Assessing the extent of the application of strategic thinking in Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.
Ramodula, Thabo M.
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The meaning of the concept strategy has had many interpretations since adaption in other domains beyond its origin in the military realm. Its historical development illustrates that scientific inquiry in ‘organisational strategies’ and perspectives have been twisted to cognitivist and constructivist paradigms. As a result, two intrinsically linked concepts – strategic planning and strategic thinking have dominated the scene in the study of strategy. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to assess the extent of application of strategic thinking in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality. It was aimed at initiating an inquiry in the relevance of strategic thinking to local governance: its concept and its theoretical orientation in the systems approach paradigm and/or science of complexity. The practice of strategy has been defined by characteristics such as winning, provision for coherence and direction towards the realization of organizational vision are its core purposes and its formulation is predominately a managerial function. The rise and the fall of every organization depend largely on its strategic objectives. This is because strategy gives precedence to organizational vision or development as well as the deployment of its resources (human and financial) in order to survive within a particular domain. While the conventionalist approach assumes strategy as a linear, programmatic and analytical thought process, strategic thinking adopts a broader perspective articulating strategy as a thought process involving nonlinearity, creativity and divergence. Due to its reliance on the thicket of legislative prescripts (command-and-control), the Integrated Development Plan (IDP), a principal strategic planning instrument for municipalities in South Africa, resembles conventional strategic planning. The study adopted a qualitative methodology, following a deductive process as the general and established theories were considered and applied to the municipal strategy making context. Hence the study gave primacy to the key role-players in the IDP process, which was treated as equivalent to a strategy making process. The participants interviewed involved senior staff members, ward councillors and ward committee members because of their strategic positions to influence the current and future strategic decision making as well determining how to improve it. This is because of uncertainties and messy problems as defined by systems thinkers and/or complexity theorists. As a result, an holistic approach, wherein every element of a municipal system including its environmental factors (as strategic thinking advocates), was endorsed. Findings confirm conventional prescripts involving a managerialist approach or linearity remain intact in municipal governance. This is due to a demand for compliance by the many legislative prescripts, including oversight institutions. The study recommends a paradigm shift towards the incorporation of strategic thinking into municipalities in order to improve the current conventional planning practices and encourage effective participatory democracy. In this context, strategic thinking should not be embraced as rendering the IDP obsolete, but rather as complementing it. It further recommended that strategic thinking should precede strategic planning or IDP per se.