Case Study: Great Lakes Aquarium Strategic Planning

Challenge: The Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN had gone five years since its previous in-depth strategic plan and had regained its footing after the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. With a relatively new Executive Director and some significant changes in the environment in which it operates, GLA strove to build more concrete plans for its future. Aquarium staff and stakeholders were eager to move out of survival mode and into a phase of new growth and advancement of their mission. 


Role: Northspan facilitated a strategic planning process with the GLA board and staff representatives. The engagement included extensive community survey work, comparisons to peer aquariums, and the collection of economic impact data. The strategic planning workshops took place between February and April 2022 and sought to identify an updated mission, vision, core values, and strategic directions for the organization, along with a timeline for their implementation. 


Results: The plan is in operation and includes the following six strategic directions: 

  • Expanding Resources to Empower Staff 
  • Evolving Exhibits and Programs to Engage and Educate Visitors 
  • Engaging Community to Broaden Influence 
  • Developing Consistent, Stable Funding to Maintain Operational Capacity 
  • Catalyzing Individual and Community Conservation Action 
  • Fostering Governmental Relationships to Initiate Growth Campaign 

View the full strategic plan plus background information and details on the strategic planning process here: Great Lakes Aquarium Strategic Planning


Reference: Jay Walker, Great Lakes Aquarium Executive Director,