NGO Strategic Planning – Time For A Re-Think?

When one considers how dynamic the forces are which keep far too many people (in lower and middle income countries as they are now called) in conditions of absolute poverty, it remains something of a mystery why so many NGOs base their approach to ‘strategy’ on activities which are calendar driven (punctually, every 3-5 years), complete with exercises which do little other than to support the status quo (Vision and Mission are rarely open to debate in any meaningful sense of the word) and ring fence favoured projects. There is a growing body of literature which suggests that the organisation-wide strategic planning exercises achieve little apart from vast waste as regards to workshops and per diems. Instead, an increasing number of agencies are starting to engage with more rigorous strategic planning tools, such as the approach of leading strategist, Richard Rumelt who states that the ‘hard work’ of strategy is always the same – ‘despite the roar of voices equating strategy with ambition, leadership, vision, mission, or long term planning, strategy is none of these. Rather, it is coherent action backed by an argument. And the core of the strategist’s work is always the same: discover the crucial factors in a situation and design a way to coordinate and focus actions to deal with them’. How many NGOs (and their so-called beneficiaries) would be better off following Rumelt’s approach?