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How to become strategic planner

The training and education pathway for strategic planners is varied. Some strategic planners start their careers in other roles within health and social care. You could also apply with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in subjects such as Public Health, Business Management, Nursing, or Economics.

What is a strategic planner?

Strategic planners help organisations decide what they want to do and work out how to make it happen. Their analysis and insight inform decisions on what services to deliver and how to deliver them. Strategic planners do this by:

  • Being driven by the current and future needs of people in Scotland by drawing on a wide source of evidence, such as data and people’s experiences.
  • Analysing how the whole health and social care system needs to work together to meet those needs. This helps join up the many health and social care services to work better as a whole system.
  • Following their curiosity about what is happening and why in order to understand how to make it better.
  • Translating evidence and information into insight that decision-makers need to improve organisations, services, and support.

Strategic planners are employed in all NHS boards and health and social care partnerships across Scotland.

Starting your career as a strategic planner

Most people become strategic planners by moving from other jobs within health and social care organisations. Many of our strategic planners may have worked in the following roles:

  • a clinician, such as a nurse or allied health professional
  • a health or social care service manager
  • project or programme coordinator or manager  
  • a data analyst or in performance measurement 
  • public health or health improvement
  • in a community organisation or charity

Many of the strategic planners working within our health and social care organisations discovered an interest in strategic planning through one or more of the following experiences:

  • Working to set up a new service or redesign a current one where they were involved in elements of strategic planning.
  • Working within a health and social care service and seeing strategic planning as an opportunity to make changes at a strategic level to address the frustrations felt within a service.
  • Working in public health and seeing strategic planning as an opportunity to pursue system-wide levers to improve population health.

View strategic planner vacancies on our recruitment website.

Education and training pathway

The education pathway for strategic planners is varied. 

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, so you could apply directly from school or go to college first.

If you choose to go to university, relevant undergraduate or postgraduate degree subjects that may help you explore a career in strategic planning include:

  • Public Health
  • Economics
  • Public Policy
  • Strategic Service Planning
  • Health Analytics
  • Business management
  • Clinical, including nursing and allied health professions.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

As a strategic planner, you’ll help organisations to develop their strategy and direction of travel. What do they want to achieve, and where do they want to be in the future? You’ll also develop plans that support them to achieve this strategy, by laying out what they will do and how, in order to get there.

You’ll support NHS boards and health and social care organisations through a wide range of activities, for example:

  • Understanding the needs of their population. You’ll draw on a wide range of data, evidence, and insight from people with lived and living experience. It will help you to understand what health and social care needs people have and how they want these needs met.
  • Looking to the future to understand what people might need in the future. 
  • Analysing the legislative, policy and wider landscape and interpreting what this means for the organisation’s strategic plans.
  • Helping to piece together the various sources of information and insight into a coherent strategic direction.
  • Identifying and analysing the gaps between what is currently done and what good practice looks like to explore areas that need investment and change.
  • Understanding the dynamics of how the various parts of the health and social care system interact to identify the areas for investment and change.
  • Identifying and analysing the options the organisation has for closing these gaps and meeting people’s health and social care needs.
  • Supporting the commissioning, set up of services and decommissioning of services. 
  • Taking monitoring and performance information and understanding its implications for strategic planning and reporting progress against the plans.

Strategic planners bring a combination of a ‘way of thinking’ and a set of analysis and interpretation skills. To become a great strategic planner, you’ll either have or be focusing on developing the following skills:

  • critical thinking - thinking strategically about the big picture and being able to link a wide range of activities and services to how they fit within that bigger picture.
  • curiosity - being curious about what is happening and why to be able to apply creative ideas to complex challenges.
  • sense-making - understanding a wide set of data, information and what people are telling you and being able to interpret and express this back to varied audiences in a way that is tailored to the needs of each audience.
  • communicating and collaborating - building strong relationships within and between different organisations to draw on the insight, evidence and expertise of others to inform strategic planning activity.
  • leading and taking initiative - challenging and questioning the status quo to help support organisations to think differently about things.

Strategic planning teams tend to sit in the heart of the corporate centre of organisations and provide support widely across the organisation. This means you’ll work collaboratively with a wide range of disciplines and seek to bring together this varied expertise to build a single coherent picture for planning. In particular you are likely to:

  • Work closely with clinicians, managers, and senior leadership staff within your NHS board or health and social care partnership to draw together information to produce comprehensive analysis, strategies, and plans.
  • Support the board for NHS boards, integrated joint boards for health and social care partnerships and their executive teams with strategic planning functions.
  • Collaborate with other NHS boards, health and social care partnerships and community planning organisations to create collaboration and consistent strategies and plans.
  • Engage with Scottish Government policy teams and NHSScotland leadership staff to work on the development and implementation of policy, strategies and plans.

All NHS boards and health and social care partnerships (HSCPs) employ strategic planners. This means there are opportunities to work in strategic planning no matter where you live in Scotland. Some roles will have a focus on the geography that these NHS boards or HSCPs cover, while others within the national NHS boards will have a Scotland-wide focus. 

Strategic planning roles are usually office-based. Most NHS or HSCP employers in Scotland offer hybrid working options with time in the office and working remotely from home.

Learning and development

During your career, self-directed learning will provide opportunities to learn new skills and gain qualifications. You’ll be able to apply to more senior roles as you progress.

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