Factors Preventing U.S. Adoption of Triple-Bottom-Line Sustainability Frameworks and Performance Indicators in Museum Strategic Planning
CitationGroom, Jocelyn. 2019. Factors Preventing U.S. Adoption of Triple-Bottom-Line Sustainability Frameworks and Performance Indicators in Museum Strategic Planning. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis thesis investigated the potential factors preventing the adoption of triple-bottom-line (TBL) strategies and indicators in U.S. museums. Previous research has examined what makes museums sustainable or proposed indicators to measure performance, but none have examined the drivers behind the lack of adoption of these indicators.
Using comparative case studies and structured interviews, I examined what factors are preventing museums in the United States from adopting TBL strategies and indicators, and whether it is feasible for U.S. museums to adopt TBL sustainability action plans using the existing Global Reporting Institute version 4 (GRI4) framework.
My hypotheses were that, compared to similar institutions, in U.S. museums TBL strategies and indicators have not been adopted because leaders do not link institutional reputation to TBL; that lack of accountability for executive boards causes lack of attention to TBL; that a majority of private funding encourages greater adoption of TBL performance metrics than public funding, and that the lack of external regulations or guidelines for TBL performance metrics causes lack of attention to TBL. Samples included nonprofit museums listed in Guidestar and nonprofit institutions comparable to museums, higher education institutions, that were indirectly or explicitly using, or implementing multi-dimensional performance metrics or management strategies.
Findings in this study indicated that the lack of adoption is related to structural issues. Universities, which are similar to museums, have successfully adopted TBL reporting practices based on the existence of a framework developed through extensive testing, piloting, and stakeholder engagement. However, U.S. museums lack either voluntary or regulatory TBL frameworks. In the rare cases of adoption of TBL strategy in U.S. museums, it is due to the influence of the organizational leader. Executive boards served to support, and not drive, adoption. The influence of funding sources, whether public or private, is still undetermined due to the relatively small amount of cases in this study.
Private funding did appear to have a strong positive influence in one case, which may or may not be representative. Mission may be a soft influence, where organizations that can tie notions of sustainability more directly to their mission, such as natural history museums and gardens, are practicing TBL strategy. Organizational capacity, or size, may also be a factor in utilizing TBL performance measurement on strategy, but in the absence of a sector-wide framework, compared to universities which do have such a framework, definitive conclusions were not possible. Museums in the United States are challenged financially because their business model, although more advanced than its original model, is highly constrained, and makes it difficult for museums to access capital markets.. Museums in the U.S. operate within a historic context in which the country’s nonprofits became part of a “welfare state” from which they have yet to emerge.
I propose a feasible, but challenging, TBL framework that is appropriate for U.S. museums and based on the existing STARS framework for universities and Sustainability Index for public gardens. The proposed framework should include best-practice indicators from GRI4 and also science-based targets for environmental and greenhouse-gas emissions goals. However, the museum sector would ultimately need to develop this framework.
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