Governing by Silos
- Ian ScottIan ScottDepartment of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong
Government organizational silos have been blamed for a multitude of sins. Yet they have proved to be resilient, principally because they provide opportunities for centralized government, political control over the bureaucracy, and the prospect of rapid decision-making, effective implementation, and support for economic development. But silos often also suffer from serious dysfunctions that impede smooth progress from decision to action. Their relationships with other government, private, and third-sector organizations frequently reflect inadequate horizontal coordination, a failure to communicate and to share information, and disputes over funding and jurisdictional responsibilities.
It is instructive to compare how countries in Europe and Asia view government silos and attempt to deal with their shortcomings. Radical reforms in Europe have mitigated some dysfunctions by creating flatter structures, decentralized organizations, and improved horizontal coordination within government and between government, the market, and society. But the reforms have not entirely overcome the “silos mentality,” which may result in failure to share information and may affect implementation. Nor have European governments entirely overcome the tendency to reintroduce centralization and more rigid hierarchies when faced with problems. In Asia, silos continue to be a dominant and valued organizational feature of most governments because they are seen to have an important role in maintaining political stability and promoting economic development. Although political leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and there have been some efforts to improve horizontal coordination, particularly in crisis management, the macro-level public sector reforms that dismantling the silos would entail has not been on the agenda. On both continents, resolving the problems of the silos and finding the right mix between vertical and horizontal coordination remain major challenges.