Innovation in Public Management: The Adoption of Strategic Planning

By Berry, Frances Stokes | Public Administration Review, July-August 1994 | Go to article overview

Innovation in Public Management: The Adoption of Strategic Planning


Berry, Frances Stokes, Public Administration Review


State governments have undergone tremendous changes in the last 15 years. Reagan's New Federalism devolved more program responsibilities upon the states through new unfunded federal mandates, leading to large increases in required state revenues (Fix and Kenyon, 1990). The economic recessions of 1981-1983 and 1991-1992 sent many state budgets into the red. State governments responded by cutting services, enacting lotteries, and even raising taxes, despite the tax revolts of the late 1970s which sent a clear message that taxes were reaching unacceptably high levels in many states. Given the intense budget pressures and the ideology of the Reagan Revolution, state government leaders looked to the private sector for answers through contracting out, private-public partnerships and management techniques such as strategic planning and Total Quality Management.

The 1980s also saw the election of a new breed of governors, many of them social activists, but fiscally conservative with agendas focused on education and economic development (Osborne, 1988) and interested in thinking strategically and planning for the future. Many governors and state agency directors embraced strategic planning processes to better manage agency missions with limited resources. Between 1980 and 1991, at least 264 state agencies, in nearly every state, initiated strategic planning according to the survey described in the grey box on page 323. Despite the growing popularity of strategic planning, no empirical study has yet tried to assess the conditions under which strategic planning is adopted. In this study, I will address this topic by testing several explanations for strategic planning innovation by state leaders, using data for nine types of state agencies from 1970 to 1991 drawn primarily from the National Survey on Strategic Planning in State Government Agencies (referred to hereafter as the National Survey, see grey box on page 323). Based on the findings, I make concluding observations about how managers can facilitate the diffusion of a management innovation designed to "reinvent" government operations to better meet high service demands and fiscal constraints.

Strategic Planning in the States

Strategic planning is a relatively new innovation to government, and according to some observers, part of a quiet revolution underway in public sector management (e.g., Bryson, 1988; Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Denhardt, 1993). Recent research suggests that the best public sector managers have been creating strategic management processes to address the unique features of public sector organizations (e.g., Rainey, 1991; Bozeman and Straussman, 1990, Denhardt, 1993). In doing so, managers have been moving away from traditional, hierarchically managed agencies towards a management style that highlights responsiveness to citizens, excellent quality services, employee empowerment in the workplace, and an ongoing strategic planning process emphasizing the organization's mission and values. As part of the growing literature on strategic planning in the public sector (e.g., Eadie, 1983; Bryson, Freeman, and Roering, 1986; Bryson and Roering, 1987 and 1988; Carr and Littman, 1990; Wechsler and Backoff, 1990; Miesing and Andersen, 1991), Bryson (1988, 118) defines strategic planning broadly as a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that define what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it. More specifically, this article defines strategic planning as a management process that combines four basic features: (1) a clear statement of the organization's mission; (2) the identification of the agency's external constituencies or stakeholders, and the determination of their assessment of the agency's purposes and operations; (3) the delineation of the agency's strategic goals and objectives, typically in a 3- to 5-year plan; and (4) the development of strategies to achieve them.

Viewing strategic planning as an innovation also ties this study to an extensive literature on innovation by individuals and organizations; Everett Rogers (1983) has documented more than 3,000 studies, and recent studies have highlighted public sector innovation specifically (e. …

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