M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 230

Achieving Policy Coherence: A Central Role for Central Governments

Tala Katarina Ram-Rainsford

2023 Policy Analysis Exercise Prepared for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Executive Summary

This analysis aims to help governments to achieve greater degrees of coherence in policy development.

Systemic policy issues that cut across the entire machinery of government expose gaps in coordination and leadership from the centres of governments. This analysis highlights the need for better decision-making processes and identifies tools for policymakers to resolve systemic policy issues, with a particular focus on the role and functions of the centres of government (CoGs), i.e., the support structure serving the executive head of government.

The challenge of coherence can be largely attributed to a policy development process that mirrors rigid government structures. The myriad policy issues that cut across the whole of government challenge the core organisational structure of public administrations. Those structures, for most OECD nations, are strikingly similar to what they were a century ago: line ministries organised in vertical siloes with limited crossover. These structural arrangements are fundamentally insufficient to address systemic policy issues, such as the green transition, health pandemics, and the management of artificial intelligence.

Existing literature on policy coherence stresses the importance of systemically aligning policy objectives, activities, and outcomes across government ministries. The goal is to promote mutually reinforcing policies.

Unfortunately, there is little to indicate the how: how governments should measure policy coherence, how they can make progress towards more coherent policymaking, and how to establish mechanisms for achieving coherent cross-government policy. Addressing and answering these questions for OECD member states is the goal of this paper.

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