Having said that, the principal modes of governance and hence, the various ways through which social life is coordinated in a society include, Markets, Hierarchies and Networks.
Market in this context refers to the private sector i.e. industry which now only assumes a greater significance under the phenomenon of governance for delivering goods and services both promptly and qualitatively, but also coordinate social life through a price mechanism which is structured by the forces of supply and demand. Besides this it is also instrumental in generating wealth and providing employment.
Hierarchies on the other hand, include bureaucracy and other traditional forms of government organization; coordinating the social life by acting as one of the actors in governance for making policies and seeing them implemented by operating through ‘top-down’ authority systems. Governance sees that these traditional top-down authority structures should be imbued with proactive-ness and an entrepreneurial spirit so that organizational goals can be achieved. And,
Networks refer to flat organizational forms through which social life is coordinated by creating informal relationships between essentially equal agents or social agencies, thereby creating a kind of networked state and hence, a networked society. In the context of governance, these networks are being considered to be of great significance for generating a social capital because more and stronger these networks there are in a society, the greater social and political benefits they generate for the people. This eventually ensures that the civil society and quality of life will have a higher potential to flourish and hence having a direct bearing on promoting a healthy democracy. Notably, these so called social networks have been thought of as being the enablers of greater political participation in various ways such as mobilization, group pressure or monitoring thereby making a democracy more participatory in nature. In governance parlance, these have proved to be more effective than the traditional structures of the government which is being characterized just a hierarchy or a collection of hierarchies. This very nature of the government is considered to be redundant in the face of an increasing complexity. In short, governance seeks to focus more on the importance of these social networks (civil society) than the government itself insofar as their role and participation in the policy making is concerned. Besides, it does focus on the ‘market’ as its another essential component for its tried and tested role in the coordination of social life in a given society.
Having said that, the most familiar definition of the term governance can now be well understood as the “process of decision making and the processes by which decisions are implemented.”
Ingrained in this definition is the idea that governance involves the action part of the government. In other words, it seeks to raise certain important questions on the part of the government as to what a government does. How does it do it and for whom it seeks to do it and so on. At the same time, being a process of decision making, it certainly envisages the involvement of informal actors in the process. How correctly is it then to define governance as “an approach in comparative politics that is interested in the roles that social actors may play in the process of making and implementing governmental decisions”?
The answer to it is the same as just mentioned i.e. increasing relevance and participation of the civil society mainly, through third sector entities in policy making and its implementation.
Now let’s discuss something about the circumstances that led the various governments the world over to make a shift on their part towards governance. Scholars have attributed mainly four factors that led to this governance twist both in domestic and international politics starting around 1980’s.
First: The ever growing feeling and even acknowledgement of the fact that the traditional nature of the government as being a rigid hierarchical structure has not only become redundant, but also unresponsive in the face of huge responsibilities it has incurred upon itself as a welfare state.
Secondly: The growing awareness due to spread of education and mass media among those sections of the society who have had remained neglected so far from the mainstream of development, increasingly found reflection in the politics of the day and thus happened the birth of more fluid and differentiated societies demanding a share in the developmental pie. They started protesting against the traditional top-down authority structures as being ineffective and unresponsiveness to their cause.
Thirdly: The rapid change in the economic trends witnessed throughout the world that has now seen a transition from the outdated Fordist models of business organization to Post Fordist models that recognizes flexibility in the working hours and rewards innovation coupled with a decentralized decision making besides, recognizing labour or worker rights.
Fourthly: The advent of the phenomenon of globalization that witnessed the integration of national economies into a single global economy. To stay in the competition and survive amidst this competition led the various governments to indulge in wholesale reforms right from cutting taxes, deregulation and promoting more flexible labour markets by simplifying labour laws so as to promote ease of doing business…
In the wake of these circumstances, the governance thus became a necessary corollary of a government’s survival and legitimacy and every government then starts taking a governance stance by exhibiting some of the following changes in its behaviour:
- Government starts confining itself only to the role of steering (setting targets and laying down policy objectives) and the task of rowing (administering and delivering services) being passed on to the market or third sector entities.
- Government starts contracting out its public services to the private sector or indulges in full scale privatization or resorts to PPP models of doing business. To activise the public sector, the government starts introducing into the public sector and bureaucracy, the private sector management styles, structures and techniques what came to be called as NPM by stressing upon internal markets and entrepreneurship. And finally,
- Government starts involving social networks by transferring the tasks of not only developing but also implementing the policy from hierarchical departments to policy networks keeping in view their acknowledged worth and effectiveness in facilitating the exchange of ideas and coordination of social life.
Having discussed the cardinal elements that characterize governance, we should not however loose sight of the fact that there is still no single agreed definition of the term governance and its contours are yet to be explored based on a country to country basis. Today somewhere governance is defined as something ingrained in the ideology of the government as stressing upon a minimal state or less government as is being touted as minimum government maximum governance. Sometimes, governance refers to mean a corruption free society and the absence of arbitrariness in the hands of government officials thereby, stressing upon the prevalence of rule of law and at other times, it is used in the context of having more rights and protection to weaker sections of the society like labour class, minorities and women etc.
While the World Bank defines governance precisely in the economic terms as referring to “the exercise of an authority in the management of a country’s economic resources for development.”
Nevertheless, whatever may be the diverse definitions of governance, we cannot, but agree with what Alexander Pope had so wonderfully remarked:
“For the forms of government, let the fools contest; whatever is best administered is the best.”