No agency can address on its own most of the daunting catalogue of urgent challenges that society faces—from unemployment and public health to poverty and climate change. In 1997, Tony Blair, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, coined the phrase joined-up government for effective coordination across government entities, a concept that became popular across the globe. However, success proved elusive due to challenges such as siloed funding and lack of enabling technologies.1
Government leaders are still trying. Data-sharing technologies are helping to break down silos and connect government agencies. And today, the linked-up government approach is improving service delivery and tackling wicked problems by building collaborative engagement.
The pandemic has aided the cause by highlighting the increased urgency for collaboration across silos. As many agencies scrambled to respond to the crisis, they found themselves working across portfolio boundaries, formally and informally and forging partnerships. Information-sharing across agencies and within a wider ecosystem allowed nations to identify and track infections and quickly develop vaccines and antiviral medications.
The COVID-19 collaborative response provides an important model for the future.
The trend, then, is toward coordinating, collaborating and linking up government through joint efforts across multiple levels of government, missions and programmes. In the last few years, we’ve seen a plethora of such efforts around the world.
Thirty US states have established “Children’s Cabinets,” interagency partnerships intended to support child and family development—interests that were often addressed by a wide range of agencies delivering services in piecemeal fashion, especially when it came to low-income brackets.2
Maryland’s Children’s Cabinet, a collaboration between the state’s departments of health, human services, juvenile services, education and management, and budget, has worked with the Governor’s Office for Children to increase child immunisation rates and reduce infant mortality and child maltreatment.3 It also publishes periodic well-being scorecards to track its progress.4 Similarly, Virginia’s Children’s Cabinet assembled state and local agencies and community stakeholders to improve outcomes for attendance, suspension rates, nutrition and school accreditation in priority communities.5
Similar efforts can be observed at the US federal level. In 2011, Congress directed the Office of Management and Budget to develop cross-agency initiatives to “improve performance and management across the federal government.”6 One cross-agency priority (CAP) goal required an increase in federal facilities’ electricity consumption from renewable sources to 30% by 2025.7 By the end of fiscal 2015, direct greenhouse gas emissions by federal facilities had declined 17.6% from the fiscal 2008 baseline.8
Another CAP goal resulted in reducing security clearance backlogs from 725,000 cases in April 2018 to 200,000 in 2020.9 Another call for modernisation of the permit process led to the creation of an online dashboard for agencies, project developers and the public, which tracks environmental reviews and authorisations for large or complex infrastructure projects.10
The United Kingdom established theBetter Care Fund (BCF) in 2015, which is shared among the National Health Service, two other health and social care departments, and the Local Government Association to deliver integrated health and social care. Another interagency fund, the Shared Outcomes Fund, received £400 million in funding to address issues such as recidivism, violence, disinformation, drug enforcement and refugee transitions.11
Singapore formalised cross-agency coordination on security issues back in the 1970s; in 2004, it broadened this effort by organising the Homefront Crisis Executive Group (HCEG) to spearhead a whole-of-government approach to crisis management.12 During the pandemic, the country created by the Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF) supported by the HCEG to manage its response to the situation. The MTF activated immigration and border authorities almost immediately, supported by civil defence officers.13 Backed by leaders across government, it aimed to build public trust through daily media briefings and accurate reporting of COVID-19’s spread.
Integrated service delivery allows constituents to access multiple, coordinated services based on their needs. It breaks down silos, improves information-sharing and reduces duplication to deliver better outcomes for recipients, families and communities. For instance, an agency delivering unemployment insurance can work with workforce development boards to see if an individual needs work training. Similarly, an unemployment insurance agency can share information with other social care agencies to determine whether the individual qualifies for cash assistance, food programmes, or public housing.
In 2017, to combat increasingly disparate health outcomes in different regions in the country and rising obesity nationwide, the UK National Health Service (NHS) created integrated care systems, a new form of partnership among administrative organisations, health care providers, government agencies and other local partners, intended to integrate all aspects of client care.14 These systems assemble a broad range of stakeholders into a body that operates on three principles: coproduction, the idea that all members of the collaborative are equal partners and no one partner “owns” the programme’s output; personalised care that involves individuals in their own healthcare choices; and incentive contracts for service providers focussed on achieving improved health outcomes.15
Similar approaches are underway in the United States. Maryland’s Department of Human Services has led an effort to create a cloud-based hub designed to integrate health and human services.16 This Total Human-Services Integrated Network (MD THINK) helps agencies design more effective programmes by offering both a comprehensive view of citizen needs and secure access to master data management. MD THINK also aims to reduce overall operating costs by eliminating redundancy.17
The Philippines, in turn, is integrating its mental health services.18 The nation’s Department of Health has joined with the Education Department to add emotional resiliency into its life-skills curriculum for school students, and with the Department of Labor and Employment to implement workplace-based mental health interventions.19
The scope, complexity, and seeming intractability of many pressing societal issues require coordinated approaches. Intractable, open-ended, “wicked” problems—a term coined in 1973 by design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber—demand holistic thinking and cross-agency coordination.20
The homeless population is particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, UK local authorities, health agencies and nonprofits launched a programme called “Everyone In” to provide every UK resident with an opportunity to self-isolate during the pandemic. The programme helped move 37,000 vulnerable people to hotels, B&Bs, and other temporary accommodations; leaders set up an interagency task force of local authorities and partners to help them stay off the streets.21
In 2015, Ethiopia set itself the bold goal of ending childhood malnutrition by 2030. This multisector initiative aims to increase investments in nutrition infrastructure and empower communities to find innovative solutions. Three pillars underpin the initiative:
Despite the nation’s ongoing political and social challenges, the programme has contributed to a steady reduction in child malnutrition.24
Linked-up government is back in the limelight two decades after the Blair government envisioned “joining up.” The challenge now is to sustain the momentum gained during the pandemic and avoid slipping back to a siloed mindset that can hinder innovation and agility.
In 2001, New York City launched a dedicated office to combat domestic violence: the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence. In 2005, with funding from the US Department of Justice and private donors, this office established its first Family Justice Center in Brooklyn, to centralise and coordinate services for victims of domestic violence. In the following years, the city opened centres in its other four boroughs, each offering counselling, meetings with prosecutors and support groups, and aid with finances, housing and public benefits.
The justice centres unite the work and support of more than 50 organisations, including nine city agencies and departments, various agencies at the borough and state level, and dozens of nonprofits.25 In 2019, the city’s five centres helped more than 63,000 clients.26 During the pandemic, the centres pivoted to a fully remote service model. In 2020, the number of survivors accessing services for the first time rose by 32.5%. The centres also saw increased usage of their mental health counselling and legal consultations and facilitated virtual visitation programmes for noncustodial parents. In all, 94% of surveyed beneficiaries who received virtual services said they would recommend the centres to others.27
The following factors will be critical to the success of linked-up government worldwide:
Pia Andrews, system transformation expert, former government executive in Australia, New Zealand and Canada
Vertical accountabilities naturally lead to siloed efforts, siloed policy and siloed systems in government. Vertical structures and budgets naturally lead public sector executives to continually narrow the scope of their efforts, with teams asked to prioritise staying within budget and minimising risk. As a result, we end up with gaps emerging between functions and portfolios. You can expand the example to any complex or wicked problem, and you quickly find that the gaps between functionally divided teams and vertical lines of responsibility have created systemic barriers to holistic programme and policy delivery.
Meanwhile, the constant pressure to deliver a “good news story” rather than to be a responsible steward for long-term public good has created a culture of prioritising many efforts as fast wins. Service improvement efforts are often limited to iterative improvements within the scope of an agency, which doesn’t address or improve the end-to-end experience of those who interact with government. In many governments, no one is responsible for an integrated experience. The result: a fragmented tapestry of inconsistent services, where public trust and confidence is only as strong as the weakest service provided.
The people and communities we serve shouldn’t have to understand the complexities of government just to find the right services. Creating connected government is our responsibility, and we need to establish horizontal levers, structures, and operating models to provide an integrated experience for the public.
We should do a few key things to enable holistic services:
Our people, ideas, technology and outcomes—are all designed for impact. Deloitte Consulting LLP is recognised as an industry leader, ranked No. 1 globally by IDC, Gartner, and ALM Intelligence, and also named a leader in US systems integrators serving the federal government by IDC and in global cloud consulting by ALM Intelligence. Deloitte’s Government & Public Services practice serves all 15 US cabinet-level agencies, the majority of civilian agencies, all branches and agencies of the Department of Defense (DoD), and many state and local governments. Deloitte’s team offers industry-leading experience and capabilities in strategy and analytics, operations, technology and cloud consulting, and customer experience transformation, and has a proven track record with government.