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What is the relationship between coordination at the national and sub-national levels?

Last edited: February 21, 2019

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The political and administrative structure and the level at which decision-making and spending powers are located will affect coordination among different levels of government and civil society.  Other factors, such as whether there is an active women’s NGO sector, whether particular agencies or sectors have already begun to build good working relationships with each other and whether there are prominent national or sub-national politicians who champion violence against women issues and favour a coordinated approach, will also have a bearing on how overall coordination efforts will be organised and directed.

In practice, coordination of service provision often begins at the local level, with service providers who work together on a day-to-day basis coming together to find ways of providing a better response to victims/survivors.  In some countries and contexts, however, a coordinated response to violence against women comes initially from the national level of government.

Relationships among different levels of government and civil society in coordination efforts

National initiatives often provide overarching legal, policy, funding and/or monitoring frameworks, while local efforts are more focused on improving operational responses and service delivery.  Especially in federated states, or where there is some degree of political or administrative decentralisation, regional/state/provincial bodies may be responsible for commissioning and delivery of services, requiring coordination to create a clear strategic direction and avoid isolated work and practices by different sectors. 

Whether the drive for coordination comes primarily from above or below, coordination will be far more effective if each level operates according to similar goals and principles.  The following describes the relationship between local and national coordination efforts:

  • Local coordination efforts need the support of regional or national guidance and commitments for technical support, resources and legal obligations to articulate roles and responsibilities across sectors to achieve cross-sectoral compliance; 
  • A national framework, such as legislation or a multi-sectoral national strategy or plan of action, can underpin and provide important influence to encourage the development of structures to implement coordination regionally and locally;
  • A national framework can set minimum standards for all partners to meet at regional and local levels; 
  • While national or regional/state/provincial policy may call for greater coordination, institutional and systems changes will not be implemented within communities without the existence and cooperation of local mechanisms and services. These are essential to achieve coordination goals but will take time and resources to develop and implement (Allen et al., 2010); 
  • Coordinating national and sub-national plans is necessary to avoid duplication of efforts, inefficient use of resources and lack of coherence in the implementation of national and local strategies (Morrison et al., 2004); and
  • Local policies, in turn, benefit national policies by:
  • strengthening sub-national resources and initiatives;
  • improving access to and quality of services;
  • assisting in the development of technical skills;
  • increasing the participation of different actors (Pan-American Health Organization, 2009); and
  • contributing to a contextually relevant evidence-base that can inform and improve national legislation and policy.

Ideally, the goal of a comprehensive and coordinated response to violence against women involves a chain of mutually supportive policies and structures at all levels of society. National governments can facilitate sub-national coordination in a number of ways, including:

  • developing multi-sectoral action plans;
  • adopting legislation that requires integrated service provision and designates each sector’s responsibilities for coordination; and
  • establishing multi-sectoral coordination bodies at the national and sub-national level, or building on existing structures where these already exist. Where there is a lack of national coordination but local coordination mechanisms are already in place, efforts should be made (through institutional advocacy and/or through sub-national forums for example) to engage national government and policy.