Over the last five to ten years an increasing number of public agencies have commenced strategic planning. However, results have often fallen short of what strategic planning is supposed to achieve. Drawing on experience of strategic planning systems in public bodies in a number of countries, offers the view that it is the motivation of the power‐holders in the system which determines the approach taken to strategic planning and, consequently, the type of outcomes which eventuate. The three most common approaches to strategic planning are to engage in it as an annual ritual, to see it as a technical goal‐setting and decision‐making process, or to approach it in a consensus‐seeking manner. Each of these approaches has potential negative outcomes. Identifies a fourth and much less common approach, namely, regarding strategic planning as an organizational learning process. Explores the benefits and impediments to this approach and offers some general guidelines for effective strategic planning.
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