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How can we achieve a strategic and agile government?

A new publication from Sitra claims to have the answer for Western governments stuck with inefficiency when dealing with societal woes...


Central government does not have to be slow, compartmentalised and inefficient; it could be proactive, quick, flexible and consistent.

Almost all Western societies are haunted by the same administrative torment: structural reforms are difficult to make, decision-making is inefficient, and large societal problems are dispersed between government departments, with nobody assuming the overall responsibility for dealing with them. Instead of long-term reforms, governments focus on short-term, sector-specific issues.

According to Mikko Kosonen, President of Sitra, and professor of strategic management Yves Doz, this does not have to be the case: governments could also act efficiently and agilely, solving even large, cross-administrative problem sets in a consistent manner. The latest publication by Kosonen and Doz, Governments for the Future: Building the Strategic and Agile State, focuses on the administrative problems of a Western society – and claims they can be solved.

“Time has passed over our current administrative structure. Global challenges, the interdependence of nation states and sets of problems penetrating the entire society require a new kind of thinking and approach in order to be able to answer the challenges arising from change sufficiently quickly and effectively,” Kosonen says.

For example, the unemployment and marginalisation of young people plaguing many countries are problems that cut across many different sectors such as education, economic policy, social services, healthcare and urban planning, among others. Examples of global challenges that require effective, extensive and cross-administrative co-operation that is difficult to achieve under the current governance model are cybersecurity, financial sanctions and climate change.

According to Kosonen and Doz, there is an urgent demand for a new kind of governance model in Western countries: strategically agile administration would bring about the desired capacity for foresight and speed for both the management of unexpected circumstances and the preparation and implementation of the large structural changes we are facing.

“Future governments should also have a better ability and prospects than today for exercising their will in accordance with the mandate provided by election results. Using resources more flexibly than today would require adopting a unified government, somewhat akin to the Swedish model,” Kosonen says.

The Governments for the Future publication proposes a three-pronged solution. First, the government programme must be reformed so that it becomes the government’s common strategic agenda, agreeing on three to five cross-societal priorities. Second, the national foresight process must be tightly integrated with the political process and the strategic government programme. Third, co-operation between ministries must be increased by appointing a lead minister for each of the government programme’s top priorities, someone who is responsible for its implementation, assisted by a ministerial committee comprising several ministers. In the longer term, it would be most efficient to reorganise the government into a single body, enabling resources to be used and reallocated more fluidly than today.

“Instead of each ministry and agency merely acting in and monitoring its own interests, we must learn to consider the issues as a whole and learn to work in close co-operation in order to solve the major problems looming ahead,” Kosonen says.

Governments for the Future: Building the Strategic and Agile State can be read in its entirety here.

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