Planning in Ambiguous Contexts: The Dilemma of Meeting Needs for Commitment and Demands for Legitimacy

(with Melissa M. Stone)


Strategic Management Journal




This paper argues that ambiguity of context manifested in pressures for legitimacy and commitment affect planning processes. Ambiguity arises from multiple conflicting constituencies and the lack of direct control over resources. Using nonprofit and entrepreneurial organizations as examples of organizations facing ambiguous contexts, we examine their planning practices to develop an understanding of the relationship between commitment, legitimacy, and planning. From this analysis, we articulate a managerial dilemma: the need to use informality and vagueness to gain commitment from diverse interests, and the need to demonstrate formalization of managerial practices to acquire legitimacy from critical resource suppliers. Using elements of this dilemma, we present a new planning framework for organizations in ambiguous contexts that recognizes planning as a strategy for resource acquisition rather than a strategy for resource allocation.


Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Organizational Behavior and Theory

Recommended Citation

Stone, Melissa M. and Candida Brush. 1996. "Planning in Ambiguous Contexts: The Dilemma of Meeting Needs for Commitment and Demands For Legitimacy." Strategic Management Journal 17, no. 8: 633-652.

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