Deploying the whole of government

How to structure successful multi-agency international programs

Experience tells us that none of our nation’s biggest challenges can be “solved” in any meaningful way by a federal agency or even by the entire federal government. They all require efforts coordinated among multiple levels of government as well as private enterprise, nonprofits, and community organizations. This approach is called whole of government (WoG).

The whole of government approach

In this study, we’ll focus on how US government actors can work across agencies and sectors to help address challenges. Our approach is called WoG—a comprehensive way to assemble resources and expertise from multiple agencies and groups to address problems with interrelated social, economic, and political causes.

The approach plays to comparative advantage and maximizes resources. With sprawling, complex problems, however, progress depends on some capabilities that are in themselves challenging to put in place.

The WoG approach requires us to comprehend the shifting dynamics within the team of problem-solvers, coordinate their responses, and provide the resources they need. Now more than ever, the US needs a flexible and adaptable whole-of government formula.

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Define a leader

​Today’s challenges call for a fluid and adaptable ecosystem approach, able to incorporate or remove players as the shared missions evolves, and supported by technology that facilitates communication and interaction.

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Define the problem

Equally important is consensus on the definition of the problem and its root causes, to ensure tight coordination. Various ecosystem members offer different comparative advantages, expertise and priorities, and this diversity is precisely what makes the WoG approach robust. Without a clear consensus on definitions and priorities, however, ecosystem members can waste time and effort without achieving their full potential.

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Identify and mobilize actors

​One thing that can undermine a WoG effort is the inclusion of all possibly relevant players, which can result in cacophony rather than consensus. Such a team, moreover, could lend itself to wasteful duplication or a diffusion of authority and responsibilities that leads to inaction. The key lies in having the right players and tools—not simply the right agencies, but the right offices, bureaus, and individuals. The optimal ecosystem team is lean, featuring only the actors that possess necessary tools to achieve the mission.

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Ensure funding

Money alone isn’t sufficient. To minimize competition for resources and ensure smooth operations, funding should be consistent and predictable. A Congressional mandate such as US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief's can help generate this predictability. In addition, the creation of a “one-stop-shop” to disperse funding across the federal government—the role The Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator played—promotes collaboration between ecosystem partners and minimizes duplication of effort.

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Coordinate efforts with partners

​The global economic and political ecosystem is more complex than ever, with states and non-state actors alike demanding a voice. Many countries are now only emerging as donors, while philanthropic institutions can wield an incredible amount of influence on global and national policies. The ability of a single nation to drive a global agenda has faded significantly.

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