Academic journal article Global Governance

Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General

Academic journal article Global Governance

Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL AND CHALLENGING TASKS FOR ANY ORGANization, national or international, is strategic planning. Strategic planning serves several purposes for an organization. It helps the organization internally set priorities for activity and resource allocation; it is a formal means by which the organization communicates its goals, priorities, and mission to external stakeholders; and it informs the decisions and actions that shape an institution. Dean Acheson defines strategic planning thus: "to look ahead, not into the distant future, but beyond the vision of the operating officers caught in the smoke and crises of current battle; far enough ahead to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them." (1) At the same time, "the staff should also do something else--constantly reappraise what [is] being done." (2) In essence, strategic planning "brings the future into the present." (3)

Ideally, effective planning links specific initiatives to the overall goal of the organization. Planning then occurs for each area, including prioritization of tasks and time frames and a discussion of organizational roles, responsibilities, and coordination of tasks. Successful planning includes identifying measures of success for each initiative, time frames for assessing progress, and periodic review and reassessment. As Richard Haass argues, there are two primary challenges to strategic planning: "finding the appropriate distance from the immediate policy-making process and exercising influence without an official operational role." (4) There are other constraints to strategic planning: "time pressures to address current issues at the expense of longer-term planning; bureaucratic competition for influence; cognitive barriers to anticipating the future; and cultural tensions between policy planning 'thinkers' and policy-making 'doers.'" (5)

In this article, I consider strategic planning from the perspective of a practitioner in the UN system, especially in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG). I discuss the origins, objectives, and evolution of the Strategic Planning Unit (SPU) in the EOSG. I focus on the activities of the SPU during Kofi Annan's decade-long tenure as Secretary-General. I argue that the key contributions of strategic planners are developing new strategic initiatives, helping to set the Secretary-General's priorities, drafting reports and policy and planning documents, and contributing to speechwriting. I consider the contributions and limitations of the academic community to the strategic thinking of the Secretary-General. I suggest that the determinants of success are access to the Secretary-General and the policymaking machinery, the skills of the planning staff, and independence in thought and judgment from any authority outside the UN.

Strategic Planning at the UN

Due to the complex and decentralized nature of the UN system, the diverse areas of activity, and varied pathways for decisionmaking, coordinating centralized strategic goals remains a challenge. Planning and program budgeting was first introduced in the UN in 1974. The goal of the medium-term plan was to provide a framework within which the member stales could review the organization's work and the Secretary-General could prepare his biennial program budgets on the basis of the General Assembly's guidance, The first attempt to create an independent analytical unit within the UN was Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's decision to establish the Office for Research and the Collection of Information (ORCI) in 1988. The ORCI's mandate included monitoring global trends and research, but it functioned primarily as a speechwriting unit. (6)

The Origins of the Strategic Planning Unit

The SPU was established on the initiative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as part of his reform process launched in 1997. One of Annan's main objectives upon assuming leadership of the UN was "to achieve greater unity of purpose, coherence of effort, agility and responsiveness throughout the United Nations, including its funds and programs. …

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