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Putting the Resource-Based View of Strategy and Distinctive Competencies to Work in Public Organizations


John M. Bryson is a professor of planning and public affairs and associate dean for research in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. His research, teaching, and consulting focus on leadership, strategic management, and the design of participation processes. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and consults widely in the United States and United Kingdom.

Fran Ackermann is a professor of strategy and information systems in the Department of Management Science at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. She is interested in working with groups (public and private, multinationals, or small and medium-sized enterprises) on messy and complex strategic problems. She is the coauthor of Making Strategy: The Journey of Strategic Management (Sage, 1998) and The Practice of Making Strategy (Sage, 2005).

Colin Eden is a professor of strategic management and management science and associate dean and director of the international division at the Strathclyde Business School of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. His major interests are the processes of strategy making in senior management teams and the success and failure of large projects. He is widely published and has consulted with the senior management teams of a variety of public and private organizations in Europe and North America.


A key to the success of public organizations is their ability to identify and build capacity, particularly their distinctive competencies, in order to produce the greatest value for key stakeholders. This article grounds this proposition in the resource-based view of organizations and presents a method for identifying and making use of distinctive competencies in the form of a “livelihood scheme”—a business model appropriate for the public sector—that links distinctive competencies to organizational aspirations and goals. The case of a major public sector training and consultancy unit that is part of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is used as illustration. A number of conclusions are offered in the form of a set of propositions tied to the resource-based view and related research issues. The results contribute to both public strategic management theory and practice.