How to improve the operationalization and implementation of strategic documents

The regulations on the preparation of plans for the implementation of development strategies in both entities and in the Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina foresee the creation of multi-year and annual plans. In the case of multi-year plans, two types of three-year plans are mentioned: a medium-term work plan of the relevant administrative body and an action plan for the implementation of the relevant strategic document. For all three types of plans, appropriate formats are prescribed to be used in their development.

Current planning practice alligned with new regulations and methodology indicates the need for further elaboration of the action plan preparation and the relationship between the action plan for the implementation of the strategic document and the medium-term plan of the institution responsible for and coordinating the implementation of that document.

Both action and medium-term plans practically transform measures and projects from strategic documents into concrete activities that need to be carried out in the planning period. In this case, the action plan has an inter-institutional scope (involving stakeholders from various administrative bodies, public sector institutions, the private sector, and the non-governmental sector), while the medium-term work plan has an intra-institutional scope (referring to internal organizational parts as holders of certain activities). On the other hand, the subject of the action plan is the operational elaboration of an individual strategic document, while the medium-term plan often includes several strategic documents, usually in accordance with the internal departments of the administrative body.

Current practice shows, among other things, two weaknesses:

  1. in some cases, administrative bodies omit the development of an action plan for some strategic documents, considering it sufficient to include measures and projects from strategic documents in the medium-term work plan; and
  2. in some cases, the elaboration of measures and projects from a specific strategic document is incorporated only into the medium-term plan and budget of the administrative body that is the main holder (and coordinator) of its implementation, and not in the medium-term plans and budgets of other administrative bodies, i.e., other holders of the implementation of measures and projects from the strategic document.

This way, the institutional and material premises for the successful implementation of the strategic document in a three-year, and then annual period, are significantly narrowed and reduced.

How can such practices and their negative consequences be overcome?

We believe that the solution lies in paying more attention to the process and actors involved in the development of the action plan, and in clearer delineation of the connection between action plans and medium-term work plans.

Before describing such a path, it would be good to remind ourselves who and how works on the development of the strategic document that serves as the basis for the action plan creation. Typically, by the decision of the relevant administrative body (responsible for the development of the strategic document), a broader working group is formed, which includes delegated participants from a larger number of other public administration bodies and the public sector, and if necessary, the private and non-governmental sectors. This working group goes through appropriate steps according to the prescribed methodology, sometimes with professional expert support and moderation, to successfully meet the methodology’s requirements and challenges of confronting different perspectives and aligning the expectations and interests of participants from various fields. The mandate of this working group ends with the drafting of the strategic document.

The next step, as far as planning is concerned, is the development of an action plan, which follows after the adoption of the strategic document. This step needs to be done every year, by the prescribed deadline, for the next three years. In practice, an inter-institutional working group is not formed for this step; instead, the task is entrusted to the department within the administrative body in charge of developing that strategic document, and logically, the development of the action plan. The scope and quality of the action planning work in this case predominantly depend on the motivation and ability of the person in charge of leading and/or performing this task: whether it will be done with less energy expenditure (more routinely and mechanically, with a small circle of collaborators, as is necessary from the perspective of the formal acceptability of the plan and the transition to the medium-term work plan) or will it take significantly more time, nerves, and personal credibility with colleagues in other administrative bodies, sectors, and institutions, trying to include appropriate inputs from their strategies and plans. In the latter case, the action plan will probably be much more substantial and of higher quality, but it remains a question whether and to what extent key things from the strategic document will be included in the medium-term work plans of other institutions and actors.

The first area for improvement, therefore, is seen in more organized and systematic management of the action plan development process. We believe that its development should also be entrusted to some form of inter-institutional working group, as in the case of drafting the strategic document, only now the working group can be smaller and include selected holders of the implementation of measures and projects from the strategic document. Such a working group should take care of the operationalization and coordination of the implementation of the strategic document. Operationalization, in this case, means: developing an action plan and taking on the obligation to incorporate the corresponding activities and planned budgetary funds into medium-term and annual work plans, and thus into the budgets of the institutions from which the working group members come. Coordination of implementation means that the working group meets several times a year, with a dual purpose: to prepare and analyze elements for the preparation of the report on implementation of the strategic document, or plan, and to prepare an action plan for the next period. This approach also has added value because it allows, through a well moderated reflection/review of what has been done and what has not, to learn appropriate lessons that can be very useful in developing the action plan for the next period.

Another possibility for improvement is in better elaboration of the connection between the action plan and the medium-term work plans of institutions designated as holders of activities and projects from the action plan or measures and strategic projects from the strategic document.

In the next few months, we will try, based on the knowledge and experience of our team, in cooperation with practitioners from domestic partner institutions and with the help of domestic experts who are significantly involved in the practice of strategic and operational planning, to develop practical recommendations on how to introduce improvements in the development of multi-year plans, specifically in the example of operationalizing the strategic framework for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As with all other practical documents and instruments, we will present these recommendations to a wider circle of interested potential users and publish them in the “reading room” on our website.