Promoting and achieving sustainable development requires governments to be able to work across several policy domains and involve individuals and groups at many governance levels.
This also means that individuals and organisations must break out of sectoral silos and better understand and address the numerous (and often complex) interlinkages between developmental goals.
The concept of policy coherence entails a commitment to creating enabling environments, minimising overlaps between administrative agencies, ensuring coherence of actions at all levels of government and assessing the impact of policies. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—which popularised the concept in the early 1990s—has often highlighted the need to create “institutional mechanisms and processes to harmonise and manage often competing policy objectives and interests”.
An emphasis on policy coordination is particularly important when political and administrative leaders are confronted with conflicts and inconsistencies between existing policies, which must be resolved. In addition, governments must establish and strengthen routines and systems that can monitor, analyse and report on how policies are achieving their desired impacts.
Consider policies related to boosting electricity production and access. Governments must be capable of understanding how their policies influence and impact on the various dimensions of energy security. These include access to electricity and other forms of energy that reach the most vulnerable groups in both rural and urban areas.
But in addition, governments must also prioritise availability and stability of energy supply (e.g., policies that promote production and generation of electricity), and issues of affordability (ensuring that household incomes are resilient to price shocks).
An interest in policy coherence is, however, not deeply engrained in the political leadership of most countries. Why is this the case? Scholars have argued that thinking about policy coherence and policy integration across various sectors of the economy challenges the typical way in which development is understood and practised by politicians and administrators. Indeed, most political leaders and the institutions they head are accustomed to working in silos that further their own interests even though it may hinder the work of a colleague or another institution working for the same government.
Related to lack of political interest in furthering policy integration is the administrative architecture and competition among government units and rivalry and distrust between officials on the one hand and local non-governmental organisations and international agencies on the other, that create obstacles for shared vision and decision-making.
If this is indeed the case, then what is required is a thorough reorganisation of national administrations and government systems. Some scholars suggest that policy coherence in such situations is perhaps best achieved if the government begins by focusing its efforts at the local community level.