En esta columna Geoff Mulgan nos da luces sobre lo que han sido los esfuerzos de armar un gobierno "joined up" ("unido transversalmente" o "anillado") en el Reino Unido.
El proceso de joined up government asume una mirada holística, que apunta más allá de fronteras institucionales hacia los objetivos estratégicos del gobierno y busca establecer la base ética, moral y legal para las políticas públicas. Existen también consideraciones respecto de cual debe ser la gerencia pública y las estructuras organizacionales apropiadas para producir estos objetivos transversales del gobierno que por lo general transcienden los mandatos legales de los ministerios o agencias de gobierno.
Joined up government: past, present and future - Geoff Mulgan (2005)
What's the problem?
The idea of ‘joined up government’ – a term first used by the Prime Minister when he launched the Social Exclusion Unit in 1997 - has become an important aspect of government in the UK. It has influenced how structures are organised; how budgets are allocated; how targets are set; and the day to day work of local agencies and professions.
The main cause of this interest has been the recognition that many of the pressing problems facing government – such as social exclusion, crime, environment, family and competitiveness – do not fit into neat departmental boundaries. However, ‘joining up’ remains in its infancy: the great majority of government is still organised in essentially vertical ‘silos’ not hugely different from 50 years ago, and most of the joining up that has occurred has essentially been about better coordination of existing agencies, rather than radical structural reform.
This paper addresses the background to this debate; the reforms undertaken over the last few years; and possible future directions of reform.
Behind the current concern with joined up or holistic government lie two common problems which face all large organisations – whether they are governments, city administrations, multinational companies or armies:
First, a problem of coordination: how to cajole and encourage an often huge flotilla of agencies, departments, units and professions to point in broadly the same broad direction, and at the very least not to undermine each other’s work.
Second, a problem of organisation and integration: how to align incentives, cultures and structures of authority to fit critical tasks that cut across organisational boundaries.
We coined the phrase ‘joined up government’ to refer to both sets of issues – and indeed to all points on the continuum that runs between them. Although some aspects of it are new – particularly the impact of the Internet – others are very old. They faced all the big imperial bureaucracies whether Roman, Ottoman or Chinese and every military command attempting to coordinate complex forces. In Britain similar problems led to the creation of multi-functional local government in the late 19th century as a joined up alternative to the separate boards for sewage, water, gas and education. In France (echoing ancient China) they prompted the creation of ENA as a tool for forging a ‘joined-up’ administrative elite. In business companies have continually wrestled with the problem of horizontal coordination, and some like Shell, have overcome the substantial managerial challenge of implementing fully fledged matrix structures.
The British approach
Joined up government appears radical now in part because British government opted so firmly for departmentalism during and after its great expansion in the late 19th century. A functional division of labour, with large vertically organised divisions or departments, held together by a relatively small head office, made sense not only for governments but also for large firms and city administrations in an era when communication and the management of knowledge were costly, and best organised within institutions and professions. So government was divided into functions. Separate departments dealt with finance, education, defence, housing, colonies, trade and transport. Often departments developed close relationships with particular professions: health with the doctors, education with teachers, the Home Office with the police, in line with Haldane’s belief that the knowledge base was the best determinant of how organisational boundaries should be defined. Funds were then voted by Parliament for specific ends, with tight monitoring to ensure that they were spent correctly.
This model of dividing government up by functions was often very efficient – for example in getting homes built or developing the NHS. It prevented corruption and waste. It ensured clear lines of accountability. It helped to get things done.
Moreover it was not always overly baronial. The Cabinet, and the principle of collective responsibility, ensured some coherence, and it remains the case that the UK government is often much more joined up than others, particularly those based on coalitions.
Over time, however, the weaknesses of this model have become more apparent. The ‘tubes’ or ‘silos’ down which money flows from government to people and localities have come to be seen as part of the reason why government is bad at solving problems. Many issues have fitted imperfectly if at all into departmental slots. Vertical organisation by its nature skews government efforts away from certain activities, such as prevention – since the benefits of preventive action often come to another department. It tends to make government less sensitive to particular client groups whose needs cut across departmental lines (the elderly are a classic example). At worst it incentivises departments and agencies to dump problems onto each other – like schools dumping unruly children onto the streets where they become a problem for the police, or prisons dumping ex-prisoners into the community without adequate job preparation or housing to become a burden for social security. Over time it reinforces the tendency common to all bureaucracies of devoting more energy to the protection of turf rather than serving the public.
Many reformers in the past have tried to grapple with these problems. Prime Minister Edward Heath created a number of super-ministries (and before him, in the early 1950s, Winston Churchill had appointed ‘overlord’ ministers). The Wilson government created the Joint Approach on Social Policy (JASP). Many governments have set up cross-departmental committees like the one on inner cities under Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s. Under John Major the Citizens Charter initiative attempted to introduce common principles across all service delivery departments. At a more local level innovations introduced by the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s included the Single Regeneration Budget and City Challenge partnerships; funding for projects that produce more than one service (such as foyers tackling homeless and unemployment); case managers in health and social care and more recently welfare (building on a long history of attempts to build bridges between health and care professionals); and the rise of one-stop shops.
In local government there has been even more experiment. Some have transformed the definition of chief officers’ jobs, and the relationship between senior officials and politicians creating a genuinely corporate tier of decision-making above the functional departments (as in Kirklees); others have transformed the way budgets are organised (as in Lewisham); the way information is gathered and managed to assist prevention (as in Hertfordshire); the way agencies work together to solve common problems (as Milton Keynes did in relation to crime); and the ways in which councillors and officers share vertical and horizontal responsibilities for officers and councillors (as in Coventry).
As a rule, however, although the more local and micro reforms were fairly successful, the higher level attempts at cross-departmental working were not. Super-ministries can simply worsen the information overload at the centre and they require super-ministers to make them work. JASP failed because of the lack of political will, inadequate buy-in by departments, lack of clarity about goals and insufficient attention to the mechanisms for achieving greater integration. It also fell victim to changing political priorities. On their own, interdepartmental committees and task forces have tended to have relatively little effect on behaviour, without substantial investment of time and political capital by the Prime Minister.
Why did joined up government rise up the agenda in the 1990s?
This was the picture that faced the new government in 1997. Many advised that the wisest counsel was to leave existing structures intact. In discussions in the early to mid-1990s the view of most senior figures in Whitehall was that there was little scope for reforming the existing structure of departments, and that most efforts at joining up would be doomed to failure. Yet there were compelling reasons why the new government was sceptical of this conventional wisdom.
The first was that many of the problems that most concerned the new government - poverty, competitiveness, family and environment – were evidently ill-suited to existing structures or tools. The tasks of tackling the problems of run down housing estates, cutting crime or helping industry adapt to global warming demanded organisational forms that were more obviously fit for purpose. Just as important, many of the new ministers and MPs had direct experience from their own constituencies of successful joined up working and couldn’t understand why similar arrangements were impossible at the national level.
The second factor was the clear evidence of the limits of the previous reform agenda. The new public management of the 1980s had successfully encouraged government to be more focused, more organised around targets and performance, and more governed by market forces. However this model – premised on breaking issues down into their component parts – had turned out to be particularly ill-suited to more complex problems, prone to even worse ‘dumping’ of problems across organisational boundaries, poor at knowledge sharing, and ill-suited to the integrative potential of the Internet.
The third factor was a rapidly growing evidence base on the interconnectedness of problems. Social scientists had steadily accumulated evidence on, for example, the extent to which the avoidance of social exclusion is bound up with the balance of risk factors and protective factors in early life; or the extent to which crime is influenced by the economy, family and so on. Faced, for example, with evidence that barely a quarter of health improvements come from health services, ministers wanted to know where else they might direct their attention to get better results.
The fourth factor was rapid progress in technology and organisational techniques – above all the rapid reductions in the costs of horizontal communication and coordination. In the private sector this shift was making networks and projects more important units of activity than traditional structures, as well as making it much easier to organise collaborations, partnerships and joint ventures. Cheaper communications also made it feasible to organise complex systems in different ways – for example setting broad objectives and then monitoring outputs in real time.
The fifth factor was the influence of consumerism: citizens wanted services that better met their needs, and which did not cluster together in ways that fitted traditional departmental structures. Single mothers wanted better links between benefit offices, job centres and the Child Support Agency; small firms wanted a common access point to Business Links, Customs and Excise and DTI grants. As a result it became legitimate to ask how government would be organised if it started from the needs of client groups such as the elderly, young people and small businesses, rather than the interests of existing institutions and professions.
The sixth, less tangible, factor was a broader shift of intellectual attention away from the atomistic models of thinking that dominated the first half of the 20th century towards a greater emphasis on systems thinking, whether in the environment, biology, computing or organisations. As is the nature of intellectual shifts of this kind, the huge sunk investment in older models of thinking meant that the pace of change was bound to be slow. But its direction was unmistakeable.
These six factors pushed joined up government onto the agenda. However, in themselves they did not give very clear indications as to how government should reshape itself. As a rule government works best:
when there are clearly identified critical tasks;
when authority and resources are distributed in ways that enable these to be carried out;
when there is a clear sense of mission from top to bottom;
and when there is sufficient freedom and flexibility for those working as managers or front-line delivery to get the job done.
Many of the previous joined-up government reforms had not met these conditions. There had not often been a clear enough sense of the critical tasks; authority had often been dissipated rather than distributed; the sense of mission had not been widely shared, and was certainly not strong enough to counter the deep cultures of many departments; and at a local level there had rarely been sufficient autonomy to get things done.
The same considerations also help to explain why there was such frustration with partnership working even amongst its strongest advocates. Literally thousands of ostensibly joined up partnerships had proliferated during the 1980s and 1990s. Although many did good work, too many diverted energy and confused responsibility, in large part because of the way authority and resources were distributed. The key lesson was that if existing structures were left untouched, partnerships could be extremely time-consuming and inefficient.
By the mid-1990s it was evident that lasting change would only be possible if structures were changed, so that all of the main drivers of behaviour within government were better aligned to cross-cutting tasks. That meant achieving change across a range of fronts simultaneously, reforming:
Reforming the way money was allocated – to ensure that more of it was allocated to specific problems, areas, or client groups rather than to functional bureaucracies
Reshaping the way career rewards were organised – rewarding those who acted corporately or collaboratively with promotions, honours and bonuses
Designing targets that would be shared across agencies
Tackling the day to day cultures of the professions
Ensuring that information and knowledge was shared better at all levels
Ensuring clear leadership and responsibility for joined up tasks.
Most important of all it was vital that joined up government was aligned with political realities. That meant strong ‘ownership’ from the top to override vested interests. But it also meant providing kudos for ministers – giving them horizontal as well as vertical responsibilities, enabling them to use these to produce political capital, and promoting those who did them well.
Reforms since 1997
These, then, were the lessons that influenced the agenda of the new government in 1997.1 However rather than taking shape in a single blueprint there was a deliberate decision to experiment with a range of different forms, so that these could be allowed to evolve. These included a wide spectrum of changes which have, overall, been mutually reinforcing. The key ones are these:
Moves to make government more focused on outcomes – with the help of Public Service Agreements, several dozen of which cut across departmental boundaries, and which provide the framework for the allocation of funds and the accountability of ministers and departments
The advent of policy making units like the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) and Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) – now the Strategy Unit - in the centre of government to analyse problems and propose solutions free from departmental interests
The advent of joined up delivery units, often as the result of the work of the SEU and PIU – like the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, the Rough Sleepers Unit, the Children and Young People’s Unit, the e-envoy’s office and the Regional Coordination Unit
The creation of joined up budgets – for Surestart, drugs, conflict prevention and criminal justice – and teams to manage them
The appointment of ministers with crosscutting portfolios – such as Yvette Cooper who had responsibility for Surestart, a programme based in the Department for Education and Employment while being a minister in the Department of Health.
The consolidation of local structures – first through bodies like Youth Offender Teams and more recently with Local Strategic Partnerships acting to bring together multiple partnerships into a single structure
The modernisation of central government’s outreach capacity with the overhaul and enhancement of the regional offices (based on the PIU’s report ‘Reaching Out’)
The creation of new cross-cutting roles – like the office of the e-envoy to coordinate IT and online strategy and exercise a ‘double key’ on spending decisions (based on the PIU’s reports on e-commerce and e.government)
Joined up approaches to key service areas: for example with the appointment of a head of IT, backed by a substantial budget, across all of the departments involved in criminal justice; and moves to integrate some of governments financial transactions with citizens (as signalled in the PIU report on modernising government loans).
The coordination of purchasing through the Office of Government Commerce whose first task was to aggregate government demand
The integration of services – like the life episodes on UK Online which cluster different services together according to user experiences (for example bringing together services relevant to having a baby, or retiring)
The creation of new roles for front-line staff to join up different public services – personal advisers in the New Deal, Connexions and Job Centre Plus – and new approaches to professional development (for example encouraging police to understand the social contexts of crime)
Regular cross-cutting reviews of policy – some through the spending review process and some through bodies like the PIU/SU which has tackled issues as varied as childcare, energy, waste and sport.
New budgets – like the Invest to Save budget, designed to incentivise initiatives that would help other departments (for example supporting joint IT and call centres for the emergency services)
New departments – reshaping traditional structures to solve some of the most acute problems of departmentalitis, such as the creation of the Department of Work and Pensions to take charge of welfare to work, and of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to bring together the various aspects of rural policy.
New approaches to the organisation of knowledge and learning, probably most advanced in the health collaboratives which bring together diagonal slices of responsible practitioners, policy-makers, professionals and others to reflect on lessons. Collaborative models are now being used in other cross-cutting fields (such as crime reduction and regeneration).
Has it worked?
How much has this programme succeeded? And are there any general lessons? The answer to the first question is that there has been a good deal of progress, and it is now generally accepted that horizontal structures are essential to complement vertical ones. The changes listed above are all continuing to make progress, often well away from the glare of publicity.
At a national level more corporate approaches to policy-making and delivery are becoming mainstream. The Strategy Unit, for which I am now directly responsible, has become an accepted part of the Whitehall machinery. The great majority of recommendations from past reviews have been implemented (and are regularly tracked on the SU website) and a telling sign is that nearly half of the Strategy Unit’s work is now initiated by departments rather than by No 10 or the centre.
At a local level local strategic partnerships are becoming stronger, helped by recent government moves to streamline the plethora of different funding streams and initiatives.
However, as is the nature of any evolutionary process, some initiatives have been more successful than others: generally where there have been clear objectives, political commitment and viable joined up structures at lower levels, and where the key drivers of behaviour – money, kudos and career rewards, targets – have been in alignment, progress has been greater.
Some of the progress is covered in the recent National Audit Office report2, and in the recent update on ‘Wiring it Up’, the report prepared by the PIU in 1999 on how to reshape the wiring of central government to better incentivise joined up working3.
Both show that joined up methods have steadily percolated through the system. A great deal has changed in the cultures of working at ground level. New services and roles are being consolidated. Cross-cutting budgets like Surestart and the Criminal Justice reserve are becoming well-established, as are shared targets. The approaches to management of knowledge across organisational boundaries are coming to seen as a benchmark globally. Service integration has also advanced further in some areas, helped by the relative absence of jurisdictional boundaries that are found in federal systems.
There is also undoubtedly a large body of officials and people outside government who are passionately committed to making joined up government work – because they want government to be effective in dealing with problems.
However, many see the current situation as transitional. The old departmental traditions remain very strong. The great majority of budgets and policy processes still organised within old structures. Most ministers still primarily interpret their roles in vertical ways – though in private they will often be the most ardent advocates of change. Professional development has been mainly supported through traditional silos. Some of the work of coordination remains excessively time-consuming because structures have not been reformed.
What will the future bring? Are we at the early stages of a fundamental transformation of government, or will joined-up government turn out to be just another fad? Although governments are necessarily quite conservative institutions the pace of change is unlikely to let up if only because the six factors which I described earlier show no signs of receding.
It is unlikely that government will ever be predominantly organised in horizontal as opposed to vertical structures. If it was there would be as many boundary problems are there are today. Instead the future shape of government is likely to involve a combination of vertical hierarchies, particularly for carrying out long-standing tasks with clear lines of management and accountability, and horizontal structures for determining strategy and carrying out shorter-term tasks. As well as determining strategy and overseeing performance the role of the centre of government will continue to be that of allocating the key resources at its disposal – money, people, political capital, legislative time, knowledge – to both vertical and horizontal parts of the system.
In effect that would mean government evolving further in the direction it is already taking. It would involve:
* More work becoming project based
* More policy making being done in a cross-cutting way, but with the close involvement of practitioners
* More of the budget being tied to outcomes and then allocated across departments and agencies according - to how much they can contribute to outcomes
* More vertical functions being passed out to agencies, leaving behind slimmer, but more integrated central staffs
* A much greater emphasis on shared knowledge management as the glue holding central government together
* An expectation that civil service careers will move across and beyond government
* Use of the integrative power of the Internet to organise access to services according to people’s needs rather than producer convenience
* A much more energetic approach to reshaping business processes that cut across departmental boundaries
* A steadily growing role for local partnerships in integrating the work of both national and local agencies on the ground
* A greater emphasis on professional formation across boundaries
* Structured knowledge management and learning in all major areas of policy
Longer term more radical options may also be feasible. Some have advocated that responsibility for whole systems – like the criminal justice system, transport or children’s services could be organised in an integrated way, potentially with purchaser-provider splits, rather than, as at present, divided between many different agencies and professions each with their own budgets, structures and targets.
My view is that it is right to continue with an evolutionary approach rather than a big bang. However, over time the biggest gains will come from moving beyond the relatively modest joining up of the late 1990s to more fundamental systems redesign.
I have already spelt out many of the reasons for this. One other concerns the motivations of bureaucracies. Contrary to the claims of the public choice school most bureaucracies do not seek to maximise their resources or turf. Instead what they often value just as highly is autonomy, that is to say relatively undisputed jurisdiction. Moves towards joining up that reduce this autonomy for all players are almost certain to be resisted, and are likely to be ineffective. By contrast moves that create new structures and powers, or that give existing agencies greater autonomy to tackle a cross-cutting problem, stand a far higher chance of succeeding.
The barriers remain substantial. Harold Seidman’s ironic words remain a healthy warning to all reformers. The quest for coordination, he wrote, ‘is the 20th century equivalent of the medieval search for the philosopher’s stone … if only we can find the right formula for coordination we can reconcile the irreconcilable.’
There is, of course, no such formula. But this should not be a counsel of despair. Joining up in all its forms has happened, is happening and will happen even more in the future. It may rarely if ever be perfect. But governments that can think and operate in 360 degrees will over time prove better at solving problems and meeting needs than governments that remain trapped in the vertical hierarchies that they have inherited.