How values, traditions and geography shape the feasibility of governance approaches

Every society needs to be bound together by common values, so that its members know what to expect of each other, and have some shared principles by which to manage their differences without resorting to violence. . . . So, at the inter- national level, we need mechanisms of cooperation strong enough to insist on universal values, but flexible enough to help people realize those values in ways that they can actually apply in their specific circumstances.

- Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 12 December 2003 in Tubingen, Germany

Chapter 2 formulated three problems resulting from the interactions between different governance styles. Firstly, that governance styles have typical, built-in failures, weaknesses, or even perversions; secondly, that they sometimes undermine each other. Thirdly, that the internal logic of each governance style is so attractive that some public managers and politicians may adopt one of the styles as a truth and solution to every problem that should be accepted without proof. This chapter explores the third pitfall by linking it to the cultural dimension of governance. It analyses how external factors such as values, traditions and geography influence which governance approach is feasible in a certain situation. These factors are also internal; values and traditions are part of everybody’s views, emotions and behaviour. Even geography influences our behaviour.

In political science it has been disputed whether governance has a cultural dimension; it was even a taboo among scholars and students. 1 saw conference presentations of cross-country comparative political science research that completely ignored the cultural factor. This was rooted, inter alia, in the tendency to consider one’s own culture as ‘best’ (and as norm) and to promote the own approaches as panacea. Meanwhile there is a broad agreement among scholars and practitioners that the specific social, cultural and geographical context is a key factor for the feasibility of a specific governance approach: there is not one size fits-all. This is also recognized in the Agenda 2030. But it not an easy task to find a balance between universality (e.g. human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals) and the need to take into account different contexts, as I have argued more elaborately earlier (Meuleman, 2010, 2013).

Another dispute is about whether culture should he seen as driver of human behaviour - as expressed in governance styles - or as phenomena or objects (e.g. art) which should be protected and celebrated as objective of sustainable development - or even as the fourth dimension of sustainability. A recent article takes the latter approach and argues that preservation of cultures is missing as a key objective of the SDGs (Throsby, 2017). I consider these approaches as being complementary: values and traditions are essential as basis of effective govern- ance, but can also be worthwhile to preserve and defend - as long as they do not conflict with generally accepted values such as rule of law.

Values and traditions: the cultural dimension of SDG governance

Values and traditions, together making out what we call cultures, have a huge impact on the effectiveness of governance within, between and across countries. Cultures determine what kind of behaviour is seen as appropriate, how people communicate effectively, who are considered as ‘peers’ and also what kind of solutions for certain problems are seen as ‘right’. Hall (1977) defined culture as “the values, attitudes, beliefs, orientations and underlying assumptions prevalent among people in a society”. Cultures include identity, language, history and, generally, ‘ways of doing things’. Dealing with cultural differences is indispensable for human relations and also for governance, because governance is a normative and relational concept:

Culture economizes action by relieving people of the impossible task of interpreting afresh every situation before acting. Culture also renders interactions between people, sometimes complete strangers, predictable through conventions, habits, rules, routines, and institutions.

(Hoppe, 2002, p. 306)

Understanding cultures helps applying metagovernance in an appropriate way, namely by designing and applying governance frameworks that are contextualized. Existing preferences for hierarchical, network and market governance are based on different sets of values and ‘produce’ different behaviour. The three styles express different ‘ways of life’ as distinguished in cultural theory (Thompson et al., 1990), with hierarchy related to ‘hierarchisin’, network governance to ‘egalitarism’ and market governance to ‘individualism’ (see also feature 1 in Section 5.2). Moreover, the ‘ways of life’ identified in cultural theory can be linked to different strategies to define or solve problems (Hoppe, 2002): ‘Hierarchists’ will impose a clear structure on any problem, no matter what the cost. ‘Egalitarians’ will define any policy problem as an issue of fairness and distributive justice. ‘Individualists’ will exploit any bit of usable knowledge to improve a problematic situation.

The cultural dimension of governance is relevant at personal level, organizational level and administration level, where a preference for one governance style, or for a specific mixture, exists. Social pressure at all levels ensures that behaviour is more or less adjusted to what the dominant culture expects.

A good example of the fact that governance recipes cannot ‘travel’ without adjustment to a national culture is that China and Vietnam consistently score low on the Good Governance indicators of the World Bank. This does not mean that the governance in these countries is per definition ‘had’ - it might just be the result of implementing governance models and prescriptions without taking into account the context, according to Painter (2014).

Implementing the 2030 Agenda requires addressing informal institutions such as culture, norms and values (United Nations, 2017a, p. 18). In addition, the SDGs should be implemented in an inclusive and participatory way. This makes recognition of cultural diversity an imperative. At the same time the SDGs, including the principle of rule of law in SDG 16, are universal. They assume that all countries and people should be working (jointly) on the common goals - but of course people are different and will want different things and achieve them in different ways. They have different starting points and different pathways to achieving the SDGs.

Unity and diversity are difficult to combine (Kao, 2011), but it is a necessity to find ways to reconcile them. Not for nothing, “unity in diversity” is the motto of both the European Union and the USA. As a more concrete principle for the implementation of the SDGs, this challenge was formulated as creating ‘common but differentiated governance’ (Meuleman and Niestroy, 2015) (see also Section 11.2).

In various areas the cultural dimension is beginning to be taken seriously as precondition of successful governance. An example is the paradigm shift’ in water management from a technical, rational approach focusing on dikes, dams and reservoirs, to integrating belief systems, human attitudes and collective behaviour into integrated water resources management (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2008).

The values and traditions behind governance styles mean that each country' has a preference for one of the styles. 1 called such national preferences the ‘default style’ in my comparative research of similar policy projects in different countries: the first style to be tried - and to be rejected when it is not feasible. Of course such national characteristics are generalized and may sound like stereotypes. Still, they contain useful hints, as Section 6.3 will show.

Relational values

In Chapter 2 I defined governance as an intentional, normative and relational concept. As a relational concept, hierarchical governance needs dependent subjects, network governance requires interdependency between partners, and market governance needs independent relationships (Kickert, 2003, p. 27). Hence, it is plausible to assume that different governance styles also express in different ways how people consider other people’s values. In ‘t Veld (2011) distinguishes five relational values, which I have linked to different relation types:

  • • Hegemony: “My values are superior to those of other people”.
  • • Separatism: “I don’t want to be confronted with the implications of other people’s values”.
  • • Pluralism: “Other people’s values may be valuable, and I am co-responsible for protecting them”.
  • • Tolerance: “I find my values superior to other people’s values, but I abstain from interventions because of sympathy”.
  • • Indifference: “I find my values superior to other people’s values, but I abstain from interventions because I am not interested”.

Hegemony and separatism are related to the top-down and authoritarian thinking of hierarchical governance. If hierarchical governance is chosen as the main style, its congruency with hegemony and separatism should be taken into account: it can destroy trust and innovation power. When the complexity of a specific sustainability challenge leads to choosing network governance, pluralism or at least tolerance are relational values to be expected. When a market-based approach is chosen, the indifference towards values and traditions related to market governance can become a bottleneck for implementation.

We have already seen that the ‘wickedness’ of many sustainability problems necessitates a strong network governance touch in the sustainability governance mixture. This suggests that for sustainable development at least tolerance, but even more so pluralism are relevant values and should be expected to support its governance. In any case, “the design of governance should always take into account the relevant relational values in the specific situation” (In't Veld et al., 2011).

Tolerance is a multi-faceted concept. Kickert (2003) concluded that this well- known ‘image of the Dutch’ has indifference as its mirror-side: “simply not caring at all about some-body else”. He also mentioned another aspect of tolerance, which is clearly related to network governance, namely the typical Dutch concept of 'gedogen’ (permissiveness); that is, “the state does have regulations and rules, but officially permits citizens to deviate from these rules”.

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