Understanding Strategic Capacity in Constituency-Based Organizations

Team: Jane Booth-Tobin, Kal Munis, Lynsy Smithson-Stanley, Hahrie Han 

Key Question: What can constituency-based organizations and social movements learn from other disciplines about how to build and sustain strategic capacity? 

Research Products:


Movement organizations work in inherently uncertain political environments. Whether an organization is advocating for a new minimum wage, working to close a private prison, or seeking to influence an election, the terrain they are operating on shifts nearly every day. That is increasingly true as political uncertainty rises in the 21st century, particularly for historically race-class subjugated communities. Any movement-based organization seeking to build, exercise, and win political power must have sophisticated strategic capacities to be able to navigate these uncertain, dynamic, and constantly shifting political environments. Yet, our knowledge of how movements can nurture the kind of strategic capacities that allows them to build constituencies and leadership that can operate in the flexible ways needed for these dynamic circumstances is limited.

This project, undertaken by the P3 Lab at Johns Hopkins University with support from the Movement Capacity Building Team of the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, seeks to summarize research about strategic capacity from a range of different disciplines. Scholars in management studies, social movement studies, labor studies, organizational behavior, and economics have all researched how strategic capacity operates in business firms, public sector organizations (e.g., agencies, government corporations, etc.), unions, movements and movement organizations, and other non-profit organizations. These literatures, however, frequently are not in conversation with one another, and the learning is not shared across those domains.

This report seeks to synthesize what is currently known about organizations that successfully build and wield strategic capacity, with a particular eye toward how it might apply to constituency-based organizations. The report concludes with an assessment and facilitated conversation guide to support movements and movement organizations in understanding how developed (or not) their strategic capacities are.

Download the full report here. 

Strategic Capacity Assessment Guide

For organizations who are going through the process of assessing your organization's strategic capacity, please find key tools below: 

  • Full facilitation guide: This assessment is an agitational, reflective tool designed for teams and organizations to build a shared understanding of and investment in strategic capacity, while taking an honest look at how effectively you have (or have not) already built the practices and processes likely to help cultivate strategic capacity and identifying how to prioritize your time going forward. It includes an individual survey and a guide for a daylong team meeting. 

  • Survey: An individual reflection that staff and volunteers complete to reflect on their understanding of a set of organizational practices and processes that make the emergence of strategic capacity more likely is key part of the process we've laid out to understand your organization's strategic capacity. Organizations can print the survey from the full guide or head here for information on a digital copy of the survey customized to their organization

  • Survey results: The facilitator will need to create packets of the survey results for participants to discuss at the daylong team meeting . Templates are here
Jane Booth-Tobin


P3 Lab Director