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About this book

Strategy is vital to effective and efficient public service delivery as well as successful governance and leadership. This new text provides a concise yet systematic overview of the achievements, downfalls and complexities of public strategy in today's globalized and often market-driven world. It describes the place of strategy in civic societies whose citizens are more interconnected and vocal than ever. It shows that successful strategic planning goes well beyond problem-solving to developing adaptable plans that can evolve as requirements and circumstances change. And it explains why muddling through simply won't work.

Emphasizing the importance of applying a variety of techniques to the process of strategy-creation, Rethinking Public Strategy reassesses the key factors that can deliver significant improvements in public services and build public value. It looks at why public strategy is distinctive, as well as the principles it has in common with the corporate domain.

This text includes numerous case studies from around the globe – from South Africa to Singapore, the USA to Germany, and from China to the Czech Republic – that ground the exposition in real experience. Based on state-of-the-art research by two expert practitioners in the field, it offers an essential guide to the art of strategy in the contemporary public sector, and encourages readers to evaluate critically the various approaches to strategy.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: Strategy — Everywhere and Nowhere

Abstract
Strategy is, it seems, everywhere. Politicians, business leaders, work colleagues, teachers, sports coaches and bloggers talk about ‘strategic choices’, of making ‘strategic plans’ and ‘acting strategically’. But what do they mean — what do any of us mean — when we use the word? Is ‘strategy’ one of those words that, through overuse and misuse, has become meaningless or, worse, irritating and pointless?
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 2. Public Strategy

Abstract
Strategy is a word used since at least the Greek era; the English word is derived from the ancient Greek stratégos, meaning a general (stratos: army; ago: leading). American academic and management consultant Michael E. Porter defined strategy as ‘developing a broad formula for how an industry is going to compete, what its goals should be, and what policies will be needed to carry out those goals’ (Porter 1980: vxi). But governments and other public organizations do not always compete with each other. Often they need to collaborate in order to secure desired outcomes not for themselves as organizations — whether those organiza-tions are states, governments, municipal authorities, public agencies or charities — but for those they serve. We explore these distinctions between corporate strategy and public strategy in Chapter 3.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 3. Corporate Strategy and Public Strategy

Abstract
Much of the language and approach to strategy in the public sphere is imported from the commercial world — the world of corporate strategy. Many of the world’s leading consulting firms offer advice on the effective development of both corporate strategy and public strategy. In the corporate world the value this advice adds will show in terms of the performance of businesses that bought advice and acted upon it. That advice might be reflected in short-term sales, profits, return on investment, share price and dividends. The public sphere has, broadly, used the same advice and the same consultants as the corporate sector because some of the experience of making strategy in the private sector is applicable to the public sector and because there is little guidance specific to the public sphere. This raises the question of applicability and efficacy: how can we know from the commercial domain what is or isn’t applicable, and how can we know whether it works?
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter Four. Barriers to Strategic Thinking

Abstract
Embracing uncertainty is central to strategic thinking, but is an unfamiliar skill for many. Uncertainty is often something we feel we need to resolve and remove. We make assumptions that narrow the range of uncertainty to something we can identify as risk, because we can, or believe we can, judge risk — we can identify and quantify it and put mitigations in place to help us to control it. Assumptions we make are helpful when we identify and state them, so they can be open to challenge, but strategy built on unstated assumptions that were once valid, but over time have become outdated is not a good basis for future strategy. In these cases our assumptions become so-called ‘toxic’ assumptions. The discipline of risk management has its own set of tools and techniques, yet those for uncertainty management are less familiar and, unlike risk which, rightly or wrongly, we tend to see as objective (Douglas Hubbard exposes our fallibilities in The Failure of Risk Management 2009), uncertainty involves judgement about the future — about yet-to-be-identified states.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 5. Thinking Strategically: Methods and Approaches

Abstract
Strategic thinking is, by definition, a particular category of thinking — the qualification ‘strategic’ shows it’s not meant to be ‘any old way of thinking’. Neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist points out that the kind of attention we pay alters what we find. ‘A mountain that is a landmark to a navigator, a source of wealth to the prospector, a many-textured form to a painter, or to another the dwelling place of the gods, is changed by the attention given to it’ (McGilchrist 2009: 28–9). Strategic thinking requires an approach requiring ‘navigation, prospecting, painting and belief’ among other qualities. To help this, strategic thinking has a number of disciplines that we examine in this chapter.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 6. Acting Strategically: Building Strategic Appetite

Abstract
In Chapter 4 we considered a range of obstacles to strategy-making and the advantages of recognizing these. Chapter 5 discussed a process for strategic thinking that would help to produce a strategy. But strategies are only effective in the right circumstances. In this chapter we recommend ways to create the right institutional conditions for good strategy development and implementation, and offer suggestions on how to stimulate an appetite for strategic thinking in the first place. Without appetite there is little point in a strategic thinking process, investing in strategy teams or a horizon scanning centre, buying in analysis from consultants, reorganizing an agency or taking the management board or political leadership on awaydays. The organization has to believe that strategy matters.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 7. Delivering Strategically: Performance and Accountability for Results

Abstract
Developing a strategy is easy — if a strategy is a speech, a poster on a wall, a report to a legislature, a resource plan. You can create a document that looks impressive, talks convincingly about the future and describes the changes that a government or agency will work to bring about. But the test of whether a strategy works is whether it achieves desired outcomes, in other words, whether it delivers results — and to know whether it is delivering results, the strategy needs to be measured. The issue of measurement is not a mere technical detail in strategy-making. Planning for measurement and evaluation of the strategy from the outset shows people — employees, funders, service users, politicians and public — that you are serious about the strategy.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Chapter 8. Imagination, Curiosity and Strategic Judgement

Abstract
Wise strategy requires analysis and judgement. What is strategic judgement? It’s more than a ‘safe pair of hands’ — the leader who never takes a risk is the one who has no strategy, who can’t set a direction or build a vision of the future, because these involve the exercise of judgement and therefore carry the risk of making the ‘wrong judgement’. We consider what leads to ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ judgements in this chapter, by looking at the idea of judgement and its exercise from various angles. But if wise strategy needs a risk-taker, it does not need a wild risk-taker who sets a bold vision and pursues it without anyone following.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks

Conclusion

Abstract
Strategy in the public realm means organizing with a sense of purpose, by understanding future capabilities and the policies that will be needed for delivering outcomes beyond the organization for the common good. Purposive endeavours create a collective, or public, value at some point in the future — schools, universities, libraries and health services. Public strategy identifies and shapes the future, it creates a narrative and plan that will carry people with it from the start to whichever plausible future has been imagined. It understands what it is trying to achieve or the system it is trying to improve. Being clear about the purpose of an activity changes it to an action capable of achieving a meaningful result, for instance, not simply carrying out safety inspections but making industry safer. That action must be accountable. It needs a mandate (the authorizing environment) for its social mission and the operational capability to deliver it if it is to gain legitimacy for the outcomes it seeks to deliver.
Sean Lusk, Nick Birks
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