Indigenous Governments – Strategic Planning….Why?

Over the last 20 years, in the course of working with First Nation, visiting the offices of [exhausted or interim] Band Managers and other senior staff, I have come across many Strategic Plans and Economic Development strategies were never fully implemented, and in some cases began to gather dust from the time they were completed.

While this may sound familiar to many First Nation communities, it also resonates in non-First Nation governments.

In a recent study recently published by McKinsey & Company[1] which looked at the strategic planning experience of governments across 18 countries, they found that 80% of government efforts failed to achieve there plans objectives.

The report outlines a number of reasons why mainstream governments fail to achieve progress against their objectives or fail to even address them. Some of the reasons include setting unrealistic objectives, as well as putting too much focus on developing the perfect plan, rather than focusing efforts on implementing it. As well, the report speaks to the lack of change management skills and experience required to enable successful execution of plans.

From a First Nation government perspective, where there is less access to the necessary resources and capacity to carry out the day-to-day; it is understandable that there can be challenges in executing their strategic plans. To know that even when substantially better resourced governments fail four out of 5 times.

The study speaks to the increasing importance in having a strategic view in which to carry out the daily tasks, especially in light of increasing pressures to transform and adapt. Mainstream governments; reportedly deal with demographic shifts, high levels of inequality within the changing shape of the cities they govern.

All First Nation governments can also speak to these challenges and many more, never-mind the challenges of governing the current areas of jurisdiction, imagine adding to this the challenge of obtaining full jurisdiction of your lands, resources, and population!

What I observe from these two contrasts is that First Nation governments need to be easy on themselves, understand that the daily obstacles and challenges they face are universal to a minimum, and considerable from a comparable standpoint.

The McKinsey study provides a few recommendations for success based on their extensive research. Their findings indicate that successful execution of strategic transformation objectives is enabled when the following areas are in place;

  • Committed Leadership
  • Clear purpose and priorities
  • Co-ordination & Cadence:
  • Compelling communication
  • Capability for change


All of these can be relevant in First Nation situations as well. A First Nations Strategic Plan should and could be the most influential document that leaders reference. At the end of the day, it’s all about accountability. All First Nations assign portfolio’s to Chief and Council members, in the past 20 years I have never come across a First Nation council assigning responsibility of the execution of the community’s strategic plan to a councillors portfolio. Perhaps this is the first step.

Communication is a key issue; the findings show that transformation success is enabled when there are effective communication processes and channels between leadership, management, staff and community membership.

I would also add that this needs to be on a constant basis, once every 3 to 5 years, during community or strategic planning exercises isn’t effective; and doesn’t benefit the community overall.

To the last point, the capacity of your First Nations government requires an honest assessment. To truly transform a community and administration, expertise and experience in change management is required, this is a skillset that few First Nation employees have.

To summarize, before your First Nation government embarks on another Strategic Planning exercise, I would recommend taking a look at the success of the last strategic plan, or economic development strategy, that was issued. How successful was the community in executing the plan? reaching the objectives set out? If success was limited, then take a look at what needs to change in the organization to enable successful change and improvement.

Focus on successful execution of realistic strategic plans is now the trend. First Nations, to achieve the desired level of self-determination need to continually evolve and change for the better. In First Nations communities, change isn’t inevitable it’s utterly necessary.


Michael Bonshor, CPA

Visions Financial Services/Ki’mola Indigenous Capital

[1] Delivering for Citizens Discussion Paper June 2018