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Jennifer VaughnDecember 6, 2014

Onward! The Planetary Society's Strategic Plan through 2017

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 connect@planetary.org.

Read more: Planetary Society People, Planetary Society

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Jennifer Vaughn

Chief Operating Officer for The Planetary Society
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