Whole of government innovation

Report by Geoff Mulgan: ‘Whole of government’ approaches – that aim to mobilise and align many ministries and agencies around a common challenge – have a long history. There have been notable examples during major wars, and around attempts to digitize societies, to cut energy use and to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This paper has been prepared as part of a European Commission programme which I’m chairing looking at ‘whole of government innovation’ and working with national governments to help them better align their actions.

My paper – linked below – looks at the lessons of history. It outlines the many tools governments can use to achieve cross-cutting goals, linking R&D to law, regulation and procurement, and collaborating with business, universities and civil society. It argues that it is unwise to rely only on committees and boards. It shows how these choices link to innovation strategy and funding, including the relevance of half a century of experiment with moon-shots and missions.

The paper describes how the organisational challenges vary depending on the nature of the task; why governments need to avoid common technology or ‘STI trap’, of focusing only on hardware and not on social arrangements or business models; why constellations and flotillas of coordination are usually more realistic than true ‘whole of government approaches; the importance of mobilising hearts and minds as well as money and command.

Finally, it addresses the relevance of different approaches to current tasks such as the achievement of a net zero economy and society. The paper is shared as a working document – I’m keen to find new examples and approaches…(More)”.