THU 17 - 1 - 2019
Date: Jan 17, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
The social cause of national strategic planning
Hiba Huneini

Strategic planning is an essential exercise that any kind of human organization needs to undertake. Strategy entails a rational calculation for the possible utilization of resources for the achievement of a set of objectives in a specific time frame. Variation is so wide for the types of resources or objectives of strategic planning. Besides, the nature of the planners and their aspirations are particularly important when we analyze a specific strategic planning intervention.

Since the current Lebanese government was appointed, the number of ministries and interministerial blocks that have announced strategic plans has increased. It is important to take an eagle-eye look at these bona fide attempts to improve long-term planning, optimize resource utilization and identify performance needs.

Strategic planning is needed in governance. Effective policies are those that fit within a larger strategic policy spectrum. Successful policymakers are those who know how not to lose sight of strategic objectives due to the busyness of daily management. Moreover, policymakers often consider communicating their strategies to their constituencies to create a perception of rationalism and vision.

Hence, strategic planning is an essential part of public management for various political and policy rationale. This type of strategic planning is known as top-down strategy. It is looked at as a “topic” of technical nature that needs to be addressed with specialists and experts with a strong technical background in the topic.

Historically, the rise of this kind of strategic planning has been juxtaposed with the rise of rationalism and orthodox economics, which is an approach that treated “topics” like management and economic development as highly technical and mathematical. This paradigm required the development of formal theorems with general rules that could be applied in every situation with the same results.

The Washington consensus, which is a list of 10 economic policy prescriptions that was created by the economist John Williamson and adopted by international development institutions in Washington, was the strategic face of this stream. This approach was criticized due to its failure to adapt to the contexts of the countries in which it was implemented and resulted in major economic setbacks and in some cases a structural failure of economic and development regimes. These models of strategic planning happen in isolation from the opinion of the population affected by them and without prior involvement of society under the argument that this is a matter that is strictly technical, and the public can’t add to it.

An alternative model of strategic planning shall consider the subject matter not as a technical “topic” but as a social “cause” to which social public participation is imperative to success. Technical expertise is highly valuable for the soundness and scientific basis of the strategy; however, it is not enough to secure a strategy that can overcome political as well as social uncertainties. Strategies based on community participation tend to live longer and stand resilient in front of the complexities of 21st-century policy conundrums.

It is important for policymakers in Lebanon who are sailing in the middle of a perfect storm, due to international, regional and domestic winds, to recognize the true nature of the strategic planning process, and the undividable role that social groups, academia, syndicates and all sorts of social actors can play in this process. It is crucial to be aware that technical rational calculation is not, alone, enough to produce effective strategies that could utilize our country’s scare resources in achieving our society’s rich objectives.

Hiba Huneini is the manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 13, 2018, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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