The Government’s governance of cross-sectoral issues – a study of experience and development opportunities
Statskontoret has carried out a study of the Government’s governance of cross-sectoral issues. The study was initiated by Statskontoret and is included in the series of publications called About the public sector. The purpose of the study is to contribute to improving the Government’s ability to govern cross-sectoral issues. We define cross-sectoral issues as issues that require action in several different areas of activity and regulatory complexes to realise policy. Examples can include action to digitalise public administration and action for sustainability.
We have carried out our study by bringing together our knowledge about how the Government has governed cross-sectoral issues and analysing what has worked well and what has worked less well. Finally, we have presented our conclusions about how the Government can develop its governance of cross-sectoral issues.
The Government gets an impact for cross-sectoral issues by showing that the particular issue has priority
There are aspects of the Government’s governance of cross-sectoral issues that work well. When the political leadership clearly shows that an issue has priority, the issue has a great impact on central government administration. The Government’s strategies for different cross-sectoral issues can also help to highlight the particular issue, and boost the work of government agencies. When the Government governs cross-sectoral issues as part of its normal governance of agencies, this contributes to the issue having an impact on the activities of the agencies.
The Government’s policy on cross-sectoral issues often lacks a clear direction
We have identified several challenges and deficiencies in the Government’s governance of cross-sectoral issues. In many cases, the Government’s policy on these issues lacks a clear direction. By saying so, we mean that the Government has not expressed any clear need or any clear objectives for work on these issues. The strategies produced by the Government seldom give agencies the clarity they need to be able to deal with cross-sectoral issues in a way that means that they achieve results in their activities. Government commissions to agencies on cross-sectoral issues are often formulated in an open-ended way, without any clear link to the agencies’ activities.
The Government’s governance of cross-sectoral issues makes it difficult for agencies to take a long-term approach in their work
In many cases, the Government’s governance of agencies in cross-sectoral issues is characterised by a short-term approach. For instance, this governance often takes place outside the framework of normal agency governance and the Government often gives agencies commissions at short notice and with short deadlines. A short-term approach in the Government’s governance makes it difficult for agencies to plan their activities, develop knowledge and establish collaboration with the actors they need to cooperate with.
The Government’s present governance generates a vacuum that the Government Office and agencies need to deal with
When the Government governs cross-sectoral issues in a short-term and unclear way, this leaves a vacuum that the Government Offices and agencies need to deal with. But the actors and functions left to deal with this vacuum often do not have the right conditions to do so.
We can, for instance, see that officers responsible for agencies in the Government Offices are often not in a position to support and follow up the work of agencies on cross-sectoral issues in an appropriate way, even though they have a central role in contacts with agencies. We can also note that the coordinating functions that are sometimes in place in the Government Offices for cross-sectoral issues often do not have sufficient resources to be able to perform the tasks that the function has been given.
The Government has established a number of agencies, called cross-sectoral agencies here, that each have a coordinating responsibility for a cross-sectoral issue. We can see that the Government’s governance often contributes to these cross-sectoral agencies often having unclear roles and unclear expectations of them, on the part both of the Government and of other agencies.
We can also note that, in some cases, the Government’s governance of collaboration between agencies does not start from a clear need, and does not identify any common objective for their collaboration either. The division of roles is often also unclear. This is an obstacle to joint working by agencies.
The Government can develop its governance of cross-sectoral issues in various ways
We consider that the Government can develop how it governs cross-sectoral issues to make its governance clearer and more long-termist.
- Strategies for cross-sectoral issues need to have a clear direction and to be capable of being set out in detail in, for example, an action plan. The Government needs to clarify what effects in society it wants a particular strategy to lead to, and who the central actors are.
- The Government needs to adapt its governance to the circumstances of agencies. This means, for example, that the Government should adapt commissions to the activities of the agencies that do not have previous experience of working on a cross-sectoral issue or whose activities do not have clear links to the issue concerned.
- To the extent possible, the Government should govern cross-sectoral issues within the framework of its normal governance of agencies.
- When it establishes a cross-sectoral agency, the Government needs to also clearly specify the role of the agency so as to make the agency better able to take a long-term approach in its work.
- In its governance of collaboration, the Government should clearly state the need for and objective of collaboration, as well as the role and responsibilities of each actor. The Government should not set out any requirements concerning collaboration when there are good prospects that the agencies will initiate collaboration voluntarily, and should instead clear away barriers, thereby enabling agencies to work together.
- The Government should give the coordinating functions in the Government Offices a clear role and sufficient resources to put them in a good position to be able to perform their missions.
- The Government Offices needs to improve the ability of officers responsible for agencies in the Government Offices to deal with cross-sectoral issues in an appropriate way.