Twenty years ago, when I was doing the research that led to Reinventing Government, someone suggested I talk with a fellow at the New Zealand embassy named Derek Gill. Derek and I had lunch, and he proceeded to tell me the story of radical reinvention in New Zealand from 1984 through 1988–the most far-reaching, rapid transformation of bureaucratic systems that had or has taken place in the world. I scribbled for two hours and asked Derek to send me anything he could that documented the reforms. Derek and I have kept up a friendship through the years; he has often helped me explore topics such as strategic management and performance budgeting, for other books. Ten years ago I had the pleasure of visiting him and his family in New Zealand while speaking at a university there.
Today, many of us are struggling with the challenge of how to get different government departments and programs to work together to solve our most intractable problems. Such problems don’t fall neatly within departmental lines, so interagency collaboration–what the New Zealanders and Brits call “joined-up government”–is indispensable. But in most governments, such collaboration is still an unnatural act between unconsenting partners.
Derek and some of his colleagues at the Institute of Policy Studies have written a valuable paper on this topic, based on seven case studies in New Zealand. Their findings are congruent with mine: the most important thing you can do to drive interagency collaboration is to make all agencies accountable for improving outcomes. When the goal is improving real outcomes that citizens care about, managers have to reach out to potential partners–within government and outside government. Departmental lines become obstacles one must surmount if one wants to succeed.
Derek and his colleagues provide many more useful insights about the process in their paper, and they write in a casual, entertaining style. I think you’ll enjoy it. Let me know by posting a comment.