How Agencies Can ‘Get the Most Out of Strategic Reviews’

Report stresses need for sustained leadership attention to goals.

To succeed in today’s data-driven performance environment, agency leaders must direct sustained attention to goals while encouraging two-way communication with staff, according to a study to be released on Wednesday.

“Getting the Most Out of Strategic Reviews,” a summary of a January forum held by the Office of Management and Budget and the National Academy of Public Administration, is designed to give agencies “more practical advice on what constitutes a successful, impactful strategic review,” says its introduction.

Under OMB Circular A-11, as updated by the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, agencies are required to use results of data-driven strategic reviews of goals and objectives to “inform strategic decision-making, budget formulation, and near-term agency actions, as well as preparation of the Annual Performance Plan and Annual Performance Report,” the study noted. That process “helps agency leaders develop a broad foundation of evidence and data in order to prioritize policy and budgetary decision-making” as well as “incentivize communities of learning and the sharing of promising practices.”

The January conference, with corporate sponsorship, drew attendees from the Government Accountability Office and the multi-agency Performance Improvement Council, along with several departments, including Housing and Urban Development, Labor and Agriculture. Also contributing were NASA, private sector consultants and representatives of local government and academia.

Among the lessons learned were that discussion during strategic reviews “should focus on those issues most important to leadership” to ensure that leadership remains committed and the project is taken seriously throughout the organization.

“Reviews should include all relevant decision makers and must be interactive, not a series of presentations,” the report recommended. “The focus should be on what needs to be decided.”

Program evaluation and budget processes should be integrated into the strategic reviews, with relevant officials participating. “Because no organization achieves its objectives on its own, strategic reviews should consider all contributors to a goal and ensure they are integrated into the performance management process, if not the meeting itself,” the group agreed.

“Agencies must ensure data is reliable enough to drive decision making,” the report said. “Additionally, before going to great lengths to correct data quality issues or collect new data, agencies should look for other sources of data that haven’t been thought of to fill gaps in what is not known.”

Performance and evidence “will rarely be the only factors driving decision making,” the report cautioned, and, because strategic reviews should not be “punitive, those whose goals are being reviewed should be provided questions or issues in advance, to the extent possible.” Data and strategic review meetings should be posted on an agency internal website, with meetings held, when practicable, at regular times and locations, the report said.

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