‘Whole-of-government’, a whole can of worms …

Publication date
Friday 4 March 2022

‘Whole-of-government’ is jargon. Take care to use ‘whole-of-government’ only when it makes your content clearer. 

We’re often asked how to punctuate and shorten the phrase ‘whole-of-government’. It’s an expression used within government, but it is not well understood more broadly. Some may argue it is not well understood within government either.  

The ambiguity and the length of the phrase can make it unwieldy and confusing. Take care to use ‘whole-of-government’ only when it makes your content clearer. 

Make it clear who you are talking about   

It’s important for people to know whether you are referring to local, state and territory, or Australian Government entities.   

If you are talking about Australian Government, be clear about whether this means corporate or non-corporate Commonwealth entities or both. 

In most instances, it is better to use the proper name of the entities. For example, instead of writing ‘it is a whole-of-government initiative’, write ‘it is an Australian Government initiative’. 

Instead of writing ‘Challenging policy choices cross the traditional boundaries between ministers’ portfolios and whole of government.’, write ‘Challenging policy choices cross the traditional boundaries between ministers’ portfolios and Australian, state and territory levels of government.’  

However, if you must write ‘whole-of-government’ follow these rules. 

Capital letters  

The phrase does not need capitalisation, unless it begins a sentence.    

Punctuation  

The phrase ‘whole-of-government’ is a compound adjective (also called an ‘adjectival phrase’). Compound adjectives describe a noun. For example, in ‘The Style Manual provides whole-of-government guidance.’, the compound adjective ‘whole-of-government’ describes the noun ‘guidance’.  

The rule for compound adjectives is that they are hyphenated when they appear before the noun and usually unhyphenated (open) when they appear after a noun. 

Here are 2 examples:  

  • The proposal had whole-of-government support. (The compound adjective ‘whole-of-government’ appears before the noun ‘support’, so is hyphenated.)  

  • These procurement arrangements are whole of government. (The compound adjective ‘whole of government’ appears after the noun ‘arrangements’, so is open.) 

Sometimes ‘whole of government’ functions as a noun in a sentence, not as a compound adjective. If you are using the phrase as a noun, do not hyphenate the words. For example, ‘The whole of government supported the proposal.’ where ‘The whole of government’ is the phrase that functions as a noun (it’s a noun phrase).   

Shortened form  

Use the shortened form WofG. This is an initialism, pronounced as ‘double u of gee’. Do not use the acronyms WOG or WoG as these are offensive to some people.  

Make sure you explain the initialism by spelling it out the first time you use it. For example, ‘Agencies should take a whole-of-government (WofG) approach when the benefits are clear. Leadership, therefore, is critical to WofG work.’ 

This article was first published in the October 2021 Style Manual newsletter. 

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