Cornwall Museums Partnership - SWOT
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An Introduction to SWOT

The goals of this session are to help you to:

  • Understand what SWOT is.
  • Learn why SWOT can be useful in helping to build a better museum.
  • Get started with your SWOT analysis.
  • Move on to the next step and apply SWOT to your museum.

So, what is SWOT?

Well, Wikipedia will tell you that SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help a person or organisation identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to business competition or project planning.

In museum speak that can be translated to mean that SWOT will help you figure out how to achieve your goals, whether this is to increase visitor numbers or reach new audiences, by capitalising on the things you do best and improving on the things you do worst; while making the most of all the opportunities that come your way and minimising the impact of external factors over which you have no control, like the A30 closing for road works.

SWOT Matrix

So why is SWOT going to be useful to you?

A SWOT analysis is essential if you want to:

  • Understand the internal and external factors that will affect how well your organisation does.
  • Prepare effectively for the future by putting the right resources in the right place at the right time.

Starting your SWOT

The first step is to decide WHY you're writing a SWOT. Is it for a specific project or is it for the organisation as a whole?

Next, divide a large sheet of paper into four quadrants and add a label to each quadrant:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

If you'd rather, you can download and print a ready made sheet here.

Now, working as a team, start to populate each quadrant.


Strengths describe the positive attributes, tangible and intangible, internal to your organisation. They are things that are within your control. Think of the things you do well. What resources do you have? What advantages do you have over your competition?

You may want to evaluate your strengths by area, such as marketing, finance, volunteers etc. Strengths include the positive attributes of the people involved in the organisation, including their knowledge, backgrounds, education, credentials, contacts, reputations, or the skills they bring. Strengths also include tangible assets such as available capital, equipment, credit, established customers and partners, information and processing systems, and other valuable resources within the organisation.

Strengths capture the positive aspects internal to your organisation that add value or offer you a competitive advantage. This is a great opportunity to remind yourself of the value that exists around you.

When identifying your strengths ask yourself:

  • What advantages does your organization have?
  • What does your organisation do really well?
  • What unique or low cost resources can you draw upon that others can't?
  • What do your visitors and your competition see as your strengths?
  • What makes visitors choose you?
  • What is unique about your organization


Note the weaknesses within your organisation, don't shy away from these, by identifying and addressing your weaknesses, you may find the biggest improvement. Weaknesses are factors that are within your control that hold you back. Which areas might you improve?

Weaknesses might include a lack of expertise, limited resources, lack of access to skills or technology, inferior offerings, or a poor location. These are factors that are under your control, but for a variety of reasons, are in need of improvement to effectively accomplish your objectives.

Weaknesses capture the negative aspects internal to your organisation that detract from the value you offer, or place you at a competitive disadvantage. These are areas you need to improve in order to compete with your best competitor. The more accurately you identify your weaknesses, the more valuable the SWOT will be.

When identifying your weaknesses ask yourself:

  • What could you improve?
  • What visitor complaints or negative comments do you receive, either directly or via social media or other online resources such as TripAdvisor?
  • What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses within your organisation?
  • What factors lose you visitor numbers?


Within the Opportunities quadrant you need to assess the external factors that represent the reason for your organisation to exist and prosper. These are external to your organisation. What opportunities exist in your market, or in the environment, from which you hope to benefit?

These opportunities reflect the potential you can realise by executing whatever outcomes you derive from the SWOT analysis. Opportunities may be the result of market growth, lifestyle changes, resolution of problems associated with current situations.

If it is relevant, place time frames around each opportunity. Does it represent an ongoing opportunity, or is it a window of opportunity? How critical is your timing?

Opportunities are external to your organisation. If you have identified “opportunities” that are internal to the organisation and within your control, you will want to classify them as strengths.

When identifying your opportunities ask yourself what trends are you aware of in the market. Useful opportunities can come from such things as:

  • Changes in the local community, new businesses, schools and clubs.
  • Changes in local and central government policy (though this can also appear in the threat quadrant)
  • Changes in social patterns, population profiles, lifestyle changes, and so on.
  • Local events.

A useful approach when looking at opportunities is to look at your strengths and ask yourself whether these open up any opportunities. Alternatively, look at your weaknesses and ask yourself whether you could open up opportunities by eliminating them.


What factors are potential threats to your organisation? Threats include factors beyond your control that could place your organisation at risk. These are external – you have no control over them, but you may benefit by having contingency plans to address them if they should occur.

A threat is a challenge created by an unfavourable trend or development that may lead to you not meeting a goal, or negatively impacting a target, such as visitor numbers or revenue. Competition – existing or potential – is always a threat. Other threats may include price increases by suppliers, governmental regulation, economic downturns, devastating media or press coverage, a shift in visitor behaviour. What situations might threaten your efforts? Get your worst fears on the table. Part of this list may be speculative in nature, but will still add value to your SWOT analysis.

It may be valuable to classify your threats according to their “seriousness” and “probability of occurrence.”

The better you are at identifying potential threats, the more likely you can position yourself to proactively plan for and respond to them.

When identifying your threats ask yourself:

  • What obstacles do you face to growth or sustainability?
  • What are your competitors doing, how are they out competing you?
  • Has the market moved on, what are your visitors telling you?
  • Do you have bad debt or cash flow problems?
  • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten the existence of your organisation?

Ideas for your SWOT

Struggling for inspiration, or where to start? Maybe these ideas will set the ball rolling...


  • Experienced volunteers.
  • Great visitor feedback.
  • Location.


  • Visitor profile reliant on tourism.
  • Lack of marketing strategy.
  • Lack of marketing skills.
  • Over reliance on one income stream.


  • To develop new partnerships.
  • Supportive local community.


  • Loss of key volunteers.
  • Poor public transport.
  • Inability to recruit diverse trustees and volunteers.

Over to you

So, what are your next steps...

  • By now you should have four comprehensive lists, each suggesting ways to improve upon your museum's performance. Spend a little time now prioritising each list to reflect the values of your organisation and the importance of each item on the list.
  • Now ask yourself how your museum can make the most of the strengths and opportunities as well as putting in place resources to overcome any weaknesses and threats that you’ve identified.
  • You can now use the SWOT analysis to help develop your strategic business plan, budget, fundraising strategies etc.

I'm ready to move on and learn about PESTLE...

Created in Cornwall with Harlequin Training Solutions Ltd