Building a Strategy for New Zealand – two approaches

Writing a strategy is relatively simple – anyone can do it. Of course there is a catch..

The hard bit is getting people to agree to a strategy, (and the really hard bit is to execute that strategy effectively.)

One good way to develop and gain agreement to a strategy is to gather the key players in the room, along with the right input documents. You should have already met with and walked through the approach and inputs with everyone in the room, and actually captured each persons initial ideas into the materials now on display. Then you facilitate a session whereby everyone gets a fair share of the floor and the group ends up with a plan that is simple, believable, ambitious and agreed. That can take a while, but there are plenty of tips and techniques to get there.

For a company the people in the room are the top leadership team. The strategy then gets pushed around and ratified by the board, and if the owners (shareholders) don’t approve then they can sell or start shareholder actions.

But who are the people in the room for a country? There are two ways to go.

The first is obvious. Political parties and leaders set out their strategy for the country, and we the people (or the shareholders if you will) vote for the approach that we prefer. Under NZ’s MMP the result is a mixed strategy reflecting (in theory) the views of a majority of New Zealanders. Indeed the way Government really operates (via Committees and the like) almost everybody can have a say in the short term tactics. If the Government changes their minds mid stream then we the people can resort to lobbying, leaving or ultimately civil unrest or revolution.

The other way to do this is to try to get representatives of everyone in a room. David Lange tried this in 1984 when he gathered all sorts post election. It helped but Labour seemed to have their own agenda regardless (thankfully).

More recently and topically Aussie PM Kevin Rudd hosted the Australia 2020 Summit earlier this year. They had over 1000 Australians spread over 10 discussion streams and two days. It was a failure.

Here are those “10 critical policy areas”:

  1. Productivity—including education, skills, training, science and innovation.
  2. Economy—including infrastructure and the digital economy.
  3. Sustainability and climate change.
  4. Rural Australia—focusing on industries and communities.
  5. Health and ageing.
  6. Communities and families.
  7. Indigenous Australia.
  8. Creative Australia—the arts, film and design.
  9. Australian governance, democracy and citizenship.
  10. Security and prosperity—including foreign affairs and trade.

Let’s start with the list itself, which is not Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. There are plenty of gaps and overlaps, and so the result was never going to be crisp. For example terrorism was apparently left out (no – really) and Talent was covered in at least two places.

Next there were complaints about bias in the selection of the people there – which means that many Australians never thought of the group as representing them.

Then the process seemed to not work very well. Actually it seemed to be downright disastrous for some of the groups. It was set up to fail, as the 10 groups of 100 were not homogeneous, were often not used to being “facilitated” and generally needed a lot more than 2 days to come to consensus. None of the groups really succeeded in coming up with one or two simple measurable and achievable goals – but often gave list upon list – resulting in about 100 ideas each, or 1000 ideas overall.

Read (no – skim) the final report and you can see the inadequacies of the process all over it. That final report is 399 pages long. I’m not kidding. Add another 6 pages of preface and title pages and you have a completely unreadable unwieldy pack of doorstop.

You can tell that some folks tried to crystallise some of the discussions into short statements each night, and you can also tell (especially for the Creatives and Rural types) that this often didn’t go down well.

But overall in consulting speak this was boiling the ocean – trying to analyse and solve for everything, rather than focusing on the stuff that really matters. It was all too much at once.

Australia lost out here. They could have emerged with 3 or so amazing big ideas that energised the nation. Instead they emerged with a laundry list. However, the Rudd Government did say it will respond to the list by the end of 2008, so we shall see what that looks like. They have a chance to come back with “Five Goals for 2020” and sell them to the nation, and that could be a great thing, and something we could copy.

So is there anything we can use? Well, some of the stuff on the list isn’t bad, but some was atrocious:

“..three goals and ambitions:

  • maximising wealth, excellence and equity by driving up productivity to the leading  edge of developed countries
  • focusing on human capital through early childhood development, world-class education, skills formation and innovation
  • encouraging all Australians to realise their potential.

Fluffy and not really measurable.

On the Economy section the group:

“agreed that Australia should set national economic goals in which all Australians share, including full employment, low inflation (averaging between 2 and 3 per cent) and gross domestic product per capita in the top five countries in the world.

Nice – they have proposed goals that are (sort of) measurable and that we can copy. I wonder what happened to them post meeting?

Our aspiration is that by 2020 Australia is the world’s leading green and sustainable economy

Not bad, just add measures.

There’s more after the fold (and this is a short laundry list), but for now let’s just say that the Australia 2020 report makes interesting reading and good if verbose starter input for creating our own strategy:

The outcome sought is to improve—through harmonisation of regulation and coherence of policy—remote, rural and regional Australia’s ability to service its domestic and global food and fibre markets in a responsible way.

The outcome sought is the creation of a strategy document that underpins promotional activities on what remote, rural and regional Australia is all about and the opportunities that it offers.

By 2020 Australia should aim to become the most healthy, health literate, physically active
and health conscious nation. {not bad – can add some measures to that}

By 2020 there need to be greater links between health and all sectors. {useless}

By 2020 Australia is known throughout the world for its diverse, compassionate, fair and respectful society. {good goal, just needs measures}

By 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have parity with other Australians across the spectrum of measures—most importantly, in the strength and wellbeing of their families and young people, safety and security for families and children, decent housing, good health and education.

By 2020 at least one person in each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander household will be in ongoing employment. {Nice crunchy goal. Bloody hard without a caveat or two but really feels good}

In this Australia in 2020, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same health, education and economic participation opportunities and outcomes as other Australians, are able to realise their hopes and aspirations and are affirmed in their cultural identity.

We aim to double cultural output by 2020.   (The creative sessions seemed to be particularly difficult to capture in a pithy statement or three. That’s not surprising as creatives think in different ways. Perhaps a graphically oriented facilitator may have helped.)

Make the Constitution more suitable for the diverse 21st century Australia by removing colonial references, creating the status of an Australian citizen with democratic rights, inserting a preamble setting out aspirations for governance, and removing references to race.

An Australian republic. {simple goal to articulate}

A Bill or Charter of Rights for all Australians, including Indigenous Australians.

By 2020 Australia should have redeemed its role of global citizen and creative middle power, including by driving progress towards a Nuclear Weapons Convention and seeking to address the process and consequences of global warming. We should seize the power of the sun, wind and waves to show how energy can be sustainable.

Published by Lance Wiggs