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Addressing fragmented government action: coordination, coherence, and integration

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Abstract

Solving complex problems is a challenge faced by many governments. Academic and practical discussions on how to solve said problems look at policy integration as a solution to the negative implications that fragmented government actions have on addressing public problems or providing public services. Notwithstanding important recent contributions, we still lack a precise understanding of what policy integration is, an explanation of how it differs from other “solutions” to complex problems, such as coordination or policy coherence, and a practical operationalization. In this paper, we argue that coordination, coherence, and integration are related but substantively different concepts. We offer a new way of understanding and observing policy integration in a manner that is theoretically distinguishable from policy coordination and coherence and empirically observable. We argue that policy integration is the process of making strategic and administrative decisions aimed at solving a complex problem. Solving this complex problem is a goal that encompasses—but exceeds—the programs’ and agencies’ individual goals. In practical terms, it means that, at every moment of the policy process, there is a decision-making body making decisions based on a new logic—that of addressing a complex problem.

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Notes

  1. Since there are at least two variables at play when speaking of coordination, it is more accurate to expect different types of coordination rather than a scale of coordination. Indeed, there can be as much types of coordination as possible configurations of these variables. As Candel and Biesbroek (2016) point out, this sort of processes (i.e., coordination, integration) does not advance or diminish in a linear manner; instead, their dimensions “move at different paces” (p. 214). However, for the sake of analytical clarity, we present three levels of coordination. The same consideration was made for the scales presented in the “policy coherence” and “policy integration” Sections.

  2. We use “policy domain” not to refer to a policy sector, but to a set of policies oriented toward addressing the same complex problem. In this sense, our understanding of this concept is closer to May and Jochim’s policy regimes (2013) or to Bornemann’s integrative political strategies (2016).

  3. Some governments (see Vince 2015; Vince and Nursey-Bray 2013; Jay et al. 2013) “are steering away from large-scale integrated approaches that were once advocated as solutions to [complex problems]” (Vince 2015).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Peter May and three anonymous reviewers for comments that greatly helped to improve the paper. A preliminary version was presented at the 2nd International Conference on Public Policy, held in Milan in July 2015. Most of the information used for the empirical analysis is product of the interviews to beneficiaries and federal and local officials conducted by the authors as part of the Evaluation of the Interinstitutional Coordination and Community Participation within the National Crusade against Hunger. We thank Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), who coordinated the evaluation, for permission to use this information. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not reflect the view of Coneval.

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Cejudo, G.M., Michel, C.L. Addressing fragmented government action: coordination, coherence, and integration. Policy Sci 50, 745–767 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-017-9281-5

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