Whole-of-government approach?

Whole-of-government approach amidst silos and resistance?

Learn mechanics how to get it right.

This post is not about whether to use whole-of-government approach, but what is the mechanics for coordination and incentives

In recent years, there has been a global trend to change emphasis away from silo-based structures, disaggregation, and sectorial divide towards a more integrated approach to increasingly complex and multi-dimensional public service delivery. Taking a whole-of-government approach can achieve greater outcomes than the most competent individual agencies working alone, and enables streamlining strategy; better policy integration and setting clear reform paths for national development. In Singapore "whole-of-government coordination" was introduced as early as 1990s and transformed itself into networked governance structure, efficient and connected. Today you can find whole-of-government frameworks in many countries, including United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan etc.

Ok, where do you start? Natural areas to try out whole-of-government coordination would be "wicked problems", where no single agency is the lead or has the knowledge or resources to deal with on its own, e.g. social protection, urbanization, security, public health, climate change, employment or for design and implementation of regional development plans.

Whole-of-government approach can be certainly utilized in the design of national strategies or long-term strategies  for certain cross-sectorial subjects or reviewing existing strategies to ensure continued relevance. Good example from Singapore can be Urban Concept Plan and Master Plan that are based on scenarios developed for Singapore many years into future. The Master Plan and the Concept Plan provide a comprehensive, forward-looking and integrated planning framework for sustainable development. Given the constraints of Singapore’s small land area, the Master Plan and the Concept Plan have played a vital role in balancing land use needs, such as housing, industry, commerce, parks, recreation, transport, defense and community facilities.

Coordination: incentivize whole-of-government approach through shared outcome for better strategy steering

Whole-of-government co-ordination functions should be carried out by the central government, eg. President’s or Prime Minister’s Office with other key departments in ministries, closely engaging Ministry of Finance as the budget custodian.

Ministries should be asked to cluster priorities around 3-5 high-level, multi-year, integrated objectives and frame medium-term objectives within long-term planning. Elevating thinking from activities to the outcomes provide coherence and guidance to agencies across government involved in the subsequent implementation of more detailed plans. In efforts of this nature, leadership is the key to ensure that strategic issues are identified and then coordinated manner. As the next step, ministries could align objectives with government’s strategic objectives, meaning shared key performance indicators for several ministries and unity of effort and collaboration across the board.

Incentives: link money and strategies

a. multi-category funding appropriations that enable a lead ministry with a multi-sector task to encourage other ministries to deliver on their part of that task

By improving fiscal/spending performance information, governments could inform strategy setting and enhance MoF/line-ministry co-ordination, as well as re-direct savings for high-priority spending 

b. “seed funding” drives innovative practice by ministries, brings down transaction costs and reduces administrative burden in collaboration across portfolios 

Ministries working on cross-sectorial projects may require additional resources in order to achieve desired outcomes. Central government should steer agencies towards better collaboration by granting additional funds towards whole-of–government projects.

To conclude, there is no "one size fits" all approach, but paradigm of public administration reform seemingly moved from classic top-down hierarchies towards networked governments, collaborative and connected, while maintaining high level of accountability.