“BIG SOCIETY HAS NO STRATEGY” – BUT WHY NOT?

10 02 2011

“Big Society has no strategy” – Although I agree, those aren’t my words; they are those of Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, Executive Director of Community Service Volunteers (CSV). In this Blog I have highlighted lack of Government strategy before and although they deny it, they continue to offer no evidence that said strategies exist.

Rather than continuing to lambast the Government for lack of strategy, I felt it was time to take a look why I say there is no strategy using the ‘Big Society’ as my example. Hopefully, some of what I say will be of far wider use than solely in Westminster.

Dame Elisabeth Hoodless: "Big Society has no strategy"

Let’s start at the beginning. In order to create a strategy which will define the actions which will enable something to happen, we have to first know what that ‘something’ is.

It’s just like making a journey, before setting out it is useful to know where we are intending to end up!

Now, what of Big Society? It’s all a little vague isn’t it? The Prime Minister seems to know what it is but hasn’t explained it in terms understood by many and there are plenty, even in his own party, when asked don’t seem to be able to define it. And then of course, it keeps changing too. Every negative news story seems to bring a fresh, but still vague, explanation from Government representatives.

It’s a little like picking up Mercury. It’s there, you know it’s there, but it continues to elude your grasp. And until they have a clear, understandable definition of what it is, what Big Society should look like, they can’t possibly put a strategy in place to make it happen. They can claim they have and they can even have documents which say; ‘Big Society Strategy’ on the cover but that won’t mean they have a strategy; it won’t magically turn those documents into functional tools.

Having said all of that, let’s ignore it! Let’s assume that somewhere in Westminster there is a firm, clear definition of what Big Society looks like which just hasn’t been shared very well.

Do we then have a strategy?

Erm, no.

And it is actually on this point that not only Government but also many other organisations fall down. I have lost count of the number of times I have been proudly presented with a ‘strategy’ which was, in reality, little more than a list of aspirations.

No matter how many times the word ‘strategy’ is used to describe something, unless it clearly describes the ‘how’ and that ‘how’ is supported by sound method, it is not a strategy. It is a dream, a fantasy. To use the travel analogy applied above, it is knowing the destination we aspire to but to lack the means of travel, or even knowledge of what travel is.

This is not a peculiarly Coalition Government issue, their predecessors were probably worse. Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson famously described their policies as ‘Initiative-itis’ by which he meant for every issue a new initiative was thrown at the problem but no strategy was put in place, no cohesive thinking. Unfortunately, Robertson is one of the current Government’s Ministers who keeps reassuring us he has a strategy (for the development of sport) in place but when challenged has yet to produce it and who appears to be employing a policy of (by his own definition) ‘Initiative-itis’.

I have focused on the ‘what?’ and the ‘how?’ both key elements for any strategy. When you consider your own strategy don’t also forget to consider ‘what’ and ‘how’s’ close relations; ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ – for the same applies to them in that their absence from strategy stops it being strategy, prevents it being a functional tool.

It is said that Society (big or small) gets the politicians it deserves. Bearing that in mind, next time you are looking at your corporate or sporting or charity or whatever organisation you work for’s strategy; ask yourself, is ours any better?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

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9 03 2012
STRATEGY STILL A STRUGGLE FOR GOVERNMENT « Cowan Global Blog

[…] We are almost back at Big Society again. Almost tangible; almost comprehensible; but impossible to describe. As I once stated, it’s a bit like trying to pick up mercury – you know it’s there, you just can’t grasp it. […]

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