Since the turn of this millennium, major democracies throughout the world have produced numerous ‘ten-year strategy plans’ on key topics ranging from healthcare, housing and education to economic development and financial planning. Likewise, island governments have also generated many such plans over the intervening twenty-year period with an increased proliferation in more recent times. But what has been revealing is the high level of expenditure incurred in the drafting process but with limited real long-term benefits and effectiveness.
On many occasions, plans have been superseded by other strategies and policies or not followed through at all. However, the environment within which island jurisdictions now have to operate is becoming more demanding as each year passes. Geopolitical tensions, climate change, artificial intelligence, migration, and other global trends are now all contributing to a very unstable situation.
There are no magical solutions to effective long-term planning. However, there are checks and balances and ongoing resourcing and commitment that can be applied. Although there are many approaches that could be taken, the primary ways forward are identified as follows:
NAME AND DEFINITIONS
One simple thing that can be adopted is never to include a time factor (e.g. ‘Ten-Year’) in the title of a particular strategy plan. Clearly, recent history has shown that any timeline can actually be a hindrance in that it immediately dates any plan in the context of other long-term strategies. There is less of an issue if the strategy were to include timelines such as ‘short’, ‘medium’ and ‘long-term’. However there needs to be a definition of what these timelines mean in achieving objectives.
Any Plan should identify specific milestones in the review process. These milestones should coincide with known events such as scheduled local elections, budget reviews, and so on, when plan amendments and redirection could well occur. Each milestone should also set out targets by those dates so that there are some finite goals to strive for.
CONSENSUS, CO-OPERATION, COMMITMENT, AND ADAPTABILITY
Any major policy U-turn away from the previously agreed direction is a very costly thing to do but seems to be happening more frequently as political aspirations become more polarised and populism gains traction. These weaknesses are difficult to address as consensus and compromise up-front are required when a long-term strategy covers multi-government terms of office. It may not be possible to apply such obvious processes in a very politically challenged environment given the financial implications of major alterations to agreed policies. However, it would be entirely appropriate for small jurisdictions to arrive at medium and long-term consensus and commitment at the outset with built-in adaptability if a change of direction is required in the short-term.
The need for more innovative lateral thinking in the public sector will be an important element in how successful an island community will be in the future. It was clear from an assessment of the decision-making process during the Pandemic, innovation came to the fore and red tape by necessity was dispensed with in many jurisdictions. There are now real opportunities to maintain and develop an ‘innovation mindset’ to speed up government decision-making in tackling the immense challenges which inevitably will arise in the future.
STRATEGY ‘OWNERSHIP’ AND CLEAR AND CONSISTENT LEADERSHIP TEAM
One of the major weaknesses of ten-year strategy plans is that they are very often compiled by independent third parties and/or a team of departmental personnel at a point in time. Once that work has been completed then, in most cases the original authors move on and have no medium or long term ‘ownership’ of the strategy. Consequently, as part of the process of formulating a long-term strategy, there should be a succession plan put in place which addresses the need for the proper ‘ownership’ of ongoing workstreams.
INCREASING OVERLAP BETWEEN STRATEGIES AND POLICIES
One issue which has become more important as time moves on is the increasing overlap between different strategies and policies. Therefore, if there is a significant change in one strategy, then this may inevitably have ramifications on other workstreams at the highest level. Consequently, having set timescales on parallel strategies could have negative implications on the effectiveness of a particular initiative.
In conclusion, the above approaches are not to say that long-term strategy planning has become ineffective. However, a far more flexible but committed approach could be taken not only in the preparation of any such long-term plan but also in its ongoing implementation from the outset.
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