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Strategic Planning: Systemic Development vs Manual Control

At the round table discussion 'Strategic planning: moving on towards a working model' during the XIX April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development members of the Russian Government and representatives of various ministries jointly with HSE researchers considered how efficiently the country does its strategic planning, and which specific tools it uses in the process.


The current national strategic planning system is a multilevel and bifurcated one. 'More than 57 thousand strategic documents are being implemented, using more than 500 thousand target figures. It’s a huge formalised system. The question is, is it working?' noted the round table moderator Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector and ISSEK Director. The law 'On strategic planning' adopted a few years ago was supposed to straighten this system up.

Apart from the federal law, numerous other advanced tools have been tried in recent years, noted Pavel Rudnik, Director of the HSE ISSEK Centre for Strategies and Programmes who delivered the main presentation at the round table. In particular, the government and its specific ministries use various project management techniques. On the one hand, testing new tools and trying to set priorities outside the 'established framework' centred on specific agencies’ mandates indicates there’s willingness to find solutions matching the current strategic planning realities. On the other hand though, the continuing reforms imply the 'document-centred' strategic planning system hasn’t quite reached maturity yet, and doesn’t fully match managers’ needs.

To begin with, it’s not adequately adjusted yet, which among other things results in insufficient decomposition of objectives — thus frequently making strategic documents nothing more than declarations, while public authorities concentrate on current activities at the cost of the strategy. Substituting a vison of the future with quantitative performance targets leads to strategies being shaped 'bottom-up', while challenges and new trends remain underestimated. The current planning system primarily aims for a quantitative growth of what we already have, with less attention to qualitatively changing the economy.

The strategic planning system is inherently oriented towards the public sector, which cuts off numerous more efficient stakeholders from the national development agenda: there are no mechanisms for involving and motivating them to take part in designing and implementing strategies. The fact that the system does not provide for real interaction with various stakeholders makes it vulnerable.

Delayed application of governance models based on motivating all stakeholders to contribute as much as they could leads to reduced trust, from public, businesses, and investors alike. No integrated assessment of socio-economic policy is done: not specific exercises to assess how efficiently public money is being spent, but overall policy evaluation, including results particularly important to the whole society. It should be based on principles such as independent control, openness, and interaction with stakeholders. On the contrary, government agencies are planning what they should do, take relevant action, and assess the results all on their own. 'The system works only formally, while the real control is exercised by issuing instructions', summarised the speaker, and asked the audience how one could move on from carrying out specific instructions to implementing a strategy, and from quantitative results to qualitative ones.

Many participants noted the mismatch between carrying out instructions and implementing strategic documents. Sergei Bezrukov, Director of the Regional Industrial Policy and Project Management Department of the RF Ministry of Industry and Trade believed the excessive amount of instructions was 'a problem created by mistaken, or incomplete strategies': frequently strategic documents have rather low quality, so they have to be supplemented by relevant specific steps.

Oleg Fomichev, State Secretary – Deputy Minister of Economic Development also believed the number of instructions was excessive, and that was 'a problem with public administration generally, not just with the strategic planning system'. He noted that in a situation of high uncertainty and dynamic socio-economic changes, strategies tended to become obsolete quite quickly, so 'certain documents become irrelevant even before they are approved'.

Oleg Fomichev stressed the need to synchronise various strategic tools in the new political cycle, in line with the logic set by the law 'On strategic planning': 'relevant industry-level and regional forecasts should be taken into account when strategies and projects are prepared, while in their turn strategies should be considered when national programmes and projects are updated'.

Artem Shadrin, Director of the Strategic Development and Innovation Department of the RF Ministry of Economic Development, spoke about interconnection of documents. Development, updating, and reporting procedures should be clearly synchronised, and sorted out timewise. E.g. strategies must not be developed while no forecasts have been prepared yet. Only when a forecast is completed and approved one could move on to the next step — shaping a strategy. 'All documents we approve must clearly specify exactly how other documents were taken into account', said Shadrin.

Andrey Klimenko, Director of the HSE Institute for Public Administration and Governance, noted various drawbacks of the existing strategic planning system, but he was more positive about the practice of issuing instructions: 'Instructions which we now criticise are a strategic management element too. Frequently we have to react immediately, and resort to this specific format. The exchange rate of the dollar is changing right in front of our eyes, various events are happening in the world, and we need to make decisions, including strategic ones, which have been mapped until the year 2035'.

At the end of the discussion Nikolai Bukhteyev, Section Head at the RF Government Department of Economy and Finance, suggested a thesis all other participants agreed with: Russian strategic planning system should more flexibly react to everything that happens, and it must be strengthened by adding a mechanism for making relevant adjustments depending on the changing situation.

More photos on Flickr

Photo: Sergei Strokov

Anastasia Toponen, student of the HSE Faculty of Communication, Media, and Design, contributed to writing this text.