STRATEGIC PLANNING AND PUBLIC MANAGEMENT REFORM: THE CASE OF ROMANIA.

JurisdictionRumania
Date01 December 2015
AuthorHinjea, Calin Emilian
  1. Strategic planning and public management reform

    Public sector reform has arguably been one of the defining features of the public policy landscape for the past three decades (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2011). Public organizations are faced with an increasing array of problems, facing increased pressure to respond in an efficient manner to complex social, economic and political challenges. At the same time, there are numerous instances where they are seen as part or actual source for these problems. Thus, public organizations are constantly facing the stress of rigorous and extensive management reforms (Andrews, Downe and Guarneros-Meza, 2013; Jilke and Van de Walle, 2013). Any reform policy implies a certain element of change. Strategic planning is an excellent tool that governments can (and should) use in order to deal efficiently with change. As change pace is exponential, thinking strategically (planning for the future) becomes a condition for both organizational survival and development. Focusing on cities, Positer and Streib (2005) demonstrate the benefits that local public authorities gain when using strategic planning: increasing focus of major stakeholders and political leaders on the mission, goals and priorities of the locality, improving communication between stakeholders, better general management and decision making inside the organization, improved employee professional development and a general improvement of organizational performance. Other benefits of strategic planning efforts are well documented in the academic literature, and include: the potential to improve management, decisionmaking, stakeholder involvement in public organizations, and performance (Edwards, 2012); it helps unify various parts of an organization through better communication (Denhardt, 1985; Pindur, 1992; Berry and Wechsler, 1995; Boyne, 2001); it can enhance the ability to better respond to changes in the external environment (adapt to change, take advantage of new opportunities--Bryson, 1981; 2004; Denhard, 1985; Pindur, 1992; Boyne, 2001); it increases public participation and interaction of local stakeholders (Denhardt, 1985; Gabris, 1993; Berry and Wechsler, 1995) which implies improved communication between stakeholders (Kissler et al., 1998) and facilitates consensus building (Pindur, 1992); finally, strategic planning improves overall organizational performance (Bryson and Roering, 1988; Bryson, 2004).

    Coming back to the issue of public sector reform, one can argue that a common theme of reform initiatives is the general objective of increasing effectiveness and quality of public services or public organizations (Pollitt, van Thiel and Homburg, 2007). The most prodigious public sector reform models in the last 30 years are: 1) New Public Management (NPM), has taken the spotlight starting with the 1980s and has had a lot of attention from both scholars and practitioners in the following two decades, with the jury still out on its real impact; 2) The Neo-Weberian State (NWS) (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2004; 2011; Drechsler, 2005) represents a reinterpretation of Max Weber's theory, describing a model that takes the positive elements of NPM and places them on a Weberian foundation as a reaction to concerns with the inadequacies of NPM and overly managerial focused reforms mostly imported from the USA (Dunn and Miller, 2007); 3) New Public Governance (NPG) (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2004; 2011) that brings the concept of governance at center stage, implying a redefinition of the state's role (but not necessarily a reduction), and emphasis on complex organization networks, partnerships, negotiations and mutual adjustments between different actors.

    The theoretical model used for the strategic planning process at local level has been developed by us and it is based on one major concept: unique strategic profile of the community. The model assumes that a successful strategic planning process involves directly the local community and should lead to a unique image of the community--strategic profile--which should guide the development process. The model has a 'bottom up' approach using empirical data at the 'base' and building into a full strategy, going through a series of logical steps that lead in the end to the strategic profile which represents the top. The main stages of the process are: preliminary data analysis (gathering and analyzing empirical data on major fields of interest regarding the community), analysis of the strategic framework, quality of life assessment, consultation of local stakeholders, vision definition, creation of a strategic profile (which includes the strategic concept, key strategic factors, major problems, competitive advantage, lines of action, operational programs and implementation plan, monitoring and evaluation system). By using this logical framework for the process, we have the possibility to literally 'build up' the strategy and then do the comparative analysis on different types of authorities at local level. The model is described thoroughly in a separate article (Hintea, 2015).

  2. Methodology

    2.1. Research objective and questions

    Our main objective in this research was twofold: first, to analyze why and how local public authorities use strategic planning as a managerial tool for managing change (reform) and second, to identify whether the planning efforts display a specific reform pattern. In order to accomplish this, we have divided the concept into three main dimensions: (1) purpose (of strategic planning), 2) process, and 3) outcomes (of planning process).

    We have operationalized this general objective in the following research questions:

    General research questions:

    * What is the current practice of strategic planning in the local public administration in Romania?

    Specific research questions:

    * Purpose: What are the main reasons that determine local public authorities to initiate and implement strategic planning efforts?

    * Process: What are the main steps included in the planning process? What are the basic principles guiding this process?

    * Outcome: What are the major outcomes of strategic planning? Major benefits and challenges?

    Regarding the pattern of planning efforts our goal was to test whether specific characteristics of public management reform can be traced in the strategic planning process adopted by local public authorities. We operationalized reform patterns in the following three models:

    Table 1: Operationalization of public management reform patterns Reform model Main claim New Public Make government more efficient and Management (NPM) 'consumer-responsive' by injecting businesslike methods Neo-Weberian Modernize the traditional state apparatus so that it becomes more professional, more efficient, and more responsive to citizens; the state remains a distinctive actor with its own rules, methods, and culture. State (NWS) Make government more effective and New Public legitimate by including a wider range Governance (NPG) of social actors in both policy-making and implementation; increased used of networks for coordination; mutual adjustment and horizontal control mechanisms. Reform model Specific elements New Public * Use of market type instruments Management (NPM) (privatization, contracting out, public-private partnerships or concessions for better services and increased efficiency); * Using performance standards and indicators; * Encouraging competition; * Focus on economic viability and efficient use of resources. Neo-Weberian * Following organization rules, guidelines and orders; legal framework guiding the process; * Conducting activities in an impartial way; * Central role of state authorities in the planning process; * Ensuring mechanisms for policy monitoring and reduce the possibility of abuse of power/protect individual rights. State (NWS) * Encouraging high level of public New Public participation and collaboration with local Governance (NPG) stakeholders; * Development of networks and partnerships with external stakeholders for different phases of the process; * Ensuring principles like transparency, accountability, sustainability and integrity are reflected in the process; * Focus on sustainability and broad social impact of planning process. Source: Adapted from Pollitt and Bouckaert (2011, p. 22) 2.2 Study population and data collection

    The study population included all local public authorities in Romania, which translates in a total of 3,062 public authorities which were grouped in the following categories: 2,700 rural communities, 217 small cities1, 86 mid-level cities (2), 17 large cities (3), 41 counties and Bucharest City Hall. We opted for an online survey, using an email sent to the official address of the institution. The request for responding was addressed to the head of the institution with the endorsement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Data was gathered during a 40 day period, in September-October 2015. We received 170 valid responses with varied response rates from each category of institutions (please see Table 2 below). As expected, results on rural towns, small and medium cities are rather low while those on large cities and county councils are covering almost half of the total population.

    2.3. Instrument

    We used a 30 question questionnaire, 28 of them using mostly 5 point Likert scales or yes/no questions, while the last two were open-ended questions, asking for the most important benefits and biggest barriers/challenges. The instrument was divided in three sections:

    * Section 1: Purpose--In this section we collected information related to the main reason and general purpose for initiating and implementing a strategic planning process. The information gathered here was focused on reasons for planning--Why was the planning process initiated by your organization? What were the main reasons and factors that have determined your local government to pursue strategic planning?

    * Section 2: Process--In this section we collected...

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