion) is to give our organisation enough focus to be effective, and stakeholders confidence that we are heading in the right direction. In fact, I think we need this sense of direction even more than organisations who are in business. In the business world there is a very direct relationship between the investment you make and the returns you expect (the famous ‘Return on Investment’). Euro in = Euro out. Do you not make enough return? Then change your tactics or you will be out of business. That’s not the case in the not-for-profit world, where results should be measured in social and economic ‘impact’, which is quite different kettle of fish, and much more difficult to evaluate.

So how do we come to a shared understanding of what to do (and what not to do - even harder) ? To be frank: it’s complicated. Business Plans should not suffocate the reader with unnecessary detail, but they should not be so high level that they lose their meaning altogether. You need to have your conversation at the right level.

Last year we developed a business plan that we were reasonably happy with. We involved a lot of people in our network, the plan was less textual and more visual than the year before (easier to read), the plan was directly tied to our strategic aims (consistent), and we were able to settle (it is a bit of a negotiation after all) on 8 objectives and 4 performance indicators. Moreover, we were able to publish it before the new year started, so we could hit the ground running after we recuperated from new year festivities. And Bob’s your uncle. Or, not quite?

The business plan does give a sense of direction, really. And we discuss outcomes with the team and have regular meetings with our Board and Members Council where we report on achievements. But does it leave us agile enough to pick to up on new opportunities when they arise, or stop certain activities when they don’t yield enough result? And besides that, 8 objectives are a lot of things to remember, does that give us enough focus? These are things to keep in mind when starting the process next year.

This year we therefore decided to start very early. Last week (we are, after all, talking May here) we had our kick-off meeting with everyone in the office.


As a first warm up exercise we looked out as far as we could see and we asked ourselves: “what could the world look like if we had no restrictions, whatsoever?”

As they should, the ideas varied between the difficult but achievable (participate in Europeana with a simple check box - hey why not?), the idealistic (Europeana in all school classes) and the truly far out (Europeana on Mars).


We then looked at organisational culture. More and more we realise that strategy can only take you to a certain point. Some people even say Culture eats Strategy for breakfast. We think they go hand in hand: strategy is rational and defines the aims, culture is emotional and defines our ability to get there. Culture is energy in motion, the muscles that make the concept work in practice. We asked what is going well in our organisation (and that includes the Europeana Network)? What should be improved? We need to chew on the results but we can already say that our team still likes the driven, pleasant atmosphere (phew…) but heavy workload, diversity of activities and diffused communications were often mentioned as points to improve.

Customer pains & gains

Photo from Europeana Business Plan 2017 workshop by Sebastiaan ter Burg CC-BY-SA

Finally, we stepped into the shoes of some of our customers. We divided into 5 groups (culture vultures, researchers, creatives, network members and cultural institutions) and tried to imagine what these people are looking for in their daily activities, what problems we could solve for them (pains) and what makes them happy (gains). At the moment, these are our building blocks that need to be reshuffled to build the house.

All in all this was a great start. But truth be told, this was the easy part. The next step is to discuss and prioritise ideas with the management team in the next couple of weeks and later in June with the representatives of the Europeana Network.

Watch this space for: (The making of) business plans at Europeana Part 2..

(The making of) business plans at Europeana Part 1
(The making of) business plans at Europeana Part 1

Photo from Europeana Business Plan 2017 workshop by Sebastiaan ter Burg CC-BY-SA