National planning is back in vogue – but how has it changed?

by | 15 Mar 2017 | English | 0 comments


Following the recent award of an ESRC Strategic Network grant, Dr Admos Chimhowu outlines why new, locally driven forms national planning for development require greater scrutiny.    

On 25 September 2015, all 193 UN member states committed themselves to a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the largely ‘top-down’ Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are to be implemented through locally driven plans that reflect the priorities and contexts of individual UN member states.

Many low income countries will struggle to achieve the SDGs unless they come up with ambitious, credible and fundable plans for growing their economies in ways that are inclusive and environmentally responsible. Rapid global changes, combined with recognition of the limits of traditional linear planning approaches only add to this challenge.

Following the (often) formalistic national planning approaches of the early development decades, the 1980s and 1990s saw the very idea of producing national development plans become unfashionable. Market-driven economic approaches were promoted by donors and international financial institutions. In many countries planning units were down-sized or eliminated.

However in the last five years there is evidence that national development planning has firmly come back into vogue. Our initial scan shows that over 100 countries in the global south, including many of the largest and fastest growing, have a national development plan or similar document. These differ from the formalistic national development plans of the 1960s and 1970s and many build on national experience of PRSP and PRS planning.

It is our contention that many developing countries are now seeking to guide their own development through a set of processes, policies and practices that can usefully be termed the ‘new national planning’. This new national planning is has attracted little research interest, yet there is growing evidence that it has significant implications for how countries respond to the global and local challenges that they confront.

A common response by developing country governments to the global and local challenges that they confront has been their re-assertion of the necessity of national development planning to improve the institutions, resources and risk- and shock-management capabilities needed to achieve economic and social goals. This re-assertion of the need for national development planning is a reaction to the dominant policy focus of the last three decades, namely that of economic liberalisation, marketization and deregulation which, while successful in some respects, created greater economic inequality, while socialising many of the risks and amplifying certain shocks (e.g. the financial crisis of 2008) and increasing the frequency and severity of economic, especially financial and currency, crises.

Little systematic mapping of regional patterns in national development planning has been done and there is limited understanding of the processes shaping the new national planning at the national or global level. To address this, we are establishing a multi-disciplinary network of scholars, practitioners and policy makers to will analyse and better understand this re-emergence of national development planning in the global south.

Through an analysis of new national planning, this strategic network will create a new research and knowledge community with a deeper understanding of how national governments make decisions to achieve the SDGs in an era of globalisation, climate change and global uncertainty. We’re aiming to:

  1. Identify and analyse key elements of ‘new national planning’. An important element of this objective will be the development of a typology of recent national development plans.
  2. Understand the paradigmatic significance of the new national planning and how it is shaping both development theory and practice.
  3. Analyse the relationship between the national development planning process and development outcomes in the short to medium-run.
  4. Establish and nurture a new research and knowledge network on the role of new national planning in inclusive development.
  5. Create academic and policy exchanges and learning across linguistic and cultural borders by networking researchers and policy makers in English, French and Spanish speaking countries in the global south.