Designing effective strategic plans
Designing the best possible actions is the foundation of any plan, but what makes a plan strategic is the way in which it creates coherent, consistent, effective approaches to delivering those actions.
Strategic plans are often seen as documents setting out the ethos and intentions of Government, but arguably, ethos and intentions should be seen as the window dressing for a strategic plan. Content reflecting a strong ethos and intention will create motivation, improve stakeholder confidence in Government's level of commitment and set the tone for implementation. However, without a strong focus on structures, processes and mechanisms to ensure the plan's success, it ceases to be strategic.
Early approaches to race equality policy in Scottish Government were heavily focussed on structures, processes and mechanisms. Informed by the requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which came into force in April 2001 and required the publication of race equality schemes, individual departmental action plans were produced in great detail. These varied in the amount and type of action to be taken, so could have benefitted from more oversight and quality control, but essentially each set out actions in relation to specific policies and functions with a timescale and estimate of impact (low, medium or high) to assist with prioritisation.
By 2008, departmental action plans also included information on responsibility for implementation and the intended outcome of actions. Unfortunately, the content of the 2008 Race Equality Scheme suggests that the wish to report as much as possible without having enough relevant information on race equality had become counterproductive. At 428 pages, it contained much generic information about policy unrelated to race equality.
Each directorate and national agency had a dedicated section with action plan, however these were not generally well completed. A large number of the directorates and agencies only detailed existing work or approaches, many of them tenuously linked to race equality, rather than actions in the 'actions' column. It was common to report that an EQIA would be carried out at a later date in order to identify action, or to simply state that there was no discrimination in the work of an agency.
This contrasts particularly with the approach taken in the Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030, which lacked a structured action plan but included commitments across a range of themes rather than departments. Although these commitments had been identified and agreed with relevant policy teams, it was felt that the timescales involved over a 14 year period created too much complexity to gather these into a SMART action plan, so they were reported in short lists related to each of the Framework's goals. After publication, however, this was widely looked back on as inadequate.
The intention to design a shorter-term action plan to sit under the Framework led to a separate policy process entirely, with the largely unrelated Race Equality Action Plan 2017-2021 being published the following year without involvement of stakeholders. Work on the Race Equality Action Plan quickly superseded the commitments given in the Race Equality Framework itself, despite the robust and lengthy policy development process behind it.
A cluttered race equality policy environment has created difficulties at other points in time, notably around 2002 (when the earlier recommendations of the Race Equality Advisory Forum and its four sub-groups were poorly addressed in the resulting Scottish Executive response, possibly partly due to the greater focus on publishing the legally-required Race Equality Scheme in the same year) and in 2008 (again, when a Race Equality Scheme was required and published in the same year as the Race Equality Statement 2008-2011).
There may be merits in publishing an overall strategy with individual action plans at directorate and national agency level, provided actions are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) and meaningful throughout. However, the review of previous work strongly suggests that creating multiple levels of overarching race equality strategy that are insufficiently linked leads to implementation problems.
Target setting is often regarded as encouraging implementation of actions. Previous work by CRER for the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the effectiveness of the public sector equality duties in Scotland found that there was no correlation between the setting of targets and evidence of measurable change. This was because in some cases, public bodies had written very robust plans but failed to implement them. This review's findings differ. Whilst it identified vanishingly few measurable targets in Scottish Government / Executive race equality policy, where these existed, they did appear to be useful in encouraging reporting of change.
The small number of examples identified almost all related to increasing ethnic diversity to a level representative of the population. Progress reporting on these targets used percentage based measures to demonstrate change.
Progress towards these targets was sometimes slow (for example some periods of the work of Scottish Government and Police Scotland on workforce diversity). However, there were some success stories, most notably in the efforts made to increase diversity in public appointments, although there are still challenges within that area of policy, as discussed previously.
When combined with sustainable implementation of actions, targets, milestones and performance indicators could play a key role in ensuring the success of future race equality policy as part of effective strategic planning.
An effective strategic plan on race equality might be expected to have the following qualities:
- Synergy across all relevant policy areas, with both specific actions arising from the strategy and actions within mainstream areas of policy or other strategies which reflect the content and aims of the strategy (balancing targeted and mainstreamed approaches)
- An attached delivery plan with performance indicators, measurable targets and milestones, timescales and responsibilities
- Mechanisms for implementation, evaluation, monitoring and progress reporting which are embedded in work plans and/or objectives
- Strong accountability, transparency and scrutiny arrangements