The promises and pitfalls of integration in governance

Submitted by admin on 18. July 2017 - 17:56
Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Syvia

The promises and pitfalls of integration in governance

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen
Wageningen University
The Netherlands

Contribution to the IEF panel at the
Justice Conference, de Poort, The Netherlands, 14 April 2017
Speaking notes

The specialization of government and governance

As new challenges face society, often as manifestations of the forces of integration, or of our increased ability to address societal issues we see increased specialisation, within government with – new ministries and agencies but also within civil society organizations. Examples, environment ministries, UNEP, DGs etc. exponential increase of civil society organizations.

They all try to steer a small dimension of society in desired direction. But this approach faces considerable challenges. Why? Each actor works largely in isolation, even competing often, focusing on one particular symptom and often a type of end of pipe solution.

The more one goes for the underlying causes the more one realises there are functional interdependencies – problems are connected. Environment is a very obvious example – the environmental problems are not created in the environment but in the industries, households that consume, the cars we drive etc.

There is increasing recognition for the need to integrate governance approaches, this is manifested by popular concepts such as: nexus, mainstreaming, integration, policy coherence. The latest manifestation the 17 SDGs that cover every aspect of human society which has one of its targets 17.4 that reads ‘[e]nhance policy coherence for sustainable development’, but the whole document adopted by all UN member states also refers to how the goals are “integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental”.

But these kind of efforts to integrate in governance are often not very successful and I now want to discuss some of the pitfalls they are faced with – and finally briefly explore some promising alternative perspectives partly inspired by the Baha’i teachings that could address these pitfalls.


1. Mainstreaming fatigue. In the UN system, in governments there is one issue after the other that officials are expected to mainstream. Gender, human rights, environment, climate change etc. Indeed it tends to come from ‘above’, with demands on yet another issue that should be put on the agenda together with all previous ones, to the extent that some administrations have become allergic to the word mainstreaming. So then they talk about integration.

2. Prioritisation conflicts. The phrase from Agenda 2030 that keeps being repeated, that the 17 SDGs are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental” should probably more be seen not as a beautiful ideal but as the inevitable compromise about conflicting priorities – with the compromise everything is equally important. But that does not help decision-making where choices have to be made.

3. Trade-offs. Agenda 2030 emphasizes the “deep interconnections and many cross-cutting elements across the new Goals and targets” but in fact they gloss over trade-offs and do not clarify where the positive synergies are. For example SDG 8 on economic growth and SDG 12 on sustainable production and consumption.

4. Accountability constraints. Mainstreaming and integration among government agencies or NGOs means collaboration horizontally. This can clash with hierarchical approaches to accountability, such as strong centralized performance management regimes. Accountability processes relies a lot on information and data that seeks to measure performance linked to goal achievement. But the indicators used, and thus the standards against which actions are assessed, are often not reflecting an integrated agenda, they track performance for separate goals.


Mainstreaming fatigue. Independent search after truth – consultation on all levels not just taking on agendas developed else where – all becoming protagonists of their own development – internalize the concepts quote from prosperity or betterment of humanity.

Prioritisation conflicts. Setting the right priorities. Justice (peace) quote – to create unity, favouring the vulnerable, education, we have clear guidance on what factors help create the others.

Trade-offs. Redefining goals such as prosperity, purpose of life to not be about growth... makes trade-offs disappear – but this means facing up to the trade-offs.

Accountability. Move from blame shifting to encouragement and learning, from accountability to internalized responsibility and trust.

Last updated 16 July 2017