The social life of a strategy document

Louise O'Nolan

    Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    Strategy documents are curious artefacts of the modern organisation. They represent formal strategic planning processes that have come under criticism, in part for not representing the emergent strategy path that organisations follow in practice. This criticism of formal planning’s efficacy has coincided with a marked decline of research output in this field. This is at odds with the practice world of strategy, where formal strategic planning has become a hallmark of good governance. A Strategy-as-Practice (S-a-P) stream of research has emerged over the last fifteen years to counter this divide between theory and practice and has largely focused on the micro-practices of strategy making. This study is firmly rooted in this tradition of looking at the micro-practices of strategy work to offer novel explication on new ways of organising. This study follows the social life of a strategy document in an institute of higher education from its initial conception, writing, consultation and use, to understand the role these curious documents play in organisational life. Philosophically, this work is inductive, phenomenological, and interpretive. As a process, it presents an ethnography of strategy making, an autoethnography of strategy consultations, a deconstruction of the strategy text produced as an output, and interviews with all those in and around the strategy document’s life in the organisation. Themes of power and dramaturgy emerged in the exploration of strategy making that are further developed by reflecting on how the strategy interacts with organisational life. The tightly controlled and somewhat inauthentic strategy-making, reveals a surprising emancipatory aspiration that is reflected through the strategy in use. These findings question the the lack of focus on the concept of power in the strategy research agenda. The work follows a single strategy document’s life and therefore has a limited claim to generalisability, however, in presenting an all-encompassing view of strategy work through the strategy document, the work presents a totalising account of the role of this document in an organisation. This is a coherent account of the social life of a strategy document from in inception to its life in the organisation. The work adds to an emerging critical perspective on strategy practices and is of interest to managers and strategists alike in considering the process of writing, consulting and calling upon their strategy documents. The study adds a new perspective to the meaning of strategy work in the modern ideal of the university. Keywords: Strategy-as-Practice, Open Strategy, Higher Education Strategy, Ethnography
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Griffin, Ray, Supervisor
    • O'Riordan, Chris, Supervisor
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


    • Strategy-as-Practice, Open Strategy, Higher Education Strategy, Ethnography


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