Exploring the long-term effect of strategy work: The case of Sustainable Sydney 2030

blog post by Martin Kornberger, Renate Meyer and Markus Höllerer

20 Jan 2021, 11:54 a.m.
Martin Kornberger, Renate Meyer and Markus Höllerer

Abstract: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098020979546#abstract


When asking city administrators and urban strategists about the long-term effect of strategy work, the answer will be most likely: the hallmark of an effective strategy is its implementation. When we studied the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 in 2006 we were told similarly that a good strategy is the “the blueprint for the future”. Sure, small adjustment would have to be made; but overall a well-crafted strategy would provide the roadmap for the future.

Over a decade later Sydney 2030 is still the reference for much of what happens in the city. Clover Moore, the City’s longest serving Lord Major since 2004, still uses it as her policy platform. Most argue it is a “success story” But – and here comes the puzzle – only one out of ten proposed “big ideas” has been realized. As one senior advisor said, that lack of implementation is “immaterial”: Sydney 2030 is a “success”, despite its lack of implementation. Our paper tries to solve this puzzle: what is more important than getting things done?

Our study suggests an answer in three acts. First, strategy ushered into being shared new sensibilities, inviting city-makers to rethink the city as commons and the urban as a ‘mindset’: the city is not just bricks and mortar – rather it is the context, the people, and relations between buildings that make the city. Sydney 2030 provided a new language to articulate and accelerate this shift.

Second, strategy was a transformative process inviting constituents on a journey that accelerated their understanding of the complex nature of ‘how the city actually works’. It instigated an openness for opportunities, and encouraged a process of exploration. Quite contrary to predetermining the execution of a plan, strategy produced the fertile ground on which new ideas could fall; it sparked curiosity, not closure.

Third, strategy entailed a form of diplomacy helping people to ‘learn to dance together’ tactfully, to a shared rhythm and leitmotif. Strategy constituted an ‘imagined community’: this sense of ‘we-ness’ was articulated through galvanizing public’s voice around shared concerns and a shared sense of identity. It inspired commitment through increasing the odds of desired things to happen. In so doing, it overcame a number of governance gaps by engaging people to collaboratively sketch possible futures and think beyond the boundaries of power and control.

In sum, and with Ludwick Fleck as conceptual inspiration, we claim that strategy’s effect lies in its capacity to shape a thought style and form a thought collective. Extending the insights gained from our study to other areas, the role of strategy in the context of non-command-and-control settings includes a focus on contextual, relational rationality, commons, and positive externalities; the design of transformational processes that disclose preferences rather than scramble for means that pursue (if not dead then often diffuse) ends; and the delicate task of inviting actors to ‘learn to dance together’ – in short, to provide a shared socio-cognitive infrastructure to ask questions and search for answers, and, with this, for collective action to occur. Strategy, we may conclude, is like the North Star in the night sky: one needs it for orientation, and yet nothing could be further from reality.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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