Skip to main content

MLD-110: Strategic Management for Public Purposes

Go Search
New Atlas
Atlas, A-Z
Atlas Maps
MPP/MPA Programs
Core Topics
Illustrative Courses
Topic Encyclopedia
Concept Dictionary
Career Tips
Best Practices Project


Harvard Kennedy School

MLD-110: Strategic Management for Public Purposes

Description: Improving public sector performance is crucial as a foundation for social and economic development and for restoring trust in government. This course focuses on strategic management in the public sectors of democratic societies. It critically examines and applies the assumptions, concepts, and tools of the new approaches to solving public problems that are being applied around the world. Important strategic decisions examined in the course include: formulating and articulating a mission and vision; formulating and internalizing in the organization a set of long-term objectives; translating objectives into measures of performance; designing production systems and organizational structures; and shaping organizational culture. Privatization and partnerships will be examined along with public provision as ways of creating public value. Most class meetings are case discussions, supplemented with conceptual materials, exercises, and group work. Cases and other readings are drawn from the United States, other industrialized countries, and developing countries. Cases and other readings are drawn from the United States and other countries. The course is designed for students with management experience.

Faculty: Peter Zimmerman (MLD-110A, Fall 2012); Steven Strauss (MLD-100B, Spring 2013)

Source: At and (accessed 12 February 2013)


Teaching Topics Addressed in this Course, Organized by Public Management Subject

 Strategy and Structure for Public Management

  Balanced Scorecard as a Strategy for Performance Improvement
  Building Coalitions
  Developing Networks for Improvement
  Improving Organizational Performance through Competition
  Learning as a Performance Strategy
  Organizational Alignment
  Organizational Culture
  Organizing for Collaboration and Partnership
  Organizing for Performance
  Performance Information as a Management and Transformation Tool
  Public-Private Partnerships
  Setting Strategy and Goals

 Decision Sciences for Public Management

  Impact of Bias on Decision-Making
  Race, Gender and Other Group Identities Impact on Decision-making

 Evaluation and Performance Measurement

  Performance Management
  Performance Measurement

 Human Resources Management

  Decision-Making on Employee Sanctions
  Evaluating Talent

 Leadership for Public Management

  Leaders and Managers
  Leading Change


Commentary by the Atlas editors: The syllabi (particularly the class titles and the readings), of this class (taught by Professors Peter Zimmerman and Steven Strauss), have been very valuable in the Atlas's specification of teaching topics in several different public management subjects. The course is unusual in that its teaching topics are associated with several (five) public management subjects. The course deals with somewhat the same subject matter as the MLD-101 core course for MPP students but MLD-110 is designed for students with management experience. 

The two professors take somewhat different approaches to course design.

Professor Zimmerman (MLD-110A) provides two useful definitions at the outset:

  • Management and leadership are activities intended to influence, guide, channel and direct the actions of others toward desired ends through formal and informal organizations.
  • Public management is the work of mobilizing others to accomplish socially useful purposes and advance the public interest.

and notes that management and leadership activities are strategic in two senses:

  • As one’s actions take into account and are conditioned on the predicted response of others. Strategic behavior exploits the interdependence of human perception, interpretation, analysis and action in social, political, and organizational life.
  • As one acts to bring coherence and focus to one’s actions and the actions of others across time and space. Strategic management brings coordination, alignment, coherence and force to the actions of diverse individuals in dispersed settings.   (Syllabus, p 1-2)

Zimmerman's class titles are: What is Strategy; Organizations (2); Leaders and Managers (2); Leading Change (3); Organizing for Performance (7); Leading Change; Organization, Teams and Leadership (2); Organizing for Performance, Collaboration and Partnership (4); Leadership and Decision (2).

Zimmerman assigns five required textbooks:

  • Mark Moore, Creating Public Value, Harvard University Press, 1997
  • Joseph Nye, The Powers to Lead , Oxford, 2008
  • Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, (fourth edition) Jossey Bass, 2010
  • Max Bazerman and Don Moore, Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, (seventh edition), Wiley, 2009
  • W. Richard Scott and Gerald Davis, Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural and Open Systems Perspectives, Pearson/Prentice Hall , 2007

Professor Strauss (MLD-110B) lists the strategic actions to be examined in the course: setting and articulating goals and missions; aligning strategy with mission; leading organizational change; managing with performance information; improving work processes; structuring networks and partnerships; and dealing with crises and environments in transition. He notes (MLD-110B Syllabus, p 1) that the course uses organizational theory and practice to explore alternative models of leadership and authority in organizations - models which profoundly challenge the default organizational paradigm governing so many of our assumptions about how organizations operate.

He notes (MLD-110B Syllabus, p 1) that strategic thinking will be an important theme in this course and provides a concise definition:

  • Strategy is the process by which we leverage resources at our disposal to maximize the likelihood of achieving the outcomes we seek.

He notes that "We achieve such leverage by discovering synergies among our available resources, and exploiting those synergies to create coherence in our actions, directed toward our organizational purposes. We will explore ways to release the power of strategy and strategic thinking from boundaries imposed by traditional models of organization, in order to deeply transform public organizations and the services they provide."

Strauss sets out the titles of his 26 classes as follows:


1. Introduction – Strategic Triangle

2. Organizational Culture

3. Setting Strategy – Aravind Eye Hospital

4. Setting Strategies and Goals – Bills of Andalucía

5. Bureaucratic Entrepreneur – Student Aid in Sweden

6. Consensus Building – Providence Schools (Mandatory Assignment)

7. Innovation - GSA


8. Performance Information – NYC Police and Crime

9. Changing Organizational Culture – Mayor Williams and DC

10. Performance System and Summary (Optional Assignment)

11. Learning Organization – Children’s Hospital

12. Balanced Scorecard – City of Charlotte

13. Regulatory Performance – OSHA

14. Alignment – Centrelink


15. Networks - IHI

16. Competition – City of Indianapolis

17. Partnerships – NYC Parks

18. Coalitions – Rev. Brown


19. Employee Motivation - TSA

20. Evaluating Talent - GE

21. Bias – One Church, One Child

22. Group Identity – Star Distributors

23. Leadership Styles – General Petraeus (Optional Assignment)

24. Leadership and Strategy - Michelle Rhee

25. MBTA

26. Summary/Special Topics

Strauss recommends students acquire the book:

  • Elaine Kamarck, The End of Government…As We Know It, Lynn Rienner Publishers, 2007.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 13 February 2013. The content presented on this page, except in the Commentary, is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases.



MLD-110B Spring 2013, Steven Straus.pdfMLD-110B Spring 2013, Steven Straus
MLD-110A Fall 2012, Peter Zimmerman.pdfMLD-110A Fall 2012, Peter Zimmerman

Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance