In recent months, the Basque Government has unveiled a number of different public plans of great interest to companies, such as providing support to internationalisation, industrialisation, and entrepreneurship, amongst others.
These plans come at a time when manoeuvring room for public administration has been seriously reduced due to the steep drop in tax revenue in recent years and the strict rules of fiscal sustainability imposed by the European Union. The other side of the coin is the widespread conviction regarding the imperative of having an efficient, competitive, high quality and solvent public sector, which develops advanced management practice, including rigorous and accurate planning. Today’s society demands a public sector which not only regulates and generates a competitive setting, but which is also proactive in the planning and development of our economy and society.
A Plan can become a powerful strategic and operational tool for any public or private organisation. With our public administrations here at home, planning has taken on greater relevance while their mission grows in complexity owing to the increasing number of spheres of action. Looking back over the various legislatures of the Basque Government, we can see how the use of Plans has increased in order to organise public activity.
So, then, from our point of view as consultants, what qualities and deficiencies does this scenario present? On the plus side, we find that more and more public plans incorporate all the elements of a good plan: satisfying public need; diagnostics; spheres of action; scenarios and alternatives; focal points and lines of action; details of actions; economic resources; a management model for the Plan; participation formulae of other Public Administrations and players; and a system of follow-up and assessment. This is all proof that we are currently witnessing the progressive establishment of a culture of planning in Public Administrations, ratified by the increase in the number of government plans published in recent times; in essence, more and better plans.
Nonetheless, public planning still faces a number of challenges connected to the progressive application of the principles of the new governance: transparency, participation, coherence, etc. In my opinion, the following are the most relevant of these measures to be taken:
• Advancing the design and presentation of the new plans within the first few months of each new legislature with the goal of ensuring that the planning endeavours contribute to maintaining clear priorities of action.
• Accepting the need to adjust and re-plan on an ongoing basis.
• Designing the participation of the teams of specialised technicians, which is the base of expert knowledge on both the past, and the present of the areas to be planned.
• Widely implementing a culture of systematic and critical evaluation, beyond a merely formal level.
• Considering inter-departmental and inter-institutional aspects.
• Looking beyond the horizon of the present legislature, implementing planning processes over the medium to long term, and based on a consensus between political parties and institutions regarding key topics (model of competitiveness, education, welfare, etc.) for our future.
Planning is an absolute must for public institutions, and its correct application is a critical tool to support the development of a coherent and responsible development model.