Focus: Coordination in the Public Sector

Introduction by the COCOPS WP5 Team


Current reforms and reform movements within the public sector increasingly focus on the importance of coordination. In a public sector inter-organizational context, coordination represents a purposeful alignment of tasks and efforts of public sector units, generally to create greater coherence in policy and to reduce redundancy, lacunae, and contradictions within and between policies. The intention is to make better use of scarce resources, create synergies by bringing together different stakeholders in a particular policy area, and to offer citizens seamless rather than fragmented access to services.

Coordination efforts are increasingly introduced to counter fragmentation in the public sector and in public services, allegedly brought about by New Public Management. This results from an increasing awareness that existing specialization in the public sector apparatus is not always fit to handle complex challenges. This includes particular ‘wicked problems’ for which there are no obvious, easily defined or found solutions, and includes challenges such as climate change, unemployment, internal security and safety, crime, homelessness, sustainable healthcare, immigration, drugs and general social cohesion. These issues challenge existing patterns of organization and management; they do not fit easily into the established organizational context, and are constantly framed and reframed. They are unlikely to belong to any one organization, typically overlap organizational borders, and can only be solved by working across them.

The intention behind new coordination mechanisms or practices is generally to integrate different public sectors and policy areas to create more coherence, efficiency and steering capacity. The coordination practices come in various shapes and have different labels: Integrated governance, outcome steering, joined-up government, holistic governance, new public governance, networked government, partnerships, connected government, cross-cutting policy, horizontal management, collaborative public management, and whole-of-government.

Coordination concerns policy making as well as policy implementation, and can be targeted towards specific groups, localities, or policy sectors. Activities may span a specific government level, or all levels of government. It also frequently involves groups outside government. It can be about joining up at the top to increase central government capacity, but also about joining up at the base in order to enhance local level integration and involving public – private partnerships.

This community of practice provides an opportunity to explore a variety of coordination instruments collected in a case study catalogue. The cases are collected within the framework of Work Package 5 in the research project COCOPS – coordination for cohesion in the public sector of the future, financed by the European Commission’s 7th framework programme.

Work Package 5: Coordinating social cohesion has searched to identify innovative coordination practices and related steering instruments in European public sectors. Focus has been on post-NPM instruments and tools to enhance integration and crosscutting capacity of the government apparatus in order to achieve social cohesion.

The main research questions have been:

  • What kind of coordination practices have emerged in the selected policy fields, in the countries we study?
  • What are the reasons for these new practices to appear?
  • What are the constraining and enabling factors that influence how these practices work?
  • What are the perceived effects and implications?
  • What are the differences or similarities between selected countries in terms of emerging practices, their reasons and effects?
  • How can we explain such differences and similarities?

We invite you to comment, ask questions and respond to the general discussion on topics related to coordination within the public sector.

Case study catalogue

Through the sharing of country experiences, our work seeks to develop a better understanding of innovative approaches and tools to achieve more or better coordination in different policy areas. The case study catalogue includes 22 different coordination practices from nine European countries, and includes examples from central government as well as the policy areas of health and employment.

A coordination practice (CP) represents a short case study of a coordination instrument based on a standardized template. The CP starts with a country background that provides information on what kinds of coordination practices have emerged in the relevant country, in the selected policy field, also addressing the question of why and with what effects.

Find the case study catalogue here

COCOPS – Coordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector of the Future is a public management research consortium consisting of 11 universities in 10 countries. With a budget of nearly 2,7 million € from the European Commission’s FP7, this is to become one of the largest comparative public management research projects in Europe. The project started on 1 Jan 2011 and will run for 3,5 years. It is coordinated by Erasmus University Rotterdam.