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  • Print publication year: 1988
  • Online publication date: July 2010

5 - Policy coordination: a view of Whitehall


An enthusiasm for rational planning begot JASP, but by the end of the 1970s both appeared to have gone the way of the neap tides of administrative reform: consigned to the history books of modern government. Nonetheless, one might expect to find that some areas of administrative life were modified in a lasting way by the passage of these powerful ideas. It was with this thought in mind that we studied the problems and processes of coordination in the central government departments – the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), the Department of Education and Science (DES), and the Department of the Environment (DoE) – most closely involved with policies towards the two ‘tracers’ discussed in chapters 2 and 3.


Our research, conducted in the early 1980s, revealed a paradox: policy coordination is pervasive and yet conspicuous by its absence. It is the bread and butter of life in Whitehall, yet it rarely grips the imagination, intellect or enthusiasm of key actors in the way envisaged by the architects of JASP. One explanation of this paradox is simply that coordination is a far from simple idea and phenomenon. It may be undertaken in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

For example, the DHSS tried to develop strategic planning across the health and personal social services during the 1960s and 1970s, producing a unique priorities document during the period of ‘resource shock’ in the mid 1970s.