Mad Policy Skillz the FCO Way

April 15, 2011

While looking for something else I came across  this FCO  booklet Better International Policy. Dating from 2010 it was issued by the Directorate of Strategy, Policy Planning and Analysis. It lays out the approach to policy development that should be used by British diplomats – click on the image for a larger version of the International Policy Framework (IPF)


The booklet goes through the steps in more detail –  it’s only 17 pages so you can skim through it in 10 minutes.

Three  comments:

The IPF is part of an effort common across UK government (and lots of other organizations) to get a better alignment between ends, means and organizational resources.  It’s an effort to counter the tendency of the FCO to focus on the latest crisis.

The handbook  emphasises  the steps that that  UK can take to exert influence on an issue or situation while recognizing that the UK is unlikely to be able to control outcomes.  Following from this is an emphasis on recognizing a range of alternative outcomes including consideration of what would happen if we don’t do anything and the possibilities that action may carry risks of making things worse.

The thing that really surprised me were these definitions:

Strategy refers to the big picture; the whole framework. A strategy includes both a clearly defined set of long term objectives and a conscious plan to achieve them. Doing the IPF fully is the same thing as the FCO competence of “Strategic Thinking”.

Policy is subordinate to strategy. Policies are deliberately chosen patterns of activity or courses of action designed to keep moving in the chosen direction.

As a paid up member of the ‘Dead Carl’  fan club I would take the view that strategy is subordinate to policy.  Policy comes from politics which is where the balancing of competing interests and priorities takes place.  If you follow the framework laid in this document you will end up with multiple strategies but no way of establishing their relative priority.  The framework refers to the departmental strategic objectives but in some respects the DSOs are just another list. This is not to say that the framework isn’t useful because I think it is but it does speak to the questions raised in the recent Parliamentary investigation into Who Does UK Strategy – that report suggested  that nobody was really in charge.


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