National strategic plans, which clearly state strategic goals and objectives and provide directions with specific strategies and/or strategic actions to reach to, are crucial for any country including Bangladesh to address social, economic, health, environmental, technological and many other concerns with the consideration of diverse potential area-specific challenges. Up until now, Bangladesh has adopted a number of national strategic plans — consisting of several components such as a core plan, an operational plan, and a monitoring and evaluation plan — in a range of areas. Some examples of strategic plans of Bangladesh are the health, population and nutrition sector strategic plan, the national conservation strategy, the communication strategy, and the national sustainable development strategy.
Obviously, Bangladesh’s national strategic plans, which are usually based on national goals specified in national vision, policy or other documents, are usually rendered as well-formulated with impressive strategic goals and objectives and strategies and have notable achievements in poverty alleviation, population control, improving health situations and some other aspects. Yet, on many occasions, national strategic plans that are subject to modification depending on new challenges do not adequately address problems associated of given areas of concerns and expectedly bring changes. One of the most important reasons is that adopted national strategic plans do not always incorporate best possible strategies, which characteristically provide overall direction, fit resources and opportunities, minimise resistance and barriers, reach those affected and make a difference with strategic goals and objectives.Notably, best possible strategies, which are related to strategic goals and objectives, are identified at the formulation stage. Of course, an assortment of challenges arises in setting strategic goals and objectives that subsequently guide specific strategies and/or strategic actions to be identified, and the process of strategy formulation, which is typically involved with several stages such as analysis of alternative strategies or strategic options and the identification of best strategies, drafting of strategic plans with best possible strategies and the finalisation of the plans. To the formulation of the most suitable strategies, there are, in fact, many barriers, which can broadly be considered to be of three types such as analysis, stakeholder engagement and resource based.
Firstly, analysis, which depends on diverse views, examination of strengths and weaknesses of proposed strategies, identification of obstacles to avoid and opportunities to take, etc., is crucial for setting strategic goals and objectives and identifying best possible strategies. But analysis of existing, alternative or proposed strategies does not always reflect needed standard by reason of diverse structural and other factors including usage of wish-list approach instead of strategic one, scarce research on relevant issues, time constraints, insufficient scientific capacity of relevant bodies, scant emphasis on diverse viewpoints, cynicism among strategy planners, and ineffective coordination and collaboration among relevant bodies. As a consequence, formulated strategies do not always provide optimum directions, minimise potential barriers and fit resources and opportunities.
Secondly, stakeholder engagement, indispensable for finding out most-select strategies, obviously facilitates better strategic solutions with the reflection of new ideas, diverse views, experience and kills, etc. But stakeholders — scholars, experts, CSOs, grassroots and some others — remain less represented on many occasions in consultation meetings during the strategy formulation phase on account of wide-ranging factors such as less emphasis of strategy makers on stakeholder involvement, insufficient and unsystematic mechanism of identification and involvement of optimally diverse stakeholders who have needed knowledge and skills, lack of sufficient information on relevant stakeholders and inefficient official coordination in the engagement process. By reason of insufficient involvement of stakeholders, many adopted strategic options remain infeasible and fail to reach to those affected the most.
Thirdly, resources, including financial and human, play crucial roles in national strategic planning. Of course, a country’s richness in resources determines actual strategy options — in other words, more resources mean more alternative strategy options to comparatively analyse and choose. But limited resources are as a major obstacle to the identification and formulation of best possible strategic goals and objectives and strategies in many developing and less developed countries including Bangladesh. Deficient financial and other resources lead to lower amount of allocations, scarce logistics, insufficient strategic insights, etc. Accordingly, looking for best possible strategies is often impractical, even if many strategic goals and objectives have potentials to expectedly improve situations in a given area of national concern.
Without any doubt, national strategic plans, as ultimate consequences of all such barriers, fail to bring out desired outcomes, at least to a certain extent, in social, health and other areas on many occasions. It is obviously undeniable that making desired changes in any given area of concern is not entirely dependent on how well strategies or strategic actions are identified and adopted. In fact, inadequate implementation and monitoring of the implementation of formulated strategies are also significantly responsible in this respect. Yet, most suitable strategies that have high feasibility to be converted to according implementation can, in my view, largely and decisively contribute to reaching to stated strategic goals and objectives and making desired changes in diverse areas of national concerns.
To formulate national strategic plans with the best possible strategies, all barriers, in my view, need to be well-addressed. In this respect, some crucial steps can be a) prioritisation of strategies based on national visions, goals and objectives, b) more emphasis on analysis of existing, proposed and competing strategic options, c) adequate consultations with diverse stakeholders including conflicting and grassroots especially in the process of the formulation of strategic plans, d) promotion of stakeholder consultation practices especially organised form, e) removal of all administrative or bureaucratic barriers to stakeholder engagement, f) optimisation of distribution of financial and logistical resources based on national capacity, and g) development of a national policy and strategy planning guideline.Prioritisation — an effective approach to sorting out and addressing diverse strategic problems and bringing desired outcomes with the best use of resources — is to be given special emphasis. But priority setting that usually depends on urgently attentive and most impacted needs as well as long-term national visions is often a reason of concern mainly owing to a lack of holistic focus on different crucial but related aspects including socio-economic development, health, environment and culture, in spite of the fact that there are useful ample research works in such areas. I believe, prioritisation should reflect not only national visions, policies and other guiding principles including international laws and conventions but also holistic understanding of a given area of strategic planning with short- and long-term perspectives.
Formulation of a national policy and strategy planning guideline, which can immensely contribute to national strategic planning, deserves some details. Of course, such a framework needs to clearly aim at making improvements in the procedure of national policy and strategy development by providing guidelines on analytic process, coordination of formulation process, mechanism of effective stakeholder engagement (including consultation), standard format of documentation of strategic plans, and so on. While national perspective plans, five years plans, annual development plans and other national policies or plans can largely guide to strategic focus, a policy and strategy planning guideline can, in my view, greatly facilitate the formulation of national strategic plans with best possible strategies.
The writer is an independent researcher. Email: [email protected]