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Suffocating in Strategies?

Every public sector organisation is knee deep in strategies, many of which never see the light of day once they have been produced, and few of which lead to tangible results.

“I’m trying to stop them writing a pointless child poverty strategy, a pointless health inequalities strategy, a pointless health and wellbeing strategy, a pointless consultation strategy………  and instead write something focused and meaningful that they can actually deliver.” – Email from senior local government policy officer.

Why is there such a problem with strategies?

  • Pressure to comply with requirements to produce strategies
  • A failure to explore and delve in sufficient depth to reach agreement on what is actually wanted
  • An unwillingness to work through ‘difficult issues’ and take the tough decisions that producing a good strategy must entail
  • Poorly written documents which muddle ends (outcomes) and means (solutions or outputs)
  • One organisation producing a strategy, allegedly on behalf of a number of collaborators, then finding that they don’t have ‘buy in’

Strategies Matter

Yet above all in challenging times, a good strategy is essential as a compass to guide an organisation, or a collaborating group of organisations, working towards long term goals.

“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wetenhall Associates believe that fit for purpose strategies are absolutely worth investing in, and essential for any multi-agency initiatives addressing long term change. If you are planning for changes that are long term and hard to achieve, you have to be able to prioritise and adapt and that’s what a good strategy will help you to do.

Tips on stakeholder engagement for strategy development

There are dozens of ‘how to’ guides on strategy, but few focus sufficiently on the realities of ‘stakeholder engagement’ when developing a strategy. A few tips drawn from our experience are:

  • All the core stakeholders for the strategy need to be very clear about why they developing it,  how they will use it and agree that together.
  • Think and talk about delivery at the same time as you talk about strategic aims. Continually testing one against the other gives a grounding in reality.
  • People naturally talk about high level aims, or quite small actions and solutions, but good strategy is very much about the level in between those things. Help people find ways to talk about the ‘middle level’ of strategic goals –between the frankly unhelpful ‘motherhood is good’ level, and the equally limiting small solution that is detached from a strategic outcome.
  • Be realistic about who will engage, at what depth, with the strategy. Who do you need to get really involved in it, and who just needs to make comments on a final draft?
  • Use consensus-building, conflict avoidance principles and ways of working to help people develop and believe in strategic ‘win win’ outcomes.
  • Pay attention to using plain English and avoid jargon, to ensure everyone genuinely understands what is being talked about and written.