Background and Purpose
To ensure that governments can respond to emergencies, address “wicked problems” (problems involving social complexity), and deliver user-friendly public services, government officials must work across organizational boundaries. However, cross-organizational collaboration is hindered when national and local governments are segmented into isolated organizational silos because employees have an augmented sense of belonging to their department or team. Organizational silos are a particularly prominent feature of public administration in Japan and are known as “vertically structured administrations” (tatewari gyōsei), the harms of which have often been highlighted.
While scholars have argued that organizational silos must be resisted to improve the performance of public administration, what does the literature have to say regarding interventions for preventing silos and the outcomes of such interventions? Public administration reform has gained widespread attention worldwide, at least in the discourse. However, how much international scholarly attention has been garnered by organizational silos and approaches for addressing the problem, and which fields of academia have shown interest in these matters?
To answer these questions, we conducted a systematic review of 340 articles that we retrieved from two databases of literature: Scopus and Web of Science. Rather than choosing articles arbitrarily, we opted for a systematic review. That is, we opted for a comprehensive and systematic approach to selecting and reviewing articles on a particular theme to obtain an outline of the scholarly trends and insights on the theme.
In this systematic review, we used two English-language search terms, each describing an approach for addressing the problem of organizational silos in public administration: “whole-of-government” (WG) and “joined-up government” (JUG). We searched for articles containing these terms in their abstracts, keyword lists, or titles. We also restricted the search to articles published in English.
Definitions of the Keywords: JUG and WG
The term “joined-up government” originated in Tony Blair’s Labour government, which came to power in the UK in 1997. The term “whole-of-government” has a less certain origin, but what is evident is the fact that it was already in use in the UK and Australia before the Blair government. Being familiar with Singapore, we were aware at the time of the study that the WG approach is a prominent theme in Singaporean public administration, particularly in talent management, organizational design, and budgeting.
Both terms have been used as slogans, but there are no unified definitions to clarify the kind of coordination (collaboration/integration) or intervention each term refers to. Neither is there any consensus on which entities are involved. In some cases, the term refers to horizontal coordination between national government bodies. In other cases, it refers to vertical coordination—coordination between national and local governments. We also found articles that use the term to describe coordination between non-governmental social actors.
Summary of the Results
Along with addressing the bibliometric question described above, we examined the type of cross-organizational coordination or anti-silo approaches discussed in articles on JUG and those on WG. Outlined below are the key findings:
- The JUG articles appear from 1999 to 2021 with a fairly even frequency. The earliest WG article was published in 1992, and the number rose over the subsequent years, suggesting that, of the two terms, WG has become and will remain the principal term for describing an approach to cross-organizational coordination.
- The terms feature most prominently in research about the following countries (the “top 7”): Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, and the USA.• We observed an increase in articles concerning countries or regions outside the top 7; in 2021, such articles outnumbered those in the top 7 countries.
- WG articles have a larger international coverage: While JUG articles between 1999 and 2021 collectively covered 19 countries and the EU as a whole, the WG articles collectively covered 50 countries/regions between 1992 and 2021.
- Although the forms of coordination were diverse, most of the articles we reviewed at least considered, as explicitly stated, horizontal coordination in public administration.
- The terms WG and JUG were mentioned in articles concerning public services and policymaking, but they were featured more prominently in articles concerning national insurance, national health policies, or national defense.
- Articles on WG and JUG appeared in over 200 academic journals covering, in addition to administration, a wide variety of other fields, including the environment, healthcare and public health, education, aerospace policies, national security, criminology, and political science, suggesting a broad interdisciplinary interest in the topic.
- The literature on WG and JUG interventions consisted mostly of qualitative case studies; we found few examples where intervention outcomes were quantitatively evaluated.
WG and JUG Interventions
Among the numerous articles involving qualitative case studies, the main interventions considered were as follows:
- Pooling budgets across the organization
- Using cross-organizational performance indicators
- Using intersectoral committees
- Adopting a matrix structure
- Training employees in the skills necessary for cross-organizational activities
While far from numerous, some articles considered crucial members of organizations who lead efforts in cross-organizational coordination (e.g., Carey et al., 2017; Eppel & Lips, 2016). To expedite cross-organizational coordination, organizations require talent capable of working across sectoral boundaries, identifying the values generated by cross-organizational coordination, engaging stakeholders, and enlisting political support. Such talent must also communicate the complex inter-sectoral processes to stakeholders and present the organization’s overall policy so that stakeholders will understand and support the organization. The literature has used terms such as “boundary spanners,” “network entrepreneurs,” and “complexity translators” to describe such actors and the role they play.
Ongoing Research Issues
This systematic review aimed to understand the current trends in the literature and the findings to date and identify issues to be addressed in future research. Over the past 30 years, qualitative studies have dominated the literature on interventions for addressing the problem of organizational silos. If such literature is supplemented with studies that use quantitative data to evaluate the interventions, then stronger evidence could be generated. As social complexity increases around the world, the performance of public administration will be increasingly determined by how effectively cross-organizational coordination is used to tackle wicked problems. These problems include the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which emphasize the need for stronger partnerships. Thus, if national governments are to meet the policymaking challenges, further research is needed on the interventions suggested in the literature, on best practices to employ when implementing the interventions, the trade-offs these interventions involve, and the skills needed in the actors leading cross-organizational coordination.
*This blog post has been translated from the author`s original post in Japanese.
Naomi Aoki (The University of Tokyo)
Melvin Tay (The University of Tokyo）
Stuti Rawat (The Education University of Hong Kong）
Aoki, N., Tay, M., & Rawat, S. Whole-of-government and joined-up government: A systematic literature review. Accepted for publication, forthcoming in Public Administration.
*Work illustrations by Storyset