An EO's role as a key societal actor is to promote the views of the business community to the wider public. EOs need to explain why profits matter and how investment and job creation heavily depend on them in order to persuade the public that society as a whole has a very real interest in the health of the business sector. Likewise, EOs have to clearly articulate what the role and responsibilities of enterprises are in society; what they can and cannot do. A strategic policy framework (SPF) is a vehicle to achieve this.
An SPF should mark the strategic themes and directions that enable the EO to consolidate and develop its activities and better serve its membership. The environment in which EOs operate is changing, but the need to do what they have been doing so far has not. An SPF can provide the EO with the strategic principles around which it can collectively provide direction to meet those challenges.
A SPF requires an organization to stand back from its busy day-to-day work, identify its strengths and weaknesses, listen to its members, and position itself for future activities.
The SPF should reinforce some existing values and practices, create a unity of purpose and approach, allowing all members to be able to associate with future strategic directions, goals, and governance.
The SPF itself will be a time bound document (e.g., five-year time frame) for the EO to improve its services to members, increase their delivery, and achieve specific policy goals. It will underline and reinforce the basic principles of the EO and the values it stands for. It is a roadmap above all else.
While the Strategic Policy Framework should include first principles, it is more of a current vision for the economy. What are the EO's goals for the national economy; what conditions does business need in order to thrive. The document should seek in simple terms to garner resonance within policy circles; it should act as a short 'biography' of the business community and its objectives.
2.1 Rationale for a Strategic Policy Framework
Placing strategic goals and a vision into a consolidated written framework that has been endorsed by the organization is an extremely valuable tool in ongoing advocacy work.
An SPF will identify members' priorities, including the business challenges and the key strategic issues flowing from those challenges. It will outline the organizational structures to deliver the strategy and to respond to necessary change as it occurs over the next five years. In summary it is:
- A summation of the collective views of business the EO can continually point to in its discussions with government;
- a way of demonstrating to members what it stands for and what are its goals in the current policy environment;
- a useful marketing tool to attract new members;
- a means to talk with donors;
- a mechanism to signal to other organizations and actors who may want to work with the EO on achieving one or more shared goals.
2.2 Structure of Strategic Policy Framework
The SPF may be split into both long-term and short-term objectives. The long-term objectives may be unrealistic in the short-term but still be 'desirable' and remain policy objectives of the EO. For example, "overhauling taxation structures" is unlikely to be undertaken by government without considerable pressure for change and strong empirical evidence of failures in the current system, coupled with clear proposals for new taxation systems.
Short-term 'achievable' objectives are the ones the EO feels are realistic within a given period of time. For instance, in the above example a short-term objective may be to consolidate some specific taxation reporting that is required of businesses.
Criteria for inclusion of short-term objectives would include:
- Clear cut issues;
- good chance of success in a reasonable time period;
- likely to secure public support from members;
- little opposition by powerful groups or the general public.
The SPF is mostly concerned with principles and big ideas. There is no need for precise proposals in this document. For example, if social security is identified as an employer priority, an articulation of the EO's principles on this issue may look like this:
"Social Security is a responsibility of society as a whole. No one single section, such as the business community, should have to bear an unequal burden in the financing of it. There must be a balance between the provision of social security and the creation of employment, competitiveness, and economic growth. For wealth to be distributed – it needs to be created in the first place. Economic growth and job creation, as well as being the best means of social security, is the key to sustaining any social security response."
The employer policy framework needs in the first instance to be credible, and in order to achieve this it needs to be based on the real needs of enterprises. The following paragraphs can help in the overall approach.
The policy framework needs to be owned: members need to feel they can see their concerns and perspectives in it. Proper and full consultation throughout the membership base, across sectors and sizes, will help to ensure this. It must also be based on policy areas where the EO has expertise, i.e. where it is a respected actor.
It should be comprehensive. It is a statement about what the EO stands for and what policies it wants to enable enterprises to thrive and in order to create wealth and jobs. If it is too narrow in its focus it will fail to provide the EO with the necessary platform for all its policy work; however it should still prioritise as not every issue is equally important.
It should be constructive and offer practical policy solutions. It should make sure that there are no opportunities to damage the EO's reputation and should focus on policy not symptoms;
2.3 Five steps to developing a Strategic Policy Framework
The basis of an effective EO is being membership-driven - this at its simplest is reflecting members' needs in its advocacy and service provision. An EO will know its members priorities through: general interaction with members, discussions through the EO's policy committees (where these exist), specifically assembled focus groups across sectors of members, and through its formal survey work. These elements will provide the EO with the raw material to draft an SPF document.
National and international research can provide the EO with additional information that can support its policy aims and add credence to it. Incorporating empirically-sound assertions based on research from respected institutions will help position the EO as an advocate for forward-looking and positive policy change.
3. Listen Again
The SPF needs to gain resonance across numerous publics. It is an articulation of what the EO and its members want but it is also a vehicle to garner broader support. The EO cannot ignore the views of other stakeholders. Issues should be tracked against what other stakeholders are saying and what is the broader societal view. All these viewpoints need to be distilled and sifted before being incorporated into the final SPF in a way that does not dilute the EO's overall objectives. Efforts should focus on gauging public opinion and consulting with policy experts to determine the national mood. The consultation process should embrace outside stakeholders including governmental departments, State agencies, other EOs, be they national, regional or international, as well as journalists, politicians, and other stakeholders.
Ensure that the SPF is fully reflective of the membership – both across sectors and the size of enterprises. The draft SPF should be the focus of workshops across regions and sectors as it needs complete ownership by the broader membership before it is finally endorsed by the Board.
As an instrument to achieve policy goals it needs to be written in a language that can draw support, that others can see the value of, and that can be seen as a path to wider economic growth.
The final document should include a short statement that sums up the EO's strategic approach and places it within a context. The following is an example:
"The EO's vision is to enable business to meet the challenges of globalization and to ensure the continuing development of a responsive business and social environment. To achieve this vision, the EO dedicates itself to promoting and encouraging leadership, innovation, research, excellence, and professionalism in carrying out its role as the representative voice of business, as well as in the delivery of member services."
Policy document presented in February 2010; BUSINESSEUROPE and all its members propose an agenda for the European Union in 2010 – 2014 "Go for growth"
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) paper on what business ought to consider in the coming decade and issues that will impact on their operations. It touches on the main categories of concern of business, people issues, environmental, partnerships, supply chain, and technology.
PSFU is Uganda's apex body for the private sector. It is made up of 145 business associations, corporate bodies, and the major public sector agencies that support private sector growth. The 2010 PRIVATE SECTOR PLATFORM FOR ACTION is a Synopsis of Key Private Sector Growth Challenges and Proposals for Policy Reforms.
Business New Zealand "Plan of Action" to increase national competitiveness and productivity.
National forum of industry Brazil outlines an agenda for period 2007 – 2015.
FOCUS 2010, which was the Irish Business & Employers Confederations Statement of Strategy for the five years from 2006 to 2010.