Plans vs. planning

Economic Modernization Vision
(File photo: Jordan News)
Economic Modernization Vision

Nasser bin Nasser

The writer is founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.

The successful completion and launch of Jordan’s Economic Modernization Vision has been an interesting experiment in public policy and strategic planning. اضافة اعلان

Many correctly cite the diverse cross-section of expert stakeholders from the government, the private sector, and civil society as being perhaps one of its unique features. Observers and pundits are now preoccupied, looking at implementation, the mechanisms to achieve it, and its chances of success. While this is important, other interesting features of the effort appear to have gone unnoticed.

Jordan’s Economic Modernization Vision will undoubtedly have an enormous transformative effect on the country, but viewing it as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, misses a critical point. One of the most important overlooked outcomes of this effort is that it could institutionalize the process of strategic planning in government. To paraphrase US president Dwight Eisenhower, plans are nothing, planning is everything.

Management experts often say that plans effectively become obsolete once the ink dries on the paper. Institutionalizing the process of planning, on the other hand, has longer-term benefits.

Jordanian strategic planning appears to have backslid considerably in recent years, as the country and authorities alike were overwhelmed by one regional crisis after another.

Consider, for instance, the disruption created by the regular influx of about 10–20 percent of Jordan’s population as refugees almost every decade to the decimal, since 1991 (first Gulf War, US invasion of Iraq, and the Syrian conflict, respectively). Even the most resourceful and well-developed country would struggle to implement its plans under such stresses.

The question then is: how can planning processes account for shocks of this magnitude? No satisfactory answer may be given to this question. Nonetheless, planning processes that account for worse-case scenarios will do better in mitigating such risks than planning processes that assume a stable environment. This is especially the case in our region, which has been anything but stable. Jordan has witnessed a major conflict every decade since 1948, and has been directly impacted by each.
Management experts often say that plans effectively become obsolete once the ink dries on the paper. Institutionalizing the process of planning, on the other hand, has longer-term benefits.
Accordingly, and while it might paint a bleak outlook, future plans could benefit from taking into account conflict and displacement as being permanent features of this region, and Jordan as being the party that regularly pays the price for them. In risk management, this type of risk would be classified as a “known unknown”, while shocks such as pandemics and financial crises, much more difficult to predict or plan for, would be classified as “unknown unknowns”.

The hope that the Economic Modernization Vision can reinvigorate and embed the process of planning in Jordanian institutions should not be underestimated. Planning processes can have second- and third-order consequences that could reform and improve the performance of individual public institutions from the ground up through better communication and coordination among their cadres, and then across institutions, horizontally, and vertically with the Prime Ministry.

Planning is an excellent and straightforward way to reform the public sector and the consultative aspects needed for policy making. It is a proactive way of discussing goals, objectives, strategies, and tasks that need to be accomplished. Plans are simply the documentation of that process. The alternative, a crisis management mentality to public governance, has not served the country well.

Hopefully this can also be internalized as a lesson from this experience.

Nasser bin Nasser is the founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.

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