Recent years have witnessed a resurgence in the number of developing countries producing national development plans. This has led to an interest in how governments seek to implement their plans by aligning government policies, budgets and sectoral plans with their national development plans. The expectation is often for plans to bring about major changes in policies and budgets, but many national development plans are designed to play a more incremental role in signalling priorities and influencing thinking rather than bringing about specific policy changes. In doing so, they mirror the emphasis budgets place on narrative explanation alongside budgetary allocations. This paper uses the case of South Africa’s National Development Plan to look at how budgets and sectoral plans respond to signals from the plan and how they in turn reshape the role that the plan plays.
Alignment can take many different forms depending on how departments respond to the signals in the national development plan. These signals cover a wide range of actions, priorities and objectives. Different signals come to the fore at different times and in different policy contexts. This enables departments to be selective about how they incorporate the national development plan into their own activities. In doing so, other government documents both respond to signals from the plan and themselves send signals about how to interpret the role and significance of the plan at different points in time. This means that a national development plan evolves over time through the way it is echoed and reframed in other policy documents.