Opinion
September 12, 2012

Strategic thinking required for a grand strategy

Quote of the week

“Policymaking will be better if it is well and systematically informed by strategic thinking at the national or ‘Grand’ strategic level.”

Editor’s Corner

A U.K. House of Commons report by the Public Administration Select Committee tackles the issue – more to the point, the absence – of strategic thinking across government at the highest level.

It calls for a “National (or Grand) Strategy” for the U.K. government that is “a set of strategic aims which are subject to constant development” in response to a changing world.  

The Committee doesn’t buy the notion that today’s issues are so complex that they are beyond a government’s control. That, it argues, is just an excuse for muddling through, which can result in new problems that should have been anticipated.

In fact, the report says, the uncertain climate we live in means that nothing less than a National Strategy for government is needed if national interests are to be protected and pursued effectively.

Witnesses before the committee didn’t merely blame the government for being too political in its decision-making, although it was noted that political influence too often overrides what we might call “evidence-based decision-making.” Rather, the reports says that there is not enough strategic capacity across the U.K. civil service, and that “strategists” need to be recruited and trained.

It calls for cross-departmental strategic thinking and encourages the use of external input from other sectors that can create a useful challenge function.

The report is broad in scope and ambitious in its call for better thinking at the highest levels to respond to issues that can affect the future of the country.

I take from it, among other things, that governments must ensure they have capacity to do deep-dive strategic thinking and analysis at the highest (‘national’) levels, and that without it there is a risk that politicians and civil servants will be unable to avoid short term, ill-informed, “solutions” that don’t solve the problem.

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