Home > HRB Overview 8: Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007.

Pike, Brigid (2009) HRB Overview 8: Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 29, Spring 2009, pp. 1-3.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 29) - Published Version

Published in December 2008, Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007, the eighth in the Health Research Board’s Overview series,1 analyses how the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008 (NDS) was designed and developed, and how strategic management processes and governance arrangements were used to support implementation during its first seven years. The objective is to gain insights into how these infrastructural elements may influence the realisation of the intended strategy and to explore options for the effective management of these elements.

 The analysis is based on the work of strategy theorist Henry Mintzberg.2 Over the course of a 30-year project researching and thinking about the strategy process, Mintzberg reached the conclusion that intended strategy is almost never the same as realised strategy. He explored how organisational leadership, structure and resources, as well as developments in the external environment, conspire to alter the course of the best-laid plans. He identified five ‘strategic forms’: strategies as intended plans, before action, and as realised patterns, after action; as deliberate strategy, when the intentions are more or less realised in the actions; as unrealised strategy, when the intentions are not realised; and as emergent strategy, when the patterns realised in action were never intended (see figure below). In analysing the development of Ireland’s drugs strategy within this framework, the overview highlights some underlying tensions.

 [See the PDF document for Mintzberg’s representation of the five strategic forms] 

First, in setting direction, it is apparent that there has been an ongoing disconnect between the strategic objective and goals, which express an aspiration to reduce the harm to individuals, families and society from illicit drugs, and the operational objectives and key performance indicators, some of which have directed effort towards the prohibition of the illicit drug market and a drug-free society. Arguably, this ‘duality of approaches’ has created a space in which politicians have been able to manoeuvre, responding to different needs and audiences at different times. A critical challenge for effective strategic management is to achieve a balance between the competing demands for ambiguity and for precision, to ensure that political expediency does not crowd out consideration of the evidence base or, equally, that a slavish adherence to analytical certainty does not preclude innovation and bold policy. Two activities which would help to ensure effective management of this ambiguity are the formulation of a more rigorous system of performance measurement, for example a drug harm index, and a drive for more integrated performance through measuring and evaluating outputs and outcomes, rather than inputs and processes.
Second, with regard to informing strategic choices, two broad information types have been drawn on – scientifically derived, or evidence-based, information, and public opinion. These two streams of information reflect the rational and the non-rational aspects of the decision-making process. During the lifetime of the NDS considerable effort has gone into building up the evidence base, but little comprehensive, systematic, scientific investigation of the nature of public opinion and the role of the media, has been undertaken. Furthermore, while there have been significant strides in building the evidence base, there have been gaps in the use of overt analytical, modelling or evaluative approaches to policy development.
Third, an exploration of the mechanisms for co-ordinating the implementation of the NDS, and the allocation of responsibilities to individual entities for implementation, has highlighted some complex governance issues. While the various actors may share common aspirations with regard to the implementation of the NDS, they have other organisational priorities as well, which can run counter to the NDS objective. The recent OECD review of the Irish public service,3 suggests ways of overcoming such tensions, for example through adopting networked organisational forms and integrated performance management systems.
Fourth, during the lifetime of the NDS, changes in the external environment have been amenable to control through means such as project planning, the mid-term review of the NDS, and the creation of the Emerging Needs Fund. Other changes, however, usually in the wider public policy environment, have had a more oblique connection to the NDS. It is not clear whether or how the intention behind initiatives, such as shifts in social inclusion policy or the introduction of drug testing in various contexts, has been compared with, or assessed against, the intentions behind the NDS. Steps to develop a system of strategic control that incorporates both emerging and intended strategies are canvassed.  
Although formal strategic plans are useful in ensuring the future is taken into account and in co-ordinating activities, they can never entirely remove the types of tensions outlined above, and neither can they eliminate uncertainty. In order to realise a strategic plan, Henry Mintzberg believed it is crucial to recognise that strategy development is a continuous process, based on real-time learning. Accepting this premise, this Overview on the development of Ireland’s drug strategy identifies two requirements for effective strategy formation:
·         It is through continuously working with and managing the instabilities and conflicts which are an inherent part of strategy, that strategy moves forward in an effective manner. The tendency to reduce uncertainty, to seek stability by focusing on that which is amenable to control, distracts from the real task of the strategist.
·         Continuous and inclusive debate and deliberation on the direction and contents of strategy is at the heart of effective strategy formation. It is through open, informed and critical debate, involving all players and drawing on all possible sources of information and all perspectives, that the insights gained from strategic implementation, and practical and acceptable options for resolving critical strategic tensions, are found.  
1. Pike B (2008) Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007. HRB Overview Series 8. Dublin: Health Research Board.
2.Henry Mintzberg (1994) The rise and fall of strategic planning, New York: Prentice Hall, and (2007) Tracking strategies: towards a general theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (2008) Ireland: towards an integrated public service. OECD Public Management Reviews. Retrieved on 1 April 2008 at www.oecd.org


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Page Range
pp. 1-3
Health Research Board
Issue 29, Spring 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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