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Onward! The Planetary Society's Strategic Plan through 2017

Posted by Jennifer Vaughn

06-12-2014 8:15 CST

Topics: Planetary Society People, Planetary Society

As 2014 comes to a close, The Planetary Society steps into our 35th anniversary year. As we look back on our year and our history, we find much for which we are so proud. We’ve shaped policy, seeded new technologies, and included millions in the adventure of space exploration. We’ve made a difference! With so much success and the need to organize our goals, we set out to create a strategic plan for The Planetary Society that would guide us through 2017.

We have a full and exciting three years ahead of us. This strategic plan (PDF) is a roadmap that will help us move in the right direction while providing enough flexibility to take different routes on our journey.

During our planning process, we engaged the Society's Board of Directors, staff, volunteers, members, and peers in asking the hard questions: why do we do all we do? Should we continue along the same path? Are others doing this work better? How can we be the best at what we do? Our minds were open to possibility of radical changes to our organization. But, in the end, after we carefully deconstructed the Society as it exists today, we were pleased to end up with the same citizen-fueled organization that our founders created in 1980 that’s focused on advancing space exploration.

Core Values for The Planetary Society
Core Values for The Planetary Society

We sharpened our mission and vision statements so they reflect our passion. We empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration and we do it so we can know the cosmos and our place within it. Sustained citizen power is the force that will keep us progressing outward to help us understand our place in space. The longer I work with them, the words of our vision and mission statements have kept my passion for all our work at The Planetary Society energized.

With our mission and vision secured, identifying our guiding core values was straightforward: adventure, optimism, empowerment, action, and science are at the core of what we all do. In addition to values, we also chose ten key approaches to our work. These approaches include being a credible source, providing seed capital, seeking niche opportunities, and remaining transparent and accountable. When we consider new projects and activities—and as we further develop our current activities—we'll not only examine if our values are properly represented, we will also check for alignment with our approaches.

Defining vision, mission, and values is where we started, but soon after, we were digging into the details of our work. We’ve always been an organization of doers who do a lot. But doing a lot doesn't mean we're doing our best work. Allowing us to take bigger steps in fewer areas, we realized, required streamlining our activities. We defined three major initiatives for the organization:

  1. Advancing the exploration of the cosmos
  2. Engaging the public in space exploration
  3. Building a sustainable future for The Planetary Society

Our science and technology projects and our advocacy efforts drive the first initiative. We have increased our commitment to advocacy and we will be taking on new activities related to human space flight and international development in addition to improving our long-standing role as the watchdog and advocate for planetary funding. We’ll always continue our popular science and technology projects, like searching for exoplanets, developing new technologies, and seeking life off Earth.

For the next three years, however, two project areas take center stage: our solar sail spacecraft and our efforts to stop a dangerous asteroid from impacting Earth. Set to launch aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket in spring 2016, our LightSail 1 spacecraft requires a lot of our energy, but we can’t let three years pass without advancing our efforts in planetary defense. The Planetary Society takes a holistic view of the problem of dangerous asteroids and comets—we work to find, track, and characterize near-Earth objects, test promising deflection technologies, and we educate and empower the global community to lead us to a solution that will protect our planet. It will take years to have a plan in place and The Planetary Society is committed to making meaningful strides toward a solution.

LightSail above Earth
LightSail above Earth

Our second initiative includes all we do to educate, inspire, and empower citizens. With our goal of empowering the world's citizens at the core of our mission, we know we cannot be effective without the passion of space enthusiasts. When we were founded, we created The Planetary Report to connect with our membership through the real-life adventure stories of space exploration. Three and half decades later, we're still proud to produce The Planetary Report, but we also recognize how much our world has changed and that there are many ways to connect the public with space exploration. We’ll be investing in the most effective ways we can connect with you in addition to The Planetary Report and our insightful blogs. We're actively growing our volunteer network so we can make a difference in local communities, we're increasing our social media activity so we can interact with our global community, and we're putting a lot of creative effort into fun and informative videos that are easy to share so we can grow our community of space fans. In this three-year plan, we also commit to programs for young explorers—with Bill Nye at our helm, this was an easy decision.

Though we joke that it's hard to plan for an organization that thinks in light years, our third initiative is to remind us that committing to the future of space exploration without committing to the future of our organization is counteractive. We know our work will not be complete in the foreseeable future. There will be a day when humans land on Mars, when robots drill into the ice of Europa, when we find evidence of life off Earth, when we crack the code to interstellar flight, but these milestones won't happen quickly. We need to build The Planetary Society of tomorrow, today. So in this initiative, we have growth goals for membership, financial stability, and organizational excellence. These are not new goals but elevating them to key points within our seeable future commits us to building a durable organization.

We thank our members, friends, and leaders who helped get us where we are today. We hope you take some time to read our strategic plan and we welcome your thoughts on these next steps for The Planetary Society. Reach out to us on social media or send us an email at

See other posts from December 2014


Or read more blog entries about: Planetary Society People, Planetary Society


Marguerite: 12/07/2014 03:26 CST

I've read the Strategic Plan with great interest, Jennifer. I wonder, is it possible to make available a simple text version as well as the very nicely produced PDF version? I feel that I would like to have the lists of goals, which you set out under each of the three initiatives, in a format that I could annotate. I guess that I could copy type them all into a new document, but - using a Tablet - that is a leetle difficult to get done accurately. And takes ages.... I think it's very good that PlanSoc (my abbreviation, I hope you don't mind?!) is taking this timely step. It's a hugely valuable organisation, but the model that was splendid in the pre-internet era is less useful now. Something I would very much like to see is you drawing on the expertise and enthusiasms of your members and supporters WORLD WIDE, not just in the States. (I'm in the Canary Isles) Space exploration and astronomy is crossing national borders more and more each year. (The Rosetta mission is a high profile example). Very best wishes for a marvellous future for the Planetary Society. Marguerite

William W. McKinley: 12/08/2014 06:20 CST

If we could "recruit" some high profile people (Matthew McConaughey, Peyton Manning, Lady Gaga, Lebron James, etc.) as spokesmen for our worthy cause it would really boost our membership. Having a "Junior" membership as some kind of a club with summer trips might be an idea, too. With the movie "Interstellar" recently out, now's a hot time to promote. How about discounts to space movies, etc. for Planetary members? I saw the night launch of Apollo 17 from the VIP site at Kennedy Space Center and have been a groupie ever since! Also, saw testing of Saturn engines at Stennis Space Center from the press site. Keep up the good work! WWM

Skip: 12/09/2014 06:47 CST

First, I am glad the comments are back! I would like to suggest that we spend a little time (and money) getting the attention of kids. My 10YO daughter (and future astronaut) absolutely LOVED the ESA cartoons of Philae. She followed the mission with enthusiasm, and practically cried when she heard that the batteries were dying. With New Horizons approaching Pluto, we must not forget how much every kid loves this ex-planet. Find ways to produce some child-appropriate and engaging videos to help kids and schools follow this mission next year.

Jennifer: 12/10/2014 11:45 CST

Thanks for your comments! @Skip – We, too, are glad that comments are back. We're still trouble-shooting problems with our website, but we think it's safe to use comments. So far, so good. We're committed to providing comments for our readers, either using our current tools or – if necessary – finding a different comment tool. Regarding activities for kids: we have a specific strategic goal (Initiative II, Goal 7) to inspire kids about space exploration. We have a lot of work to do to develop a robust youth education program, only some of which will be accomplished in 2015. One piece that has already been introduced is our Random Space Fact video series - Each Friday, we release a new 60-second video on a particular space fact. As we near the Pluto encounter, we'll be releasing videos to explain more about the New Horizons spacecraft as well as Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects. Expect to see our activities for kids really ramp up in 2016-2017.

Jennifer: 12/10/2014 11:47 CST

@Marguerite – We're pleased you read the plan, and we're happy to send you a simplified text version. We have your email address, so we'll send it to you directly. We agree we need to do more to engage our global audiences. Our revised mission statement places extra emphasis on developing our international community. We've taken some first steps: we've been dedicating more resources to our social media communities as a place to discuss and share developments in space exploration. We've also activated and grown our Global Volunteer Network so we can better involve local communities. We have more work to do to develop local in-person programing and nurture our online communities, but please know that we are focused on these priorities and we expect to show improvement in the months and years to come. @William W. McKinley – Thanks for your ideas. We'd love to see more celebrities support space exploration. Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are doing a great job of making space exploration and science accessible and exciting. We hope it's just the beginning and that many more high profile celebrities stand up for space exploration and the role the public can play in shaping our future. We do have a student rate for membership, but – as I mentioned above – we're just getting started on programming targeted to young people. We'll add your trip idea into our list of potential projects. Sorry, but we can't help with securing discounts to space-related movies, even if it is a delightful idea.

Marguerite: 12/10/2014 03:51 CST

@Jennifer - good to have your responses to our feedback! I'll look forward to getting the text copy of the Plan. BTW, I like the Random Space Fact videos, even tho I'm a little over the target age range, but I think they are just a bit too short. By the time one has clicked on them, they are over. The Rosetta videos, at about 3 - 4 minutes, were a perfect length. And, as Skip said, were so very popular with children of all ages... William suggested a tie-in with movies (which you said is not possible): my idea is to discuss something with a publisher such as Springer, especially their two series aimed at amateur astronomers, Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series and The Astronomers' Universe.

Steve: 12/11/2014 10:34 CST

Jennifer - I have read your initiatives and goals. Having worked in an industry which utilizes a similar approach, I am commenting on the structure of the initiatives and goals, not on the goals themselves. First of all, the article states that this is a 3 year (thru 2017) document. This is an exceedingly long time interval. Usually a one year interval is recommended. However, I understand that the space industry moves slower and you've decided on three years. Also, you noted that your original meetings resolved that all current initiatives would be included. This results in a very complex and long list of goals. Goals are usually limited to a few, 3, maybe 4. Having too many goals will dilute your efforts and could result in mediocre results or even failure. Also, I did not see a commitment for periodic internal reviews and updates to the members as to how well you are doing. Will you perform periodic reports to the members to show your progress? How are you quantifying your advances and successes, i.e. how do you know you are on target or not? I do not make these comments to criticize TPS efforts to make these goals as I support many of them. I just believe the document may become just a wish list instead of an action directive. I wish you success in the future and will continue to support TPS.

djysrv: 02/04/2015 08:32 CST

It is a nice document, but it lacks an essential feature of strategic plans. In the downloaded (PDF file) version I accessed from the Plan Soc website, there are no performance measures. How will the Society know whether it has achieved any of its goals if it is not measuring progress towards them? Even for nonprofits like Plan Soc, key performance indicators (KPIs) are essential to understand whether the member and grant resources invested in programs and operations are achieving their desired outcome and how well If there are key performance measures, but just not included in the glossy download document, I urge you to exercise transparency and publish them for members. There is an implicit compact between a membership driven nonprofit and its members, and that is the board of the nonprofit will report to members how well the organization performed against its stated goals. There is an old adage that applies here "if you can't measure it, then it didn't happen." That sounds a bit blunt, but it's more in the line of the wisdom of famous Yankee catch Yogi Berra who also said, if you come to a fork in the road, take it..

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