New report profiles cross-departmental projects

By on 30/12/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Report author Michael Urban Crawford (Image courtesy: the Mowat Centre).

A report showcasing how three countries have used cross-departmental action to tackle public policy challenges has been published by a Canadian think tank.

Abandoning Silos: How innovative governments are collaborating horizontally to solve complex problems, published on Dec 11 by the Mowat Centre, focuses on case studies from the UK, Estonia, and New Zealand. Governments in these countries, it says, have all introduced initiatives that are succeeding in creatively tackling complex issues.

The report, says author Michael Crawford Urban, represents an attempt to draw lessons from the three case studies on how to deliver cross-cutting programmes: as one interviewee noted, “public servants do not need another report aimed at convincing them that horizontal problem-solving is good. What we need are case studies that describe how to do it effectively.”

Three kings

The three initiatives profiled are Estonia’s ‘once only’ principle, which bars government bodies from asking Estonian citizens and businesses for information that is already held by another arm of government; the development of cross-departmental professions in the UK civil service; and New Zealand’s data exchange, a digital infrastructure project allowing data to be shared between departments and with the NGOs providing social services.

These three case studies, Urban says, “provide some of the most compelling and illuminating examples of horizontal success.”

Following the star

“Governments have trouble solving big complex problems in large part because governments have been organised into collections of narrowly focused vertical silos,” the report notes, pointing out that most were designed in and for the industrial age and are “functioning less well now that the digital age has dawned.”

“Forward-looking governments have already begun using these tools to transform themselves into more horizontal entities,” it concludes. “Those governments that have not moved as far along this path, however, should take heed and ensure that they, and their citizens, do not get left behind.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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