National Development Plan —fine line between success and failure

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By Lamin Darboe

The president’s speech at the stadium on 53rd independence anniversary, gave us great comfort that something is being done to address the dismal infrastructural and economic sectors of the economy. The speech was well written and evinced well thought out policies which mapped out the strategic vision, goals and objectives expected to deliver socio-economic transformation of the Gambia. A transformation that will put our nation on a pedestal of sustainable economic development akin to strides achieved by Rwanda within a short time. I hope and hope they are implemented successfully.

This is not the first time Gambia as a nation visualise a strategic model to achieve socio-economic development. Under the Jawara regime, we had a 5-year development plan and at the peak of its administration, we had B B Darboe’s much acclaimed Singapore Dream. Even under the dictatorial regime of Dr Yaya Jammeh, he managed to dream of a grandiose project of Vision 2020.

My desire is not to delve into the achievements and failures of the aforementioned dreams or say projects were misadventures, suffice is to draw attention and invite the minds of our technocrats, the major strategic operators who will manage, monitor and control the National Development Plan, more aptly, National Development Strategy.

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The National Development Plan (NDP) is indeed a great strategic document, creative and with achievable goals. It was not imposed by some external Financial institution therefore, it is our own construct, thus challenges the patriotism of Gambians to be vehicles of their developmental aspirations.
It’s a motivating document that maps out exactly its goals and objectives from strategic level of government establishment to the tactical level in the Ministries and Departments.
I mean from executive to government employees directly involved in day to day activities. It also stated exactly what need to be done and it how it should be done. Succinctly, it mapped out clearly the: Why, What, How. When, Where:

 

WHY-the key question and goal that should capture aspirations and a focus, motivation and point of reference.

 

WHAT-the goal, objectives and tactics
HOW-how is the strategy going to be achieved, actors, performance measures/Bench mark, resources-human finance, technology, IT

 

WHEN-time frame, performance measurement cycle, re-evaluation, review;
WHERE-control centres, who is who, who to report to who and reporting process and procedures,

 

Strategic concepts of development plans, strategies and visions
There are varying thoughts in the academic world of Business strategy and sciences of strategic graft delineated to Strategy as a Science and Strategy as an Art. Each I guess provides an insight, a perspective or even a personal experience.

First, Chambers dictionary which explained…strategy as…knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested. Systemised and brought under general principles.
This explanation implies strategic grafting as a science underpinned by systematic approach, a procedure, logical analysis and evaluation system…I surmise a feedback system based on the system of Closed and Open loop System evaluation, Positive and negative feedback monitoring. These are concepts which need further explanation however in my mind for my primary audience don’t need any exegesis on these concepts.
According to Mintzberg, (Rise and fall of strategic planning)
…the basic premise of planning school of strategy is that….a strategic project must be controlled and as well as a formalised and elaborate, decomposed into distinct steps. Each delineated by checklist and supported by techniques.

A Strategic project, vision, dream etc as an Art presupposes creativity, intuition, experience, flair and hunch,……is ardently supported by other contemporarily strategic thinkers…a chief proponent in the person of K Ohmae.

In his ubiquitous book, (The mind of a strategist), he propositioned:
‘In strategic thinking, one first seeks a clear understanding of the particular character of a situation and then make the fullest possible use of human brainpower to restructure the elements in the most advantageous way.

The key is insight especially for a leader. President Barrow need to have a “helicopter view” of the entire landscape of the NDP and if possible have access to an executive information system to drill down on implementation measurement, successes and bottlenecks in real time. If he cannot, he must have a monitoring team that will provide summary reports.
Strategy as art heralds creativity, partly intuitive. And often disruptive to the status quo which in my understanding is the key risk which the NDP will face, added to this risk is the intransigence, opposition and sabotage by still Yahya loyalists.

To conclude the theoretical concepts, let me state these:
The combination of the Art and Science of strategic plans or projects like NDP, is a difficult concept but one which has merit. Strategic development planning as a concept, seems, on the one hand to require an idiosyncratic mode of thinking (meaning inducing personal flair and experience), flexibility, adaptive systems and creative inputs, but on the other hands, sticking to the routine of policy and procedure, the determination and use of rules and regulation, risk profiles and science based techniques like Risk-based management (which I will endeavour to explain in common man language).

Ohmae said the two do not easily integrate and there is danger of one bourgeoning the other with too high premium being placed on creative input/thinking at the expense of reasoned analysis.
Marriage of Concept and Practicalisation of NDP
One might be tempted to ask, why all these conceptual brouhaha. Concept is bedrock of rationalisation, provide understanding of different variables, provide a framework, coherence and identify scenarios and risk associated with a project, a plan and a vision.

Now let us see the sync between concept and reality in the light of our national development plan. Wielding grandiose concepts alone is insufficient without inducing practical narratives that matters in real world. They say between theory and practice is a similitude of chalk and cheese. This is because phenomena and events in the real world do not always fit a linear model. |Hence according to K Ohmae, the most reliable means of dissecting a situation into its constituent parts and resembling them in a desired pattern is not a step-by-step methodology such as system analysis.

My thoughts on the NDP are not an academic review or an academic paper as some detractors might be spiced to lament. That would entail detailed review of nuts and bolts, the meat and bones; the evaluation of different ministerial strategies to obtain evidence of strategic FIT. A Strategic Fit evaluation, will capture detail information on how a compartmentalised strategy like NDP, consisting of different compartments in form of ministries and departments gel together to provide a synchronised rhythm so that there is no consequential sub-optimisation. That is when different facets of the strategy work in a counterproductive fashion leading to failure just like Yahya Jammeh’s Vision 2020.

What caught my eye were the key success factors (KSF) which were salient and properly carved out so that implementation has a clear outlook. The KSFs are the benchmarks to measure success of the plan over the period of the plan.

It is not a perfect document and I suspect it does not assume prefect implementation and 100% success.
In any project especially national projects, unforeseen problems, changes in the variables (economic, political, social) and bottlenecks should not be discounted. They should be factored in the original strategic model, alternative plans should be available, clearly documented and explained so that there is smooth re-orientation to prevent derailment of the overall plan.

This is akin to risk-based management where contingent plans are available to ameliorate the impact of unforeseen variables. First, potential risks and scenarios are produced and evaluated so that, in the event they happen, there is a clear and pragmatic course of action to address the problems.
Also important is sensitivity analyses which is part of risk evaluation. It tries to assess the impact of defined changes on the project goals and objectives. Example, what will be the impact of 10% shortfall in funding or say 5% shortfall in rainfall or tourist inflow.

 

To be continued

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