More than aspiration: Australia’s whole-of-nation approach

Renee Leon

Image from Adobe Stock

On IPAA ACT’s recent Work with Purpose episode, Melissa Conley Tyler from the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue (AD4D) delves into the whole-of-nation approach and shares tips on how you can apply it in your work, wherever you are in the system.

The whole-of-nation approach is not new on the global stage, but the Australian government is only starting to adopt it. In a recent speech at the Securing our Future conference hosted by ANU, Professor Glyn Davis AC, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, spoke about the need for a whole-of-nation effort to “meet the constellation of changing risks and threats” in Australia’s security environment. But what does that actually look like?

On paper, the whole-of-nation approach recognises not only the government’s role but also encompasses other actors, including businesses, science and technology, education, sports, culture, media, and civil society in achieving national objectives.

A recent report by AD4D further delves into the approach. Executive director Melissa Conley Tyler emphasises that embracing it may lead to more efficient and impactful work.

“Having that aspiration helps us do better at coordinating the resources we have so that we can have more effect on these huge global problems,” she says.

The report highlights that all sectors are aware of the urgent need for collective action to address some of Australia’s most pressing issues.

“They want to know what [the] national objectives are and they want to know how they might fit within it.”


The whole-of-nation approach may seem overwhelming, but Melissa says that wherever you are in the system, you can think more broadly about your interactions.

“Wherever you are, you can ask yourself questions. When you’re developing or implementing policy, you can say, ‘Okay, who’s in the room? Who should be in the room? Are there people outside the government I should be talking to? This thing I’m trying to achieve, what are the tools that I have at my disposal? [Who] are the right leaders? Who are the right actors?’ And again, those might not always be government.”

“Find those opportunities to widen the group of people you are talking to, bringing more people into the room, finding the actors who aren’t in government, and thinking outside the world you’re already in because they may have some resources that can help you with your job,” Melissa adds.



Melissa highlights the interest of various sectors to engage with the government and hopes that public servants reach out more to them.

“I find [the desire for engagement] very interesting because I don’t know if our public servants understand that there is that demand out there. There is a desire to understand better, to be engaged, and to be part of our international objectives.”

She also says that this interaction should be done in the right spirit – to engage and understand different ways of working towards the same goal.

“[It’s] very different than when you’re within government [because] you’re all about control, who can send messages, and who can do things. For people outside government that’s not the message – it’s engagement… It’s a conversation where you have to assume that everyone is well-motivated and that they also care very much about their country, but they’re working in a different way, in a different culture. And you want to be very respectful of that when you’re engaging.”



Melissa emphasises that whole-of-nation does not mean everyone in the nation agrees but is about understanding diversity in discussions and collaborations.

“It’s understanding diversity [in] those connections and using those to promote, as I say, those broadly agreed objectives.”

She also says that different sectors will have different views and motivations, but they are genuinely interested in supporting the national interest. This creates an opportunity for the government to guide these sectors in aligning with national objectives.



For Melissa, whole-of-nation should not just be a motherhood statement but is something we can and should aim for. Asked about what she envisions for Australia, Melissa says:

“I would like that we have clear objectives on where we should be heading, which encourages other elements to get behind it. I’d like a lot of the non-government elements to feel more empowered that they do contribute to our international engagement and that they have an important role. So that’s what I’d be hoping for – not an absolute transformation, but a continual improvement in our ability to weather the challenges that the world will throw at us.”