Shaping the Future of a Think Tank by Reconnecting to Purpose

Education Reform Initiative (ERG)


This is the story of reconnecting to purpose to shed light on the future of a 20-year-old think tank.

Founded in 2003, ERG (Education Reform Initiative) is an independent think tank focused on influencing systemic transformation in education through policy. As its  20th anniversary was approaching, ERG was ready to reinvent itself and build a new strategic roadmap for the future. To achieve that, we embarked on a journey to revisit ERG’s “why story” and shape its future by reconnecting to the shared purpose.

ERG’s story showcases how reconnecting to purpose is the key to aligning the stakeholders around a shared vision for the future.


How might we rediscover and realign on purpose to guide strategic decisions for the future?

In a nutshell…

1– Revisit and refine the ‘why’ story
2– Discover the core and the future role of the organization
3– Create purpose articulations and pressure-test them with stakeholders
4– Align on the purpose & the next steps for activation

The Story

Education Reform Initiative (ERG) is an independent think tank that contributes to systemic transformation in education for the development of the child and society through sound evidence, constructive dialogue, and innovative/critical thinking. Since its initial foundation in 2003, ERG has become a prominent stakeholder in the education ecosystem contributing to educational reform.

In the meantime, significant events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the change in the governmental system in Turkey, triggered numerous shifts on various scales in the field of education policy.

After 20 years of its foundation, the ERG team felt the need to reflect on the organizational purpose through the lens of multiple stakeholders and reconnect to it to inform the strategic decisions regarding the organization’s future. To achieve this goal, we started our journey by returning to the ‘why story’ of ERG and reconnecting to purpose to shed light on the future.

Step 1

Revisit and refine the ‘why’ story

The founding story is crucial to any organization’s purpose. The insights in the story enable us to craft what we call the “why story,” a far-reaching vision and long-term strategic ambition, the value an organization creates for its stakeholders and society. Through decoding the “why story,” it is possible to make sense of an organization’s code of success and impact.

“The thing that distinguishes a think tank is its commitment to understanding policy, informing better policy, and changing policy. And by dint of changing policy, changing the world, and making the world a better place.”
– Simon Maxwell, An introduction to think tanks and evidence-informed policy

Regardless of its field, a think tank acts as an active change agent in the policy-making ecosystem; the “why story” should also incorporate this narrative. To unleash the elements of this, looking into the “why story” through the lens of ‘Public Narrative’ provides an immense analysis opportunity. ‘Public Narrative,’ a leadership-development practice created by Professor Marshall Ganz at Harvard Kennedy School, looks into three critical aspects::

Story of Self– Why are we called to serve? ‘Call to Action’
Story of Us – Why are we called to act, and why do we have the capacity to lead? ‘Shared Values & Shared Experiences’
Story of Now – Why must we act now, and what is the urgent matter? ‘Strategy & Action’

Answering these questions enables the “why story” to be articulated deeper. On an organizational level, the story of self reveals the unique stories and values that allowed such an organization to form. The story of us reveals specific experiences, values, and choices that bring stakeholders together around and inside the organization. Lastly, the story of now reveals the potential and opportunity that should be unlocked today for a better future.

At ERG, we started the journey by revisiting ERG’s why story through design research that includes a review of corporate documents, secondary research, and one-on-one interviews with internal and external stakeholders.

Step 2

Align on the core and the future role of the organization

An authentic, inspiring, actionable, and meaningful purpose lies in the intersection of the core and the role of an organization. Discovering the unique core that brought the organization today and then aligning it with the envisioned future and the role that the organization wants to take in this future gives us insights into the purpose of an organization. Throughout this process, it is imperative to keep it authentic to your organization; be precise about what your organization is good at and what change it wants to create in the future. Then pressure-test it from the lens of multiple stakeholders to ensure that you focus on what matters most.

At ERG, the “why story” analysis gave us initial insights into the core. To feed the conversation regarding the future role, we started by mapping key trends affecting the education ecosystem and critical shifts in think tanks’ role in a changing world. Based on our initial findings, we came together with the internal stakeholders for a 2-day workshop to dig deeper into the why story and align on the core and role of the organization.

Step 3

Create purpose articulations and pressure-test them with stakeholders

Purpose is defined as the aspirational reason for being, which provides a call to action and holds meaning for all stakeholders. Purpose gives organizations a sense of direction; makes it easier to make essential decisions and prioritize what matters. That is why when ideating on alternative purpose routes; it is vital to make it clear in which ways these alternatives differ from each other and to clarify how each purpose route would affect key strategic decisions.

At ERG, we have devised three purpose routes together with the ERG team.  For each alternative, we have ideated how they could be reflected on different levels of strategy. At the end of pressure testing the routes with the stakeholders, we reduced the alternatives into two and elaborated them further for the board presentation.

Step 4

Align on the purpose & next steps for activation

Purpose is at the root of every winning strategy, and alignment on the executive level is key to achieving it. Alignment is not about agreeing on a “sentence” as purpose is not a marketing slogan; it is more about being in accord with strategic priorities and high-level decisions that the purpose entails. Purpose activation is all about organization-wide transformation and requires a strategic roadmap for mindset and behavior change. It is a never-ending process that starts with mapping the purpose-action gap and defining the priority actions to close it. As a start for purpose activation, identifying quick wins should go hand in hand with spotting ‘purpose killers’ that should be eliminated to enable the change.

At ERG we conducted a half-day workshop with board members where we invited them to discuss the key issues that would provide the basis for purpose alignment. Following these discussions, the leaders identified multiple team-level actions as the next steps of purpose activation.

  • 3 alternative purpose routes developed, pressure tested with stakeholders

  • 4 key strategic decisions identified & discussed at the board level

  • First steps in purpose activation plan