Strategic Triangle Revisited

The Strategic Triangle

In our first post of this series, we introduced the notion that ”success” in an arts enterprise means moving beyond ”sustainable” to become a ”vital” actor in your community by creating public value. But how does that value come to be? And what steps can cultural or community leaders take to create and cultivate that vitality? In this post, we’ll introduce a framework that we’ve found productive in helping clients and communities ”rethink success.” The framework is called the ”Strategic Triangle.”

The Strategic Triangle

The Strategic Triangle

Professors at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, including Mark Moore, Herman Leonard, and Robert Kaplan among others, have been studying high-performing non-government organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profits for nearly two decades. This extensive work led them to develop and describe the Strategic Triangle**, an essential relationship and intersection between three key concepts:

  • PUBLIC VALUE
    What essential public benefit does the product or service provide?
  • LEGITIMACY & SUPPORT
    What authority, legitimacy, and resources does the organization need to take positive action in dynamic ways?
  • OPERATIONAL CAPACITY
    What skills, abilities, or competencies are required to create real and durable value within the support environment?

The Strategic Triangle suggests that there is no single element for success, but rather a balance among multiple elements. It shifts the definition of value from an organizational to a community perspective. It combines ”money” into a broader framework of legitimacy and support. And it acknowledges organizational capacity as an essential leg of the stool.

In 2005, Arts Midwest commissioned Professor Moore to apply this construct to state arts agencies and bridge the general discoveries about not-for-profits and NGOs to specific insights about arts and culture. The resulting report, Creating Public Value through State Arts Agencies (available in PDF format), captured both the history of shifting public values related to the arts, as well as the essential strategies to recapture or reconstruct that value through focused action. We’ll explore that history in a future post.

In ”rethinking success,” we suggest it’s time to move beyond traditional goals of delivering the highest quality arts (excellence) in the most cost-effective manner (efficiency). It’s time to refocus our thinking and our actions toward impact (effectiveness) and value (entanglement). We believe that Moore’s Strategic Triangle – perhaps updated for our sector and the current decade – offers a useful path for that journey.

Strategic Triangle, Revisited

The Strategic Triangle, Revisited

For example, in our work, we simplify Moore’s three concepts to Value, Support, and Capacity. And we consider them to be overlapping rather than separate, with ‘success’ living at the intersection of all three.

Over the course of the next months, we will introduce a dozen essential innovations to transform our organizations – drawn from our work, excellent research by colleagues, and success illustrated by exemplary organizations. We hope that you will contribute to the conversation by sharing your ideas, your experiments, your success and failures with the field.

The comment system is open. Join the conversation!

**For more on the strategic triangle as it relates to government, see Mark H. Moore, Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1995).

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