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Implementation of Social Policy in an Era of Coordination Crisis

Phillip J. Cooper

The problems of implementation of social development policy are examined, with particular attention to the so-called coordination crisis. The nature of the crisis is studied, as well as the context within which it emerged and the principal factors that explain it. Comments are made regarding the more appropriate approaches for solving the problem and some recommendations are offered.

Since the Social Summit in Copenhagen over a year ago, the United Nations and the World Bank, along with numerous non governmental organisations in several countries, have directed their efforts to the achievement of human-centred sustainable development. However, aside from a relatively limited group of institutional actors, the concept of "sustainable development" has not, as had been hoped, become an item on government agendas nor in social policy, nor has a significant commitment to this goal been observed.

For this reason, it would be advisable and timely to consider the flaws observed in the implementation of human-centred social development policy processes. Of particular interest are the common problems posed, of which the so-called coordination crisis is one of the most relevant, regardless of the specific type of social policy involved in solving public agenda problems.

The process of social policy-making is affected by the demands of the extreme ideological poles, as well as the demands of the various institutional actors involved. This situation is both the cause and effect of a marked fragmentation in decision-making and public management systems, with competitive positions assumed by key ministries, elected officials, local and international NGOs, all working against the effectiveness of the efforts undertaken.

The coordination crisis is not essentially caused by the lack of a leadership able to harmonise the various and often conflicting initiatives and interests. The task of harmonising and organising the processes of social policy implementation should be based on an understanding of and subsequent provision for the problems that are at the root of the demands made by society’s various groups and sectors. This aspect is of vital importance, it is the substance of the orientation towards human development.

In order to overcome the coordination crisis, ongoing feedback mechanisms will be needed to ensure that the solutions found are truly adequate for existing problems. It will not be enough to design good social policies, hoping that they will be adequately implemented, if rather haphazardly. Thus, coordination of this area should become a public management priority. To meet the challenge, they must be trained and endowed with the necessary instruments.

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