Strategic management remains under-theorised in the public sector, because the issues it raises straddle three distinct but related fields of analysis—the political, the policy-related and the managerial. At the theoretical level, making progress requires teasing out all three potential dimensions of the term. In the practical sense, there is a need to define a roomier organisational ‘space’ (and time frame) within which strategy can be formulated.

The article argues for a more ambitious conceptualisation of the place of strategic thinking in the public sector, one that combines the agency's need to sustain its position in its bureaucratic and political environment, with the ‘strategic conversation’ that is needed to link the political and the bureaucratic executives.