The National Development Strategy is not just a document, it is a process

Interview with Matthew Lawson, British Ambassador to North Macedonia

October 10, 2023


The United Kingdom has been actively supporting the creation of the National Development Strategy from its inception. This initiative spans over two and a half years, with the expectation that the overarching strategic document will be completed by the end of 2023. Do you believe that the progress made thus far contributes towards the development of North Macedonia's comprehensive and inclusive long-term strategic document?

The initiative started with the idea that the country needs a common vision for the future of the country, that all the stakeholders will agree on and commit their political and policy will and work to achieving it. It started as a discussion among few like-minded partners, who have the understanding of the complexity of achieving a consensus on a long-term vision in the at present, highly polarized political environment.  We quickly agreed that NDS needs to be a process, not a document, and for it to be a process for everyone, we need to include everyone. We needed an approach that will ensure full participation that will bring the best of North Macedonia, be as inclusive and as transparent and possible, but still be focused on the future. We agreed that key partners will need to be the institutions, the CSOs, the academia and the private sector. The NDS process calls this approach the Quadruple Helix. The NDS project to prepare the first draft of the NDS document and set-up the national structures for further implementation of the process has come to the final stage now. It does have the national ownership, leadership, inclusion, strategic communication, commitment and drive to set a process that can enable consensus on the long-term vision for the country. I do have full trust that it will establish the pathways for the future development of North Macedonia. 

What makes NDS unique in comparison to all the previous strategic documents in the country?

NDS is not just a document, it is a process. We are supporting the preparation of the first draft of the document and the set-up of the structures, but in the past two years the institutions made sure that NDS becomes part of their strategic visions and processes. The Government and the state institutions have participated in numerous workshops and debates that gathered their views, the methodology for the strategic planning of the institutions now refers to the NDS, the IFI’s like the World Bank refer to the NDS process, the EU accession process is filly aligned with the visioning of the national priorities, the Academy of Science is included, the youth organisations and the citisens are included directly and vie website. The Parliament and MPs are organizing public debates on the themes covered by the NDS, and the private sector fed into the prioritization and the policy discussions. NDS teams and experts have learned from the best practices in preparing long term plans from Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Wales. We have the Chief Planning experts from the Scottish Government this week, working with the national experts and institutions on spatial planning and equal regional development. What is unique with NDS is that it is very inclusive, driven from the national stakeholders, and looks at the structural and institutional requirements to make it sustainable. And the key thing is that it is prepared for the citizens, communicated to the citisens and is inviting views from the citizens.


Based on our country's historical track record, there has been a deficiency in the practical implementation of past strategic documents. Is there a particular instrument or strategy in place that the National Development Strategy (NDS) will not suffer the same fate and will not merely exist as a "paper tiger"? How will the UK-supported Methodology for Strategic Planning will contribute to the success of this phase in the process?

Excellent question, and if I can say, the right question to ask given the previous record of having documents that are not translated in the actual strategic plans and working processes of the institutions that are supposed to implement the strategies. OECD SIGMA has also noted that many strategic documents have not been translated into real action. This is why we are supporting the Reinventing Governance project, working together with the DPM Grkovska and the General Secretary and the General Secretariat of the Government to see how can the NDS and the thematic strategies be translated into strategic plans and actions of the institutions. The project is also introducing the Key Performance Indicators, the methodology that enables monitoring of the implementation of policies. Such work will require some reorganization of the work of the line Ministries, enabling them to link data and evidence to policy making, to setting up of realistic and measurable milestones that ensure better analytical capacities in the Ministries who are creating the national policies. This is a very comprehensive process, and I am sure we will have an opportunity to talk about the progress on this project in the future. 

In addition to providing financial support for the process, the British Embassy also offered practical assistance. Specifically, in the upcoming period, experts from the Scottish Government will join the endeavor and contribute their expertise to the creation of strategic documents. What unique insights or benefits will they bring to the process? 

Yes, few administrations have developed long-term plans in the UK, including the Wales and Scotland. We are very happy that our Scottish colleagues have agreed to support the NDS process by sharing their experiences and lessons learned. The Scottish Government has just prepared their forth National Planning Framework and they have some valuable advices for the NDS process in North Macedonia. They have an interesting approach to planning, based on the spatial plan and the needs that people have in each community. They start from each individual person and bring the long term development very close to the homes of citizens. In their national planning they talk about Sustainable Places, Livable Places and Productive places. And what I really like about their planning is that it is written for the people, everyone can recognize what it means for them - the people, the politicians and the local authorities and institutions that are delivering services to people. I hope it would be inspirational for the NDS process in North Macedonia to share what the national planning actually means to the people in the villages and the cities. 


Over the past year and a half, we've observed a notably inclusive and comprehensive approach in crafting the National Development Strategy. With over 4,000 citizens directly participating and contributing their ideas and proposals for the country's future development, how significant do you consider this aspect for the document's relevance and effectiveness? 

This is why this NDS process in different. It is not about a group of people, academics or politicians or experts to write up a document that will be published, put in a library and never be looked at again. This is why there is the online platform to input views, this is why the UNDP who are the secretariat, the management hand of the NDS implementation, have organized numerous events throughout the country to seek views and share the NDS story. The NDS teams have asked the citisens, the experts, the institutions, the media, the academia, the businesses, the CSOs, the political parties, the youth from all ages about what kind of country they want to live in and what kind of a country they see for their children in 2043. This inclusion ensures that everyone has a chance to participate, but it also means that this is a process owned by everyone, it is a responsibility of each of the citisens of North Macedonia to make sure that future politicians refer to this vision when asking for votes in all future elections.


Having been in the country for over a year, how would you evaluate North Macedonia's current development potential, and what is your vision for the country's trajectory 20 years from now?

North Macedonia is a beautiful country, with great natural resources, with warm and passionate people who care about the country, who are proud and want to see their families and children enjoy the best benefits the country can offer. You had a challenging past, many lessons in democracy have been learned and the EU pathway is the right one for the country to prosper and develop. This is the choice of the people of North Macedonia, and the EU rules, norms and standards can ensure better quality of life. There is work to be done, I will be honest about that. Having a clear vision, not starting new reforms with each Government anew, committing resources, financial and human resources to long-term development can certainly help the country achieve it’s development potential. Considering global trends, thinking about the climate change effects, recognizing the added value the country has regionally and globally, predicting the development of the technology, making sure good governance is at the essence of the development is crucial for the county to keep up with the rest of the world. You see that the world is changing, technology is making us adapt fast, think on our feet. North Macedonia has the place in the world, in Europe and we are looking forward to the possibilities and the cooperation in the future.