Few tasks are more important for the effective functioning of government as a whole than coordination at the top of the executive branch. When performed well, collective expertise from across the public sector is mobilized and brought to bear on the most pressing decisions confronting the country. Ministries, agencies and departments with a stake in a particular issue are consulted, and their views and technical knowledge are fully integrated into the decision process. Senior officials have the opportunity to thoroughly weigh and review various options, and to fully understand their legal, financial and policy implications. Once decisions are taken, ministries move forward with a clear set of directives and adequate resources to implement them effectively.
In many countries, reality may be far from this ideal. Decisions can be taken informally, with no record of their existence. Commitments may be made that run contrary to other established policies or initiatives. Powerful ministers can ignore or bypass cabinet if its decisions are not to their liking. Policies may be advanced and accepted without consideration of their costs or even their legality. Weak coordination may set ministries and agencies against each other or working at cross-purposes. A lack of follow-up may mean that decisions are never actually taken forward. As a result, many cabinet decisions — as many as two-thirds in some assessments — are never implemented.
About the Center of Government Practice
The Bank’s Center of Government (COG) Incubator Global Solutions Group is new and just being established within the Governance and Inclusive Institutions (GII) Department of the Governance Global Practice (GGP). Its goal is to support the World Bank Group’s effort to engage more comprehensively and systematically on COG issues which include the Office of the President and/or Prime Minister as well as Cabinet Offices, sub-Cabinet committees and other central coordinating mechanisms. These bodies can work across the whole of government or on certain selected topics, such as improving the business environment, reforming the project cycle or strengthening service delivery in priority sectors. They can focus on strengthening policy coordination; enhancing the mechanics of how the cabinet operates; strategic communications; or following up on downstream implementation issues. (Through the recent expansion of Delivery Units, the latter has been a topic of particular interest in recent years.)
The COG Global Solutions Group is focusing on five areas:
a) Providing direct support to operational teams working on these issues through cross support, technical advice, peer reviews, quality enhancement reviews, etc.;
b) Gathering and disseminating the latest information on COG reforms both within and outside the Bank, and disseminating this experience through a COG website, blogs, seminars and other cross-regional events;
c) Managing selected strategic tasks, such as Reimbursable Advisory Service (RAS) agreements, trust funds or analytic work intended to support the broader COG practice;
d) Supporting a community of practice that will gather and exchange experiences on COG issues among Bank staff and consultants; and
e) Coordinating closely with other Global Solutions Groups, such as Regulatory Policy and Management or Public Service Delivery, and external groups such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the OECD, whose work is directly relevant for COG reforms.
As shown on the map below, the current scope of the Bank’s engagement on COG reforms is limited, but there are emerging requests from various countries in multiple regions. We work primarily with the GGP’s Public Service and Performance Department (PSP), and we are collaborating with the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice on projects in Tunisia and South Africa.
Because loans are not a well-suited instrument for these types of reforms, most of the Bank’s support in this area has been in the form of Non-Lending Technical Assistance (NLTA), Externally Financed Outputs (EFO), Economic and Sector Work (ESW), Analytic and Advisory Activities (AAA) and RAS. In selected cases, loans have accompanied an initial engagement at the center of government (e.g. ‘Digital Albania’ Specific Investment Loan) or conversely, such reforms are viewed as a way of tracking Disbursement Linked Indicators (DLIs) and other indicators of progress across the Bank portfolio (e.g., Tunisia’s Competitiveness Development Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office).
Bank COG staff have also worked on a number of formal and informal knowledge products (short notes, policy papers, management briefs). Recently, a short note on Delivery Unit enabling conditions, the Taking the Performance Agenda Forward in India policy note, and a brief for President Kim on World Bank Support for Public Sector Delivery and Results Initiatives were prepared.