Tag Archives: strategy

Archives strategy

If you boogie on over to the National Archives of Ireland website, you can download a copy of its Strategic Plan 2015–2017 [PDF], whereof the NAI says:

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan 2015 – 2017 outlines the challenges and priorities for us as an organisation. In it, we have identified the key areas we wish to develop, grounded in our vision, mission and values.

Well, yes, I suppose that is so. The thing is, though, that the Plan as published has only six pages, of which the first is a cover page and the last has the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities set out in boxes. There are only four pages of meat.

So, although the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities are present as advertised, there’s very little else. Using Rumelt’s three-part kernel structure as a model, we find that the NAI’s published strategic plan

  • lacks diagnosis
  • does have a guiding policy
  • has no action plans.

Perhaps the NAI has a lengthier document that, for diplomatic reasons, it is keeping out of public view.


There is a sad little paragraph on the second page:

We are progressing these responsibilities in a time of restrained financial resources and significant reductions in staffing. We are operating with only 75% of our sanctioned numbers and this is a major obstacle to meeting our statutory requirements with regard to accepting annual accessions, dealing with backlogs and providing services to government bodies. There are technical and legislative changes being progressed which will directly impact on our role and function as they relate to the records of government. The ubiquity of digital information requires earlier intervention in the approach to current records management. Collectively these present huge challenges for us in meeting our obligations and in trying to deliver existing and develop enhanced services.

I’m sure all of that is true, but — apart from the “sanctioned numbers”, which may or may not be relevant to the required workload — there is nothing to enable the concerned citizen [the singular citizen mentioned on the third page] to grasp the scale of the problems.

I have been told [but have no evidence] that there are unopened boxes or archival material that the NAI hasn’t got the staff to deal with [but if that’s not so, please leave a Comment so that I can correct this]. I can see that the amount of material made available on tinterweb is very small. And I can guess that there is difficulty in coping with public sector record management, not just because of “the ubiquity of digital information” but because some departments may not write everything down lest they have to release it under Freedom of Information legislation. But in these and other areas of activity it would be nice to have some figures to go on.

For diagnosis, then, the plan does very little to inform the concerned citizen.

Action plans

There aren’t any. There are no targets, goals, aims, performance measures, milestones … and no concrete plans for reaching, meeting, achieving or otherwise carrying them out.

What we get instead is a list of “five key strategic priorities”. Priority 1 is

Develop a secure footing for the National Archives


Priority 1 is foundational in that it directly addresses physical and staffing resources and the overarching legislative framework in which we operate. Priority 1 is also directly related to external factors with which the National Archives has limited influence. The inability to deliver on priority 1 will impact upon our core functions.

I don’t like that. If there is something you can do little or nothing about, it shouldn’t be in your strategic plan: it should be in your letter to Santa or your when-I-win-the-lottery wishlist.

Nor do I like the use of the verb “develop”, which is in three of the five strategic priorities, with the equally weak “improve” in a fourth:

  • Develop a secure footing
  • Improve the visibility and accessibility of our services
  • Transition to digital
  • Develop our people
  • Develop collaboration.

They, and most of the other verbs used in the text, are all about making unquantified changes but not about reaching goals. What’s lacking is any sense that the organisation knows exactly what needs to be done to bring itself to some defined state [which might be that of coping fully with its legal obligations or handling some quantity of material or serving some number of clients or …]. I want some specific targets and some hard-nosed verbs about how they’re to be met.

I’m sure, for instance, that it’s nice to

…  provide all staff with opportunities for professional development …

but I’d be more interested in knowing what capabilities the organisation lacks and how it proposes to acquire them.

I’m generally on the side of the poor buggers in public service bodies who have to cope with the contradictory demands and short-term agendas of nitwitted politicians, and it seems to me that the NAI is probably suffering from both of those. But I would be more reassured by a more detailed strategy, with achievable targets and concrete plans for reaching them, than I am by the short document made available to the public. I hope that some longer, more explicit version has been developed for use by NAI management.


Shannon traffic 2013

Some weeks ago Waterways Ireland kindly supplied me with the Shannon traffic figures for the final three months of 2013 and I have just now had a chance to add them to my spreadsheets and produce some graphs.

The usual caveats apply: the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded. The passage records are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the Shannon but they would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats. On the other hand, they do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business.

It is good to note, incidentally, that, in its draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016, Waterways Ireland says that it intends to

Develop and implement a research programme to measure waterway usage and inform planning and development.

It won’t be easy to do, but we need much better measures of all types of activities on all seven of the waterways managed by WI.

The final outcome for 2013 won’t greatly surprise anyone who has read earlier bulletins on this subject, like this covering the figures to end-September 2013. All the illustrations are based on information supplied by Waterways Ireland, with some minor adjustments by me to eliminate anomalies, but the interpretation and comments are mine own.

All boats full year

Total Shannon traffic 2003–2013, private and hired

The decline in traffic since 2003 seems to have been halted …

All boats full year %

Total Shannon traffic as a percentage of 2003 traffic

… but it is 40% below what it was in 2003.

Private boats full year %

Private-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

Traffic in private boats seems to be recovering, but what is perhaps more significant is that it never went more than 10% above or below the 2003 figure. It has been remarkably stable over the period, despite the economic crash and despite the anecdotal evidence of boats being sold to overseas owners and trucked out of the country. Perhaps larger boats were replaced by smaller? Perhaps only boats bought in the boom were sold in the bust? Unfortunately the deficiencies of the registration system make it very difficult to determine what has been happening.

Hire boats full year %

Hire-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

But if private-boat traffic has been remarkably stable since 2003, the same cannot be said of hire-boat traffic. The best that can be said of 2013 is that the figures didn’t get [much] worse, but a 60% decline since 2003 is really, really dreadful.

WI’s draft Corporate Plan, which does not explicitly mention the hire industry, talks of

… unlocking opportunities to achieve recreational growth, and economic and social development.

I don’t know whether that omission means that WI sees little prospect of a rejuvenated hire-boat industry. And I note that, other than in the titles of organisations, the draft plan rarely mentions tourism or tourists. Are the waterways only for natives? If so, is that a deliberate policy decision? Or is there something that could be done, cheaply, to help to revive waterways tourism?

Emma Kennedy, writing in the Sunday Business Post on 23 February 2014, wrote about Fáilte Ireland’s latest brainwave, which is to “target” three groups:

  • social energisers, which are gangs of young people interested in “new and vibrant destinations”, which I take to mean Temple Bar
  • culturally curious folk aged 50 or over, with money, who are interested in “exploring new landscapes, history and culture”
  • great escapers, who like energetic rural holidays with their partners.

No families with kids, I see, although “Families & Loved Ones” (the latter term, by the way, nowadays seems to mean either dead people or their relicts) were one of the two “primary target customer segments” identified in Fáilte Ireland’s Inland Cruising Market Development Strategy. (Fat lot of good that strategy did, but we mustn’t be bitter.)

Anyway, without having done any market studies (though WI has funded lots of them), it seems to me that there is scope for more tourism on the waterways, but it might not be on traditional cruisers. It might involve outdoor activities like cycling and walking along the canals and Barrow: WI’s plan discusses them, but without adverting to an overseas market. And it might involve small-boat activities — canoeing, touring rowing, small-boat sailing, camping — on Shannon, Erne and SEW: WI says it will support micro-enterprises, and those providing outdoor activity holidays may need expertise and assistance rather than hard cash.

I admit to having little evidence on this, but it seems to me to be too early to give up on the tourism potential of the waterways. And the decline of the cruiser hire business does not necessarily mean that all waterway tourism is doomed.

Private -v- hire full year

Private boats overtake hire boats

That said, 2013 was the year when, for the first time since Noah was an Able Seaman, the number of passages by private boats exceeded that by hire boats.

Checkpoints 2013

The points at which numbers were recorded

Finally, this chart suggests that any structures that were not built by the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s will not attract many visitors. The extensions off the main stem of the Shannon — south to Limerick, west to Ballinasloe, east through Clondra, north to Lough Allen — are much less used than the main line from Lough Derg to Lough Key. It seems unlikely that any further extensions, especially to small towns that it would take three hours (at canal speed) to get to, are likely to be any more successful in attracting traffic.

Reading matter

WI’s Strategy for Enhanced Customer Service 2014–2016 [PDF].

Waterways Ireland’s purpose in life

Waterways Ireland is currently (I presume) implementing its Corporate Plan 2011–2013 [PDF], which still has a month to run. That plan set out, inter alia, a mission:

Our mission is to provide a high quality recreational environment centred on the inland waterways in our care, for the benefit of our customers.

It also had core values, which is nice, and a vision:

Our long term vision is to create an interrelated waterways network which will provide accessible recreational benefits and opportunities for all.

We wish to create facilities and services which will attract and impress visitors from home and aboard, supporting and encouraging the tourism and recreational industries in Northern Ireland and Ireland and promoting sustainable economic growth across the island of Ireland. We seek to protect and enhance the natural environment in and along our waterways for the enjoyment of future generations.

For the period of this plan we intend to focus on the consolidation, improvement and promotion of existing waterways in order to maximise their use. We will progress toward our long term vision by focusing development on the Ulster Canal.

And it had strategic objectives:

To deliver the benefits and opportunities the waterways can provide across a range of areas, Waterways Ireland has identified 6 strategic objectives which will drive the delivery of our Mission and Vision and the objectives set out in this Corporate Plan. These Strategic Objectives are to:

1. Manage and maintain a reliable and high quality waterways network.
2. Develop and restore the waterways network.
3. Enhance the existing waterways network to widen its appeal to users.
4. Promote increased use of our waterways resource principally for recreational purposes.
5. Assess, manage and develop the assets of Waterways Ireland.
6. Develop an organisation of excellence.

Reading that lot, it seems to me that the focus was inward rather than outward, perhaps more in line with traditional engineering-led waterways management than with the new and exciting marketing-led organisation of the future.

The mission is de haut en bas, with waterways coming before customers, and the first sentence of the vision continues the theme. The second sentence does mention economic affairs, but “supporting and encouraging the tourism and recreational industries” suggests that tourism and recreation are something that other people do, not something that WI does: it does not seem to see itself as part of the “tourism and recreational industries”.

The intro to the strategic objectives is pure management gobbledegook, but the really revealing bit is the list of objectives. The last two are inward-looking, but note the ordering of the first four and what the balance of elements says about the corporate focus: WI is going to

  • manage and maintain the waterways network
  • develop and restore the waterways network
  • enhance the waterways network
  • and after that promote increased use.

This is what used to be called a sales model: design and build your widgets first; then go and flog them to the punters. There is an alternative approach: start by finding out what the potential punters might want and then design and build your widgets to meet their needs. In reality, of course, you do something in between, because you’re not starting with a blank slate: your factory can make one particular kind of widget, not all possible kinds. And, similarly, WI’s main asset is a collection of waterways, not of (say) amusement parks or bookshops.

But a marketing focus could help an organisation to think about how its widgets are to be used. The result doesn’t have to be as crude as adding the word “solutions” to everything; it can be used to shape how the organisation presents its widgets and to whom it presents them. And, in my view, WI needs to do that because, according to the only reliable (and admittedly inadequate) measure we have, the Shannon traffic figures, waterways usage has been declining for at least ten years. [I know that there are other waterways, and many other types of activities thereon, but I don’t know of any published statistics about the extent of usage.] WI needs to reimagine the waterways.

When Jimmy Deenihan spoke in the Dáil on 16 October 2013, he said:

The [budgetary] provision will enable Waterways Ireland to deliver on its core activities and targets, which include keeping the waterways open for navigation during the main boating season and promoting increased use of the waterways resource for recreational purposes. This expenditure should also assist in developing and promoting the waterways, attracting increased numbers of overseas visitors and stimulating business and regeneration in these areas. Capital funding of almost €4 million will be made available to Waterways Ireland to facilitate the ongoing maintenance and restoration of Ireland’s inland waterways, thereby increasing recreational access along the routes of waterways.

My attention was attracted by the phrase about keeping waterways open “during the main boating season”, which suggests a new, restrictive policy. However, the rest of the list is pretty much in line with the existing objectives. I hope that something more radical will come out of the corporate planning process in which WI tells me it is currently engaged.

By the way, note that there was no mention of either heritage, which was the excuse for nicking the waterways from the OPW, or northsouthery.

WI’s Lakelands and Inland Waterways Strategy

Some thoughts here. Overall conclusion: must try harder. Why no mention of the Royal Canal? Why nothing about industrial, transport or waterways heritage?