New Report on the Value of Strategy Mapping

This post first appeared on IBM Business of Government. Read the original article.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Government leaders today face serious, seemingly intractable public management issues that go to the core of effective governance and leadership.

These types of challenges run the gamut from the pandemic to economic dislocation, homelessness, and natural and manmade disasters. These major crises have complex causes, and the resources needed to properly address them often transcend the capacity of any single government agency. Addressing these challenges effectively requires what the National Academy of Public Administration calls “new approaches to public governance and engagement.” Such approaches necessitate collaboration or co-alignment across the efforts of multiple organizations.

In the recent IBM Center report, Addressing Complex and Cross-Boundary Challenges in Government: The Value of Strategy Mapping, by John M. Bryson with contributor Bill Barberg, Anne Carroll, Colin Eden, Bert George, Jose J. Gonzalez, Jessica Rochester, Laure Vandersmissen, and Bishoy Zaki describes strategy management-at-scale, an approach to enable planning that addresses the major challenges facing governments at all levels. It is a boundary-crossing process designed to create direction, alignment, and commitment across agencies and among independent organizations at the scale of the challenge or issue to be addressed.

One of the most promising techniques for facilitating strategy management-at-scale is strategy mapping. Strategy mapping is a technique to help leaders across multiple levels, organizations and/or sectors understand the system in need of change and articulate the interventions needed to bring about the desired changes.

Creating Shared Meaning through Participation and Dialogue

The map and mapping process itself functions as a shared intellectual framework and back¬bone to help guide the effort. It helps create shared meaning through participation and dia¬logue. It facilitates negotiation and commitment to agreements about what to do, how to do it, and why; and then communicates strategies in a way that is easily understood and acted upon. It provides a framework, for guiding, monitoring, reviewing, and evaluating strategy implementation. Strategy mapping helps users visualize the cause-and-effect chains in a system and the actions that can be taken to change the system. In other words, it links aspirations and capabilities, the essence of strategy.

To highlight these links, this report contains three case examples of coalitions that used mapping for different pur¬poses, and to different effect. While the primary purpose of the strategy mapping efforts varies across the cases, each example illustrates that by using a few simple rules to formulate statements and creating links, causal maps help reveal relevant values, possible goals and strategies, and specific tactics and actions. Many software packages are available to facilitate strategy map¬ping and choosing the right one depends on what and how you are using strategy mapping.

  • The Minnesota SNAP-Ed project used a largely manual mapping process to develop and coordinate a strategy for improving nutritional outcomes among Native American communities.
  • The Research Council of Norway funded a project that used mapping to respond to the emerging COVID-19 crisis to determine the risks and opportunities relevant to managing the pandemic. They used a cloud-based software called Strategyfinder in virtual conferencing sessions.
  • A coalition involved with the Canadian family justice system is working to reduce adverse childhood experiences. They used a strategy mapping process focused on coordinating the implementation and evaluation of a system transformation over the long term and they are relying on a software called InsightVision to help manage strategy implementation.

Leadership in strategy management-at-scale is different from strategic leadership of a single organization. Because large-scale issues can only be addressed effectively by multiple organi-zations together, no one leader has the oversight or control needed. Through mapping, stake¬holders understand how their efforts are part of the larger strategy, and they can see how their own and other organizations working alone or together can contribute to greater success. The map is integral to managing the complexity involved in dealing with many relevant ideas, organizations, and their interconnections at different levels and often different sectors as they contribute to creating useful change.

Benefits of Strategy Mapping

Along with describing how strategy mapping works in practice, this report highlights the benefits of this approach. Strategy mapping is a particularly powerful method for helping organizations figure out what to do, how to do it, and why. Group strategy mapping overcomes the two main challenges to strategic success:

  • helping the group come up with ideas that are good, worth implementing, and possible to implement; and
  • building the coalition of support necessary to implement those ideas. In other words, group strategy mapping helps the group think smarter and build needed commitment to action.


The authors offer insights into how best to implement strategy mapping, leveraging available technology to help scale the application and use of the tool. The report culminates with recommendations and advice on how to start doing strategy management-at-scale by using strategy mapping.

  1. Understand that strategy management-at-scale is very different from strategic management of a single organization. The emphasis is on understanding the dynamics of complex issues and systems and then working to clarify a set of interrelated changes that would make a significant difference in bringing about desired outcomes. The strategy focus, therefore, is on encouraging collaboration, or at least co-alignment, of efforts and in moving from unplanned systems to ones that are more intentionally planned. There is also a focus on breaking complex social issues down into smaller parts that might be a fit for different organizations
  2. Use strategy mapping to develop a deeper understanding of issues that cannot be solved by one organization alone. These are issues that cross organizational boundaries, levels (e.g, national, federal, state, and local) and/or sector boundaries (e.g., government, nonprofit, business, and civil society). Consider the multiple interests and knowledge sources needed to develop an adequate understanding. Include enough key informants to have reasonable assurance you do understand the issues involved. Recognize that more than one mapping exercise will likely be needed. Design a process to have mapping exercises build on one another.
  3. Use strategy mapping to clarify both goals and the effective strategies to achieve those goals. This means creating an overview map to help guide the development of cross- boundary, cross-level, and cross-sector direction, alignment, and commitment. The overview map will not be very detailed but should show how various organizations (either separately or together) can contribute toward achieving shared goals that cannot be achieved by any organization alone. Individual organization can create their own more detailed strategy maps that take the broader, jointly shared goals into account.
  4. Effective strategy management-at-scale requires a shared information management platform that allows the participating organizations to see what needs to be done, what progress is being made, and where additional problem solving and learning are required (Barberg, 2017; Ansell and Gash, 2018; Ansell and Miura, 2020).

This report builds on the IBM Center’s long-standing research into leveraging new tools and
approaches to governance that better position government agencies to address complex challenges that cross or transcend traditional agency boundaries. The report provides practical recommendations on how governments can work with each other and with partners to leverage strategy management at scale and use strategy mapping to address complex, boundary-spanning problems.

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