Power of the Vague: How Vision Statements Have Mobilized Change in Two Swedish Cities

AuthorSara Brorström,Maria Grafström,Kristina Tamm Hallström
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(10) 2075 –2100
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221113233
Power of the Vague: How
Vision Statements Have
Mobilized Change in Two
Swedish Cities
Sara Brorström1, Maria Grafström2,
and Kristina Tamm Hallström2,3
This paper investigates the role of strategic artifacts in realizing change in
two Swedish cities. Drawing from qualitative studies of city development
projects we illustrate how ambiguous formulations in vision statements
constitute a powerful basis for legitimizing actions. As part of establishing
linkages between future-oriented vision statements and concrete actions
here and now, we highlight the role of materialization. We provide
three examples of how the vision statements studied materialized—into
organizational structures, management control systems, and communication
efforts—and discuss how such materialization implies that only some parts
of broad vision statements are translated into practice.
visions, strategic management, performativity, city development, strategic
1University of Gothenburg, Sweden
2Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE), Sweden
3Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Sara Brorström, Department of Business Administration, University of Gothenburg, PO Box
603, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden.
Email: sara.brorstrom@handels.gu.se
1113233AAS0010.1177/00953997221113233Administration & SocietyBrorström et al.
2076 Administration & Society 54(10)
It is a trend for cities, in various governance constellations, to draft strategic
documents (Brandtner et al., 2017; Kornberger & Carter, 2010; Rosenberg
Hansen, 2011). This tendency can be understood as a consequence of new pub-
lic management, in which public organizations mirror private ones in an attempt
to enhance efficiency (Christensen & Laegreid, 2011; Johnsen, 2019). The role
of these documents is generally claimed to be to present decisions, action plans,
and other tools in the process of realizing the stated ambitions and measuring
the associated development (Brandtner et al., 2017; Bryson & George, 2020;
Kornberger, 2012). Strategic documents in the public sector are often drafted
across traditional organizational boundaries through collaboration with actors
from diverse parts of the organization, as well as with external stakeholders
(Ansell & Miura, 2020; Hautz et al., 2017). Underlying this development is the
perception that to address contemporary challenges such as climate change,
urban segregation, and sustainability, actors must work together across bound-
aries in new and innovative ways (Metzger & Rader Olsen, 2013; Swyngedouw,
2007). However, research has shown that these documents tend to be abstract
and vague (Abdallah & Langley, 2014; Allmendinger & Haughton, 2012; Gioia
et al., 2012). This can give rise to “governance gaps” between what is agreed
on at an abstract level and the resulting actions (cf. Pierre, 1999). Rather than
studying how strategy becomes part of an organization, it is then important to
consider how organizational actors transform their organizations “to create ‘fit’
with a new strategy” (Merkus et al., 2019, p. 4). In this paper, we investigate
how such links between strategic documents and action are made and expressed
through different forms of materialization. We are interested in one particular
form of strategic document—the vision statement. Vision statements have
become extensively used in municipalities as a way of articulating and steering
what the city or municipality should become in the future. They are naturally
abstract and vague, and typically present “glossy” futures of the cities in ques-
tion. They have been criticized for merely presenting speculative and unrealis-
tic dreams that seldom resemble the development that eventually occurs
(Lauermann, 2020).
In this paper, we regard such vision statements as strategic artifacts (or
tools), and we are interested in what happens when actors use these tools,
rather than assuming their usage (Spee & Jarzabkowski, 2009). Strategizing
always involves various material artifacts that influence the work being done
(Rosenberg Hansen, 2011; Werle & Seidl, 2015), and applying this perspec-
tive responds to calls for more studies into strategy tools (Laamanen, 2017;
Vuorinen et al., 2018). We thus advance research into the role of strategic
artifacts in the public sector by illustrating how vision statements have led to

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT