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Union of Concerned Scientists Embraces Emergent Strategy

FSG helped the Union of Concerned Scientists create a strategic plan that allows it to continually assess and refine its priorities in a rapidly evolving external landscape.

In recent years, the policy landscape and public opinion on climate change, food production, and global security have shifted dramatically. Progress has increased at the state level even as federal efforts have stalled. Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy and California’s drought, combined with unexpected catastrophes such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, have made climate, food, and security issues more prominent in the media and triggered greater awareness among the American public.

The need to continuously adapt to an evolving external landscape presents a significant challenge for traditional strategic planning. In order to succeed under such complex conditions, organizations must embrace an emergent approach to strategy development: they must be guided by clear strategic intent while acknowledging that specific outcomes cannot be predicted and that continuous observance of changes in context is critical to success.

UCS leaders understand that the nature of their work requires an emergent strategy, and the organization’s sustained success over the past 4 decades can be attributed to their skillful navigation of the evolving external landscape. The organization has continually refined and occasionally redefined its priorities and approaches to ensure ongoing progress.

When its current strategic plan entered its last year in 2014, UCS engaged FSG to review the previous 5 years and help develop a new 5-year strategic plan. To better understand UCS’s performance and impact, and to identify potential missed opportunities, FSG conducted an organization-wide survey and facilitated conversations with nearly 100 internal and external stakeholders. Data from these activities helped inform the next phase of work, which focused on developing refined goals and theories of change for each area of UCS’s work as well as identifying strategic priorities for the organization as a whole (e.g., engaging scientists). FSG also scoped out a potential new focus area for UCS using secondary research and interviews with subject matter experts. Finally, FSG explored how UCS could embed key principles of emergent strategy into its ongoing operations (e.g., continuously monitoring changes in the landscape and institutionalizing reflection sessions) while heightening organizational attention to internal collaboration, learning, and innovation processes.

About the Union of Concerned Scientists

Founded in 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit organization that combines rigorous, independent scientific and technical analysis with effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthier planet and a safer world.

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