Searching for open strategy
Developing a strategy in the public sector should be an open, transparent and inclusive process. However, a group of researchers from Aarhus BSS have issued a gentle warning: If everything is opened up, you risk achieving the opposite effect and excluding large groups of stakeholders.
Later in the article, we’ll return to the above paradox of having to close something in order to open up a strategy.
It seems to be logical and straightforward that by public sector organizations should be developing strategy through open processes. Nevertheless, there is not much research that specifically describes what open strategy is in the public sector context and how it should be conducted.
By studying the literature on open strategy, primarily in the private sector, a group of researchers from Aarhus BSS along with a colleague from City University of Hong Kong, have now set up a theoretical framework on how to understand the open strategy process and how it can be done in the public sector.
Not a formula
It is not a formula. Rather, it’s a theoretical framework developed by the researchers in an attempt to find out how the public sector can work with open strategy, and research should focus on in the future to learn more about this phenomenon. The framework can also be used to understand what public organisations and managers should focus on in order to open up strategies.
"There’s not much talk about open strategy in the public sector, but there are plenty of examples of it being there. It’s just something people do without consciously thinking about it. The theoretical framework is an attempt to describe what you should be particularly aware of," says Professor Jesper Rosenberg Hansen, Department of Management at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University.
He prepared the theoretical framework together with his colleagues, Postdoc Maria Bak Skov from the same department, Postdoc Madalina Pop from the Department of Business Development and Technology, and Bert George from City University of Hong Kong. Their work has been published in the highly ranked research journal Public Management Review.
If everything is opened up, there will always be a few stakeholders who take control of the agenda to the detriment of other groups. Which is why you need to be very aware of who you involve in the process and when
Madalina Pop, postdoc, Department of Business Development and Technology, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
By primarily studying how open strategy is used in the private sector, the researchers have prepared an activity based theoretical framework centred around five points, to which you can ask the following five related questions: Why develop an open strategy – what is the purpose? Who is the driver behind the open strategy? Who is the open strategy aimed at? Which part of the strategy should be opened up? How do you open up a strategy and which practices are being used? This theoretical framework is used in the paper to analyse the current literature on open strategy. The literature primarily consists of studies from the private sector. Based on the theoretical framework and previous research on open strategy, the article reflects on the possibilities and implications of open strategy in public organisations.
For example, the literature review shows that it is not just about opening up all aspects of the strategy process for everyone. As Madalina Pop explains, paradoxically, a completely open strategy process can be counterproductive and instead exclude important stakeholders.
“If everything is opened up, there will always be a few stakeholders who take control of the agenda to the detriment of other groups. Which is why you need to be very aware of who you involve in the process and when. And it's important to state that, ultimately, the process is still often top-down, and some decisions have to be made from the top at some point," she explains.
"There will always be different expectations for what different groups want to achieve, and the process can therefore easily go off the rails. That’s why it’s important to be clear about the purpose of the open strategy. Some parts of a strategy should still be relatively closed off. The most important thing is to be aware of which parts that should be,” stresses Madalina Pop.
Technology can exclude
The researchers also point out that there is also a risk of excluding significant stakeholders when deciding how to implement the open strategy process.
“It’s something you need to be very aware of. For example, choosing technological solutions may mean that you inadvertently exclude certain groups," explains Madalina Pop.
The big question then is how to actually plan and conduct an open strategy in the public sector. However, Jesper Rosenberg Hansen leaves that questions for somebody else to answer.
"How to do it and what to do requires a lot more research. And that’s the primary purpose of the theoretical framework and literature review: to get researchers and practitioners to reflect more on how to open up the strategy process in public organisations," he says.
We strive to comply with Universities Denmark’s principles for good research communication. For this reason, we provide the following information as a supplement to this article:
|Type of Study||Literature review|
|External partners||Bert George, City University of Hong Kong|
|Conflict of interests|| |
|Link to the scientific article||https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14719037.2022.2116091|