Chapter 1. Whole-of-government coordination and policy coherence

This chapter underlines the importance of whole-of-government coordination and policy coherence for ensuring an integrated approach to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda requires governments to collaborate across policy sectors and set interrelated economic, social and environmental objectives that go beyond short-term political cycles. There is a need for a whole-of-government approach to strategic visioning, priority setting, and implementation. Robust coordination mechanisms are key in ensuring policy coherence and successfully addressing the multi-dimensional policy challenges that characterise the SDGs.


The 2030 Agenda calls for a coordinated and coherent approach to implementation

The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an enormous governance challenge for all countries, irrespective of levels of development and income. The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda requires governments to work across policy silos and set ambitious and interrelated economic, social and environmental objectives that go beyond short-term political cycles.

There is a need for a whole-of-government approach to strategic visioning, priority setting, and implementation. Robust coordination mechanisms are key in ensuring policy coherence and successfully addressing the multi-dimensional policy challenges that characterise the SDGs. Well-embedded planning practices are also instrumental in translating political commitments and ambitions into both long and medium-term strategies and operational action plans to guide the work of government in pursuing these commitments. Lastly, policy monitoring and evaluation plays a primordial role in allowing the effective design, implementation and delivery of public policies, ultimately ensuring the achievement of long-term goals through sound and evidence-informed policy-making.

Similarly, new ways of working are needed to consider systematically the transboundary impacts of domestic policies and actions. In an interconnected world, countries impact on one another through financial flows, trade, global value chains, migration and knowledge transfers. Addressing these complexities and interlinkages requires enhanced policy coherence for sustainable development, as called for by SDG 17.14.

Together with other international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the OECD has developed extensive expertise on the governance requirements for effective whole-of-government coordination and policy coherence in countries around the world. Drawing on knowledge and experiences from its peer-to-peer learning fora and a broad range of policy communities, the OECD is in a unique position to share and harness collective international knowledge in these areas.

The role of the Centre of Government

The complexity and breadth of the SDGs require strong leadership to facilitate institutional coordination and ensure accountability. According to the OECD Survey on Planning and Coordinating the Implementation of the SDGs (OECD, 2016[1]), there are several different practices when it comes to assigning leadership for the implementation of the Agenda 2030 within national governments. Examples include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Development, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Finance, or the Ministry of Planning. Similarly, this responsibility can be assigned to a new dedicated, interdisciplinary body or a specific committee mechanism. A recent trend has seen countries strengthen the institutional and financial capacity of their Centres of Government (CoG) – the body or group of bodies that report directly to the Head of Government and the Council of Ministries – to support SGG implementation (Box 1.1).

There are a number of reasons for this. First, the CoG is, technically, policy neutral. Second, the CoG has convening power borrowed from the Head of Government and can bring pressure to bear on departments to adjust policies and commit resources. In principle, with respect to the Head of Government’s priorities, it is better able to reach consensus without resorting to the lowest-common-denominator negotiations. Third, the CoG usually has more coordination expertise to drive cross-disciplinary policies and stronger political sensitivity than line ministries.

The CoG’s strategic planning and policy coordination capacities are particularly important given the broad scope of the SDGs and the incentive for some stakeholders to cherry-pick the easiest and less costly areas to implement. According to UNDESA, coordination by the CoG is one of the most important strategies to ensure an integrated approach to SDG implementation (UNDESA, 2018[2]). Moreover, the Centre can foster a culture of innovation and experimentation by supporting a shift from traditional policy tools (i.e. sector by sector) to those that require a less risk-averse approach.

The role of the CoG in implementing the SDGs at regional and local levels is equally important. The way the 17 SDGs come together is not the same in a city and rural town, or across different regions, as access to public services and economic opportunities can vary widely. The more decentralised the state is, the greater is the need for vertical coordination mechanisms to ensure effective SDG implementation.

Box ‎1.1. The role of Centres of Government in SDG implementation in OECD countries

Results from the 2016 OECD survey show that in 19 OECD countries, the Centre of Government is helping to steer the implementation of the SDGs either on its own or with line ministries. In ten OECD countries, the leadership or shared leadership of the implementation is assigned to one or several line ministries, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs being the most common line ministry involved, followed by the Ministry of Development, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Finance. The involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also implies the need for the Centre of Government to ensure synergies between domestic and foreign affairs priorities.

The decision to designate the CoG as a key actor in the coordination of the implementation of the SDGs is also dependent on the functions allocated to the CoG, which vary by country. CoGs identify a number of significant opportunities and challenges arising from the implementation of the SDGs. Interestingly, some of the most important key challenges that are identified are also perceived as opportunities. In fact, 19 OECD countries consider the SDGs as a strong incentive and mandate that policies be aligned across sectors, when traditionally most CoGs find themselves only exerting a moderate influence over line ministries to encourage them to coordinate. Similarly, 12 OECD countries see the long-term planning horizon of the SDGs beyond electoral cycles as an opportunity.

Source: OECD (2016[1]), OECD Survey on Planning and Coordinating the Implementation of the SDGs: First Results and Key Issues,

Strategic planning and priority-setting

Translating the 17 SDGs into concrete actions and deliverables that reflect their multi-disciplinary nature is a significant challenge. An effective planning and budget process can help with priority setting and ensure that available resources achieve maximum impact. Governments can also use public procurement as a strategic lever to promote innovation and address societal challenges. While national planning tools already exist in most countries, generally they need to be adjusted to match the multidisciplinary and complex nature of the 2030 Agenda. Among the 35 responding countries and the EU that participated in an OECD survey (OECD, 2016[1]), 25 (or 70%) of them had within a year already integrated the SDGs into their national and/or sectoral strategies. More than two-thirds of those had done so as part of a revision or the preparation of a new national development strategy. A similar number of respondents (over 70%) also identified the “opportunity to better align policies across sectors” as the most important positive aspect of the process of organising the planning for implementing SDGs. Given that the SDGs were adopted in September 2015, the results of this exercise show that many countries have acted both quickly and decisively with their SDG integration or mainstreaming process both at the national and sectoral level.

Developing a specific document that lays out the country’s SDG strategy, can provide the indispensable reference to guide the different ministries and levels of government to ensure a common vision and identification of priorities. It can also facilitate accountability, by including specific targets and indicators to achieve the SDGs, as well as stakeholder engagement, by providing the basis for discussion with different groups in society.

A typical national SDG strategy may involve the following: first, mapping of existing national objectives at all levels and identifying priority areas for improvement (including specific targets and indicators that are consistent with the broader SDG methodology); second, selecting policy changes, focusing on those that could trigger most progress across all SDGs; and finally, preparing an actionable plan that is compatible with available resources.

As part of the process of developing a national SDG strategy and action plan, governments may also apply strategic foresight and visioning to engage in scenario planning consistent with the time horizon of different goals. Such exercises can engage various stakeholders, providing a level of endorsement of the strategy and legitimacy by society that could facilitate its continuity beyond electoral cycles.

One of the greatest challenges in developing a national SDG strategy is finding the right level of realistic ambition, given the multiple policy objectives and the complexity of some of them. When designing their national SDG plans, governments need to take into account their national realities and constraints and reconcile their 2030 vision with a variety of existing national strategies, objectives and sectoral policies as well as with their international commitments. The strategy and action plan are anchored in national priorities around each of the SDGs, while the timelines and means for delivering the desired results are ultimately determined by the regular policy-making and budgetary processes.

Public procurement as a strategic lever

The use of public procurement procedures is responsible for a large proportion of government spending and so it is a key lever for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government spending. Traditionally measuring public procurement’s impact has been associated with evaluating its immediate, monetary impact. At the same time, the value achieved from public procurement in many countries can directly impact the health of citizens, which in turn affects a raft of areas including the ability to contribute to GDP. Social and environmental considerations are increasingly relevant for countries to consider when conducting procurement, in order to achieve the SDGs, and many countries have demonstrated how procurement can make a meaningful impact across the 2030 Agenda (OECD, 2019[3]).

Tackling challenges and encouraging innovation through the use of strategic public procurement works equally on national and sub-national levels. Across OECD countries nearly 134 000 sub-national governments are responsible for around 63% of public procurement, 59% of public investment and 40% of total government expenditure (OECD, 2015[4]). However, responsibilities and co-operation between governments and agencies responsible for public procurement are often not coordinated with agencies and ministries in charge of innovation policies. Fragmentation of public demand on local, regional and national levels can limit the ability to collaborate and ultimately the impact of strategic initiatives on sustainable development outcomes.

In order to implement and promote strategic public procurement a number of complex system-wide areas for action have been identified. Having an overarching, high-level strategy can facilitate coordination and collaboration as it sets out guidelines and standards in a transparent manner and shows political will. The development of a national innovation action plan or innovation strategy begins with taking stock of goals related to innovation at the highest political levels. Strong political commitment is key to the success of any public procurement innovation strategy (OECD, 2017[5]).

Human resources, skills and digital tools to support SDG implementation

Governments need to ensure that the institutions involved in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda are equipped with skills and resources to support implementation in a way that is credible both within the administration and externally. In today’s fast-changing world, a professional, capable and responsive public service is more important than ever to deliver public value and drive citizens’ trust in public institutions. As part of their SDG strategies, governments need to adjust their key management practices to an increasingly complex economic, social and environmental reality, and using human resources in the most responsible way. Solutions could include upgrading civil service capabilities and skills as well as creating innovative digital tools, among others.

Given the multidisciplinary nature of the 2030 Agenda, to achieve the SDGs, government employees increasingly need to work across multiple policy areas and systematically use collaborative methods for engagement with citizens and stakeholders. Skills in different sectoral policies need to be developed both at the CoG (or another coordinating institution) as well as in other institutions to manage crosscutting or cross-ministerial initiatives (UNDESA, 2018[2]). Officials also need to understand the interaction between different goals and policies, their complementarities and trade-offs, as laid out in the OECD Framework for Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (Box 1.2).

A second key challenge is the development of a collaborative leadership style that is less about command and control or monitoring performance, and more about facilitation, support and advice to collectively meet complex, crosscutting and intransigent policy challenges posed by the SDGs. This would include mechanisms to bring ministries together in the pursuit of common goals or outcomes, and performance management methods for incentivising, acknowledging and rewarding contributions to collective goals.

Box ‎1.2. A framework for promoting policy coherence for sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goal target 17.14 calls on all countries to “enhance policy coherence for sustainable development” (PCSD), as an integral part of the means of implementation.

The OECD Framework for Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development provides a methodology for analysing the synergies and trade-offs between different policy areas, SDGs and targets as well as the transboundary and intergenerational policy effects. Policy coherence also requires strong institutional set-ups.


The OECD PCSD Framework can be adapted to diverse national and institutional contexts and allows users to develop their own strategy for enhancing policy coherence. It can help governments identify and address analytical and institutional gaps, and to self-assess national performance and progress towards achieving the SDGs over time.

Source: OECD (2016[6]), Better Policies for Sustainable Development 2016: A New Framework for Policy Coherence,

Developing competency frameworks, which identify and strengthen the right skills of public servants, is key in making civil servants fit to deliver on national objectives such as the SDGs (OECD, 2017[7]). Figure 1.1 displays a framework model, which represents four bundles of skills required by civil servants to deliver public value: (i) develop policies with elected officials, (ii) work with citizens, (iii) commission and contract services through third party delivery, and (iv) collaborate in networks (OECD, 2017[7]). All of these four bundles of skills need to be applied and coordinated effectively to enable governments to achieve the SDGs.

The OECD 2019 Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability (PSLC) presents 14 principles, which together ensure that investments in public employment produce those results. In this context, building a fit-for-purpose civil service requires reforms that target leadership, productivity and performance.

Digitally skilled public sector employees could play a pivotal role in the development of digital government strategies for the improvement of policy-making in all its stages. It can be used strategically to shape public governance outcomes beyond using them simply to improve government processes or reducing costs in the public sector. They could be essential, for example, for taking to a new level engagement with citizens and other stakeholders, which is at the heart of achieving the SDGs.

Figure ‎1.1. Civil service skills for public value: A framework
Figure ‎1.1. Civil service skills for public value: A framework

Source: OECD (2017[7])Skills for a High Performing Civil Service, OECD Public Governance Reviews,

Technologies such as social media, mobile phones and artificial intelligence are progressively embedded in the everyday lives of citizens, businesses and public sectors, and they have the potential to significantly transform how they operate, produce and connect with each other, including in support of the SDGs. Similarly, policies aimed at decreasing inequality of access to opportunities brought about in the digital age for personal development and improved well-being are core to sustainable societal development and for the objective of leaving no one behind.

Although the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development does not establish a separate target for digital government, digital technologies can be considered both as a lever and an accelerator in the promotion of the SDGs. Table 1.1 demonstrates the contribution of digital technologies to several SDGs.

Table ‎1.1. The SDGs and the use of digital technologies

Benefits of digital technologies


(SDG 3)

E-health applications quickly transmit data between medical units and also provide the opportunity for rural patients to benefit from remote diagnosis.


(SDG 4)

E-teaching and e-learning provide for flexibility and the opportunity to access teaching materials provided by leading education institutes.

Gender equality

(SDG 5)

New communication channels enhance women’s participation in the workforce and everyday life and provide access to education, finance and social networks.

Jobs and growth

(SDG 8)

The generation of new online services contributes to job creation.

Environment and climate change

(SDGs 13, 14 and 15)

Digital technologies provide global data on weather, water flows, forest reserves, oceans, seas and climate.

Peace, justice and strong institutions

(SDG 16)

Digital technologies can enable registration of children at birth, promote access to public information, and improve transparency of public institutions, thus improving access, inclusiveness and citizen’s trust in authorities.

Digital technologies can also be strategically used by governments to develop collaborative approaches with civil society and the private sector to implement the SDGs. In Brazil, for example, the National Commission for the SDGs used a public digital participation platform ( to actively engage civil society and let it express its needs and suggestions regarding the SDGs targets (OECD, 2018[8]).

In the context of today’s digital revolution, characterised by disruptive technologies and big data, public employees’ innovation skills and capabilities become more important than ever. Digital awareness and skills are no longer confined to technical IT specialists but are increasingly integrated into the main activities and business lines of governments.

Lessons learned from country experiences

Country case studies on the Czech Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Slovak Republic and Slovenia in Annex A show different approaches for coordinating SDG implementation and addressing related governance challenges such as skills’ development. The case studies on Finland, Luxembourg and Indonesia focus on key institutional mechanisms that can enhance policy coherence for sustainable development.

An overwhelming majority of countries have developed a national strategy or a different planning document for SDG implementation right from the adoption of the SDG framework as shown above. Some (such as Finland and Luxembourg) have gone through the process of aligning this vision with other national priorities, as well as with local and regional-level implementation efforts, helping to enhance policy coherence both horizontally (across sectors) and vertically (across government levels). Slovenia launched a completely new process to develop its 2030 strategy, dividing it into various stages, including broad stakeholder consultations to distil a vision document that reflects society’s main aspirations by the year 2030.

Institutional set-ups and mechanisms vary between countries, yet all suggest that a whole-of-government approach underpinned by strong political commitment is indispensable to ensure that the SDGs are owned by and reflected in the priorities and programmes of ministries and agencies at all levels. Some countries place the responsibility for implementation with the Centre of Government, (e.g. Slovak Republic and Finland), some have created a dedicated body for this purpose, with support from line ministries (e.g. Czech Republic), and some use a combination of the two (e.g. Paraguay). Lessons from countries taking a more decentralised approach highlight the importance of a clear political mandate from the highest levels of government coupled with regular interactions between representatives of all line ministries.

These countries also stressed the difficulties they face in ensuring a good alignment of policies with a common vision and effective priority setting. The Czech example in particular highlights the trade-off between ensuring effective coordination across ministries and delivering political stability, insulating the SDG strategy from short-term electoral imperatives. It also identifies other challenges such as ensuring the compatibility of IT systems between offices, the lack of capacity at the regional level to track the SDGs, and insufficiently developed implementation plans, which mean that the SDGs are not well integrated into day-to-day management governmental processes.

The Indonesia case highlights the difficulties in aligning efforts between the central government and the sub-national level as well as in fostering synergies between programmes led by government and by non-state actors. The Slovak case shows that some ministries may lag in integrating the SDGs into their planning strategies and work.

Finally, policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD) has proven to be a particular challenge for governments as domestic and international implementation of SDGs remains compartmentalised. In many countries, inter-ministerial mechanisms work mainly to enhance policy coherence for the domestic implementation of the SDGs. Some countries have established parallel structures for promoting policy coherence both domestically and internationally. Luxembourg has sought to bring together these parallel structures by adopting a new working method: Members of the Inter-Departmental Commission on Sustainable Development (responsible for domestic coherence) now participate regularly in the Interministerial Committee for Development Co-operation (responsible for policy coherence at the international level) and vice-versa.

Box ‎1.3. OECD contributions to support whole-of-government approaches in SDG implementation

Whichever coordination model is chosen, governments need to develop a vision and strategy, set priorities and allocate adequate resources, and develop skills to support effective and coherent implementation. Many governments would benefit from a review of their overarching SDG governance architecture to determine whether it is fit for purpose and well suited to the country’s specific circumstance.

Such a review can be part of a peer exchange within the OECD Network of Senior Officials from Centres of Government, which provides a well-established forum for the exchange of good practices and can mobilise expertise from its members to support countries’ SDG governance capacity. This includes expertise on design and operationalisation of strategies, planning, institutional coordination, human capital development at the Centre of Government, as well as collaboration and consultation mechanisms.

The OECD Network of Schools of Government has also become highly engaged in areas pertinent to SDG implementation. The most recent Network meeting in Helsinki (2018) identified a range of roles that Schools of Government could play in SDG implementation, such as providing training, research and knowledge development, and convening experts from across institutional silos. The OECD is also working with a network of senior leaders on modern public sector leadership challenges, directly linked to SDG implementation, such as those leading horizontal collaboration, digital innovation, and values-based leadership. Evidence from all these initiatives suggests that recognising the interplay between and building on leadership, institutional mechanisms and skills development is essential for a successful whole-of-government approach to SDG implementation.

The OECD Framework to Promote the Strategic Use of Public Procurement for Innovation helps governments to enable co-operation at both the national and sub- national levels and to ensure successful innovation initiatives through public procurement. It outlines a set of principles based on the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Procurement to be used when planning and implementing measures in support of innovation procurement, and maps possible measures that can facilitate innovation procurement.

The 2019 OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capacity (PSLC), and the related skills model, establish frameworks to assess and build public workforces with the skills, leadership and people management systems needed to tackle the type of policy challenges posed by the implementation of national SDG strategies. These frameworks and tools help diagnose and address bottlenecks related to people and organisational issues, including skills and workforce development, organisational management and stakeholder engagement.

The OECD also provides targeted support to improve understanding of policy coherence in practice through training workshops organised upon country demand. These capacity-building sessions involve participation from a wide range of stakeholders both within and beyond government and have facilitated cross-sectoral dialogue and discussions on the institutional mechanisms that could be used more proactively for enhancing policy coherence. A new OECD Council Recommendation on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development, complemented by an online Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development toolkit, will guide country efforts to identify and address the trade-offs and synergies between different SDGs and targets, thus ensuring a more cost-effective implementation.

The proposed Global Hub on the Governance for the SDGs will bring all these tools together to facilitate coherent and coordinated action to implement the 2030 Agenda.


[3] OECD (2019), Productivity in Public Procurement - A Case Study in Finland: Measuring the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Public Procurement, OECD, Paris,

[8] OECD (2018), Digital Government Review of Brazil: Towards the Digital Transformation of the Public Sector, OECD Digital Government Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] OECD (2017), Public Procurement for Innovation: Good Practices and Strategies, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[7] OECD (2017), Skills for a High Performing Civil Service, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[6] OECD (2016), Better Policies for Sustainable Development 2016: A New Framework for Policy Coherence, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2016), OECD Survey on Planning and Co-ordinating the Implementation of the SDGs: First Results and Key Issues, OECD, Paris,

[4] OECD (2015), Policy Shaping and Policy Making: The Governance of Inclusive Growth, OECD, Paris, (accessed on 20 May 2019).

[2] UNDESA (2018), Principles of Effective Governance for Sustainable Development, United Nations.

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