What is StEPs?

Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs) is AASLH’s self-study standards program designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer run institutions. Using a workbook, an online community, and a three-tiered achievement system with certificates, StEPs enables even the smallest organizations to assess policies and practices, manage daily operations, and plan for the future—all at your own pace!

“The program has helped us restructure a failing organization with less than 5 months finances remaining into a successful, financially stable organization with a fully functioning board.” – StEPs Member


Why Create a New Standards Program?

Trying to sit down and realistically assess your practices can be a daunting task, especially for small museums with limited staff and time. For many years, the field of state and local history has struggled without a roadmap for planning and improvement. AAM’s assessment and accreditation programs, have, in the past been the primary alternatives. As helpful as these extraordinary programs are, they are designed for the museum field at largeIn 2009, after four years of grassroots research and testing and the efforts of over 130 volunteers , AASLH created StEPs with IMLS funding to fill a specific need within the field of state and local history. Assessment and achieving national standards are crucial aspects to healthy, effective history organizations. StEPs takes these important tasks and breaks them down into small, manageable sections and levels, so that your history organization, no matter how small or busy, can make real, quantifiable progress towards optimal institutional health and efficiency. StEPs was designed to be an important part of helping history organizations, not matter how small, move along the Continuum of Excellence.

“The StEPs program has been a valuable tool for our organization. We used it conjunction with recommendations from the MAP program and found that the two program complemented each other very well.” – StEPs Member


What Do We Mean by Standards?

In this program, a standard is defined as “a generally accepted level of attainment that all organizations are expected to achieve.” For more on standards, see the Continuum of Excellence.

“StEPs has really helped us to pull together as a team. It has let us look at our strengths and our weaknesses . We have grown stronger and our museum has gained a clearer vision of our goals and our mission statement.” -StEPs Member


The StEPs Workbook

“I LOVE the StEPs program! I’ve been devouring the workbook – it’s very helpful.” -StEPs Member

The StEPs workbook is more than just a workbook. It’s a manual and a compass for progress. The workbook is organized into six sections that can be used in any order, according to your organization’s individual needs and priorities:

  • Mission, Vision, & Governance
  • Audience
  • Interpretation
  • Stewardship of Collections
  • Stewardship of Historic Structures & Landscapes
  • Management

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In each section, you will find discussion prompts, a list of standards, unacceptable practices, and overarching statements that describe an institution meeting standards. Then, for each standard, there are workbook pages that break the standard down into the Basic, Good, and Better levels with performance indicators, and workbook pages for planning projects needed to reach those indicators. At the end of every section are project suggestions, resource lists, and forms for certificate application. A full glossary defines terms used in the workbook.

Download Sample Workbook Pages Here



Each time your organization reports back to AASLH that you have achieved all the performance indicators for a section level, AASLH awards your organization with certificates at the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels. Once organizations complete the Better levels in all six sections, they are recognized during the Awards Banquet ceremony at AASLH’s Annual Meeting.

These certificates are a great way to show your board, community, visitors, and yourself the progress you are making and the achievements you are reaching. Besides local and statewide recognition, these certificates can be used as valuable support material for funding requests and grant applications.

Since certificates are earned on the honor system, it is easy to send in the form after completing a section. As such, it is important to make the distinction between StEPs certificates and “certification.” While these two words are often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference. Since StEPs is a self-study program operated on the honor system, the program does not grant or constitute a seal of approval, endorsement or certification.

StEPs certificates show progress in the program and that you are ready to move on to other assessment programs in the field. StEPs is a great way for organization to work up to the American Alliance of Museums’ MAP and Accreditation programs ; both programs are part of the Continuum of Excellence.

“We are using steps as a tool to learn the standards and practices of the museum world since we are all volunteers with no formal training.” – StEPs Member



Don’t wait to start making progress. Enroll in StEPs today and begin the journey to excellence.