The Potential Assessment: Conceptualizing 'Governance' and Defining the 'Global'—What Is the Reality to Be Measured?

In a 'government' perspective, problem-solving is based on authoritative decision-making by state executives. It largely applies a (re-)distributive approach and relies on laws implemented by state administration and enforced by national courts (Benz 2004, p. 19). Nation states are the key holders of sovereignty as well as political authority and as such they are the most important actors within both national policymaking and the international system.

However, the integration of state structures and political processes across political levels, increasingly witnessed around the world due to globalization and regional integration, steadily impacts on the division of competences and interaction patterns of different political institutions, levels, and actors (Jachtenfuchs and Kohler-Koch 2003, p. 22). Conceptualizing modern 'governance' that results from these developments therefore aims at defining key parameters of the political, institutional, social, and cultural practice and the reality of multilevel politics.

The 'governance' concept emerged during the early 1990s as a paradigm for this extension of political structures and arenas beyond the nation state through globalization and regionalization. Back then, it was most prominently applied to the multilevel political system of the European Union (EU) and 'served as a theoretical rapprochement to the complexity of political interactions within... multilevel, multilayered and multitiered political sys- tem[s]' (Umbach 2009, p. 45f.).

As a result of globalization and regional integration (such as European integration), the fundamental role, central position, and statehood character of nation states eroded more and more. These processes not only profoundly changed traditional sovereignty aspects and political power relations between nation states. They also fundamentally impacted on the range of political actors and levels involved in interlinked decision-making systems and arenas above and beyond the nation state. In light of these developments, the traditional concept of 'government' is hence no longer fully equipped to understand and describe the 'transformation of governing in the real world' (Peters 2002, p. 3) and the changing nature of multilevel political interactions. Its narrow focus on the state as an institution different from the separate institutions of the market and society (Benz 2004) therefore requires adaptation to the political realities of deepened systemic integration and globalization across national borders (Zumbansen 2012).

With this broadening of perspective to the structural and procedural realities of 'polycentric' politics (Peterson 2003, p. 18) in regional and global contexts, the conceptual and analytical focus turns towards key features of modern statehood and multilevel political interrelations. The latter became quickly labelled a 'tertium genus' (Battistelli and Isernia 1993, p. 174, 190), establishing a new form of governance systems at the crossroads between international organization and nation state.

In this understanding, governance is a common trend of the globalization of politics and impacts on nation states; on regional and local political actors; and on international political institutions as well as organizations (Rosamond

2000). Going hand-in-hand with the decoupling of politics from national contexts, new and no longer territorially bound forms of political power and problem-solving emerge, resulting in a 'functionally (instead of territorially) defined construction of political space and the drawing of new functional boundaries' (Knodt 2004, p. 703). As logical consequences, we observe the expansion of political processes across political levels; the interdependence of decision-making at different levels; the multiplication of access points to decision-making; the increased number of relevant state and non-state actors; the interlinking of supranational and intergovernmental governance modes; as well as cross-level intra- and intergovernmental network relations, coordination, and negotiation (Jachtenfuchs and Kohler-Koch 2004b; Peters 2012; Schmitter 2004).

Conceptually, the governance perspective builds on actors-centred political steering theory (Burth and Gorlitz 2001; Mayntz 1987). The failure of nation states to effectively respond to the economic and social crisis of the 1960s and 70s resulted in the emergence of the idea of the 'cooperative state'. This new view was characterized by a move away from traditional state intervention tools to various political steering forms. It also witnessed an extension of the circle of relevant political actors beyond politico-administrative ones. Societal and non-governmental actors acting within the public interest became a core group of public policymaking to design consented policy solutions that states were no longer capable of producing on their own. As such, the 'cooperative state' redefined core patterns of 'targeted political action by subjects of political steering on objects of steering in existing social (sub)systems' (Umbach 2009, p. 41; Knodt 2005; Kooiman 2002; Mayntz 2004a, 2004b; Peters 2002).

In this initial period, governance was largely used in line with the notion of 'governing' to describe the process character of politics. It became more prominent in economics, political economy, and transaction cost theory in the context of assumptions on coordinated economic action between the market and corporate hierarchy. This turn highlighted the existence of interaction structures and rules as well as their implementation within economic processes. It also emphasized the existence of diverse coordination mechanisms and their impact on actors. With this change in the understanding of political interaction under the conditions of interrelated political actor groups and decision-making arenas, the governance perspective turned the attention towards different political levels and actors beyond classical nation states. Process- as well as structure-oriented views gained prominence to understand and explain the transformation of governing modes and 'to describe how steering is accomplished within society' (Peters 2002, p. 3; Benz 2004; Mayntz 2003; Williamson 1979, 1985).

Within the course of its conceptual differentiation, several other definitions emerged to frame governance in different ways. Some define it as 'a government's ability to make and enforce rules, and to deliver services, regardless of whether that government is democratic or not' (Fukuyama 2013, p. 350). Others define it as possessing a 'highly dynamic and nonlinear nature' (Duit and Galaz 2008, p. 317 citing Kooiman 2003); or 'to denote a specific mode of social interaction whose logic differs from that of both market and governments' (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006, p. 188). Or even as 'all coexisting forms of collective regulation of social affairs, including the self-regulation of civil society, the coregulation of public and private actors, and authoritative regulation through government' (ibid.). In a narrow understanding governance is however still often used as a contrast to classical 'government' to describe non-hierarchical, cooperative decision-making including a broad range of interlinked political actors beyond merely governmental ones across different political and institutional levels (Kaufmann and Kraay 2007, 2008; Rhodes 1997), as we see in Table 3.1.

With these particular features, governance thus bypasses the 'classic statecentric, command-and-control, redistributive and ideological processes of "government" and "politics"' (Hix 1998, p. 39) and according to Peters, 'therefore confirms that there has been a shift away from an authority based style of governing that has assumed the capacity of governments to exercise hierarchical control over society' (Peters 2002, p. 6).

Governance can be further differentiated into procedural and structural patterns of globalized and regionalized multilevel political interaction (see

Table 3.1. 'Government' vs 'Governance'


State vs market or society


State, market and networks as complementary forms of steering


  • • State focus
  • • Majoritarian democracy and hierarchy as most important institutions
  • • Institutional structure, combining elements of hierarchy, negotiation systems, and competition mechanisms
  • • Networks


  • • Competition between political parties for acquisition of power and between interest groups to gain influence
  • • Conflict regulation by decision of responsible state organs and enforcement of official decisions
  • • Conflicts between governing/leading and governed/affected actors
  • • Steering and coordination within institutional steering systems
  • • Negotiations between state and/or societal actors
  • • Adaptation of institutional steering systems


  • • Legislation (command and control)
  • • Distribution of public goods
  • • Agreement (within networks and communities), compromises, barter
  • • Co-production of collective goods
  • • Network management
  • • Institution building (management of institutional change)

Source: Author adapted version of Umbach 2006, p. 38 (translated version of Benz 2004, p. 21;seealso Levi-Faur, 2012).

Table 3.2. Governance: Process vs Structure

Procedural patterns

Structural patterns

In a broad sense

Hierarchical coordination

  • • Authoritative instruction
  • • Majoritarian decision-making

Non-hierarchical coordination between public and private actors

  • • Negotiation
  • • Conviction

Regulated self-steering (in the shadow of hierarchy)

Societal self-steering


  • • Independent regulatory authorities
  • • Supranational institutions Networks

Tripartite negotiation systems Public-private partnerships

Neo-corporatist negotiation systems

Federations, Interest groups Community/Clan

Market (spontaneous order, anarchy)

In a narrow sense

Non-hierarchical coordination between public and private actors within processes of arguing and bargaining


Tripartite negotiation systems Public-private partnerships

Source: Authoradapted version of Umbach 2006, p. 39 (translated and amended version of Borzel 2005, p. 622).

Table 3.2). On the one hand, taking up the ideas of political steering, it describes 'the continuous political process of setting explicit goals for society and intervening in it in order to achieve these goals' (Jachtenfuchs and Kohler-Koch 2004a, p. 99). On the other hand, governance structurally represents a distinct 'form of social order' (Borzel 2005, p. 617) characterized by more or less institutionalized coordination, interaction, and compliance systems. These systems involve 'politically independent but otherwise interdependent' political and societal actors (Schmitter 2004, p. 49); strategic coalition-building for collective action within institutions; and the implementation of decisions taken within these structures (Furst 2004).

With this differentiation, governance acknowledges that the nation state is no longer a unitary political actor, but rather a differentiated network of interlinked political and societal actors of diverse quality and origin. State, market, and networks are perceived as institutional steering and coordination mechanisms, which impact on political problem-solving in variable combinations linking hierarchy, competition, and/or negotiations in multiple ways. In this understanding, governance 'is a very old concept, and an even older reality' (Peters 2002, p. 1) describing and analysing different essential elements of interlinked policymaking.

The different core components of governance can be grouped on a continuum between purely state (i.e. government/governing) and merely civil society action and influence (i.e. societal self-steering in networks), varying according to the field of political interaction (see Table 3.3).

Table 3.3. 'Continuum' of Governance Structures

State bureaucracy Policy network




Hierarchically structured state bureaucracy covering several (political and/or territorial) levels

State as primus inter pares

Non-state actors as negotiation partners

Interactions within networks

Societal self-steering Non-hierarchical relationship



Government State bureaucracy Public officials


Non-state actors

Institutions of societal self-steering (such as chambers, negotiation systems of conflicting interests)


Authoritative decisionmaking and implementation

Delegation of societal duties

Policy preparation

Preparation of executive and legislative decisions

Self-regulation (such as technical standardization activities like DIN) Interest mediation Negotiations


Legal, factual, and pertinent interdependence Need for (horizontal and vertical) cooperation among/negotiation between (relatively) autonomous state actors

(Neo-)corporative decision-making structures (such as tripartite negotiations) Network structures Informal (long-term) negotiation systems

Voluntary or delegated self-steering Inter-organizational networks and negotiations



Negotiations between representatives of different organizations Relevance of negotiations and negotiation systems for policy development and implementation

Joint decision-making through direct interaction and cooperation

Source: Author adapted version of Umbach 2006, p. 42 (summarizing Mayntz 2004a, pp. 69-71).

The full scope of governance patterns results from the interaction between these different state structures, institutional arrangements, and self-steering mechanisms (Lynn Jr, 2012, p. 51ff.). As governance arrangements transform classical state institutions, they also impact on institutional traditions adapting institutional contexts of decision-making at all levels of political interaction. Yet, although transformed, institutions 'do still matter' as they represent key access points to the political arena (Bulmer 1993; March and Olsen 2005). Following this governance 'shift away from formal constitutional-legal approaches to government' (Bulmer 1997, p. 4), the key dimensions of institutions (see Table 3.4) are hence open to adaptation. As such they represent strong reference points for governance measurement.

Apart from this systemic perspective, governance is also used in a normative way as 'good' governance (Peters, 2012, p. 26f.; Rothstein, 2012). As such it

Table 3.4. Dimensions of Institutions


Constitutive elements

Formal organization of political decision-making processes

  • • Allocation of political power to the responsible political entities/ allocation of competences via constitutional provisions
  • • Codified decision-making procedures
  • • Formalized rules of representation

(Acting through) Routines

  • • Tested patterns of problem-solving and decision-making strategies, channelling modes of governance and employing the necessary material as well as non-material (information/ expertise, etc.) resources
  • • Patterns of interaction of actors involved in decision-making

Concepts of legitimate order

  • • Prevailing perception of 'good governance'
  • • Acknowledged criteria of appropriate problem-solving
  • • Establishment of political authority

Source: Umbach, 2006 p. 43 (translated version of Knodt 2005, p. 45).

describes efficient, transparent, and responsible political-administrative practices based on 'powerful, but not omnipotent' state authorities and 'a strong, functionally differentiated, and well-organized civil society', including 'corporate actors that represent different functional as well as different socio-economic interests' (Mayntz 2003, p. 4f.). According to Weiss 'actions to foster good governance concentrate on attenuating two undesirable characteristics...: the unrepresentative character of governments and the inefficiency of nonmarket systems' (Weiss 2000, p. 801), and most strongly focus on increasing participation, ownership, accountability, formal control, and transparency (Doornbos 2001; Woods 1999).

Within most international organizations' practice, 'good' governance characteristics go beyond this core definition and in their totality tend to constitute a quasi 'unrealistically long and growing' 'good' governance agenda (Grindle 2004, p. 526; Bovaird and Loffler 2003) with official guidance on implementation priorities largely missing. The current list of 'good' governance characteristics includes a broad range of normative aspects such as:

universal protecting of human rights;non-discriminatory laws;efficient, impartial and rapid judicial processes;transparent public agencies;accountability for decisions by public officials;devolution of resources and decision making to local levels from the capital; and meaningful participation by citizens in debating public policies and choices. (Weiss 2000a, p. 801)

Understood in such a normative way, 'the good governance agenda has also expanded as a result of advocacy by committed partisans of democratic government, universal human rights, sustainable development, empowerment of the poor, free trade, participatory development, and other desirable conditions' (Grindle 2004, p. 527). 'Good' governance is therefore today understood as a tool for 'improving and reforming the functioning of democratic institutions, including the "deepening" of democracy and exploring more active and creative roles for non-state actors' (Weiss 2000, p. 803). As such, it does 'not necessarily mean less but sometimes more appropriate government' (ibid., p. 804).

With the overall shift of focus from central political steering within nation states towards coordinated action beyond market and hierarchy, governance found its way not only into public policy analysis, but also into international relations (IR) theory (Rosenau and Czempiel 1992; Rosenau 1997; Ruggie 1993). Here, according to Weiss, 'the application of the notion of governance to the globe was the natural result of mounting evidence that the international system was no longer composed simply of states, but rather that the world was undergoing fundamental change' (Weiss 2000, p. 806). So, global governance particularly 'challenge[s] the mainstream international relations (IR) assumptions of sovereign nation-states embedded in an anarchical international system' (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006, p. 189). Finkelstein sees that it 'reflects the great changes that have been occurring both in the dynamics of relations in the world of states and in understandings of those dynamics' (Finkelstein 1995, p. 367).

As a reaction to these changes, and especially to those that followed the collapse of the bipolar international system, the governance concept is applied to analyse structures of political authority and forms of interaction as well as cooperation between governments, public administrations, and transnational societal actors in political structures, in which a superior sovereign level is missing. In this broad understanding, governance according to Rosenau, 'include[s] systems of rule at all levels of human activity—from the family to the international organization—in which the pursuit of goals through the exercise of control has transnational repercussions' (Rosenau 1995, p. 13).

Over the past decades, global governance as a perspective on world politics, and especially on development policies and international organizations' related strategies and practice, has become a conceptual alternative to the more classical views of IR theories. Smith and Brassett hence see it as having entered the debate 'as both a technical managerial discourse of international organizations' and, in the goal of 'good governance', as a normative ideal for developing states to aspire to (2008, p. 70). So, it 'has become ever more popular-and confusion about its meanings ever greater' (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006, p. 185).

The global governance perspective, as does the governance perspective within public policy analysis, departs from the strong focus of international relations theory on nation states and the (hierarchical) relations between them. It takes up the general governance interest in non-governmental/non-state actors and their interrelations with state actors within multilevel political interaction applying different modes of governance, be they supranational, translational, intergovernmental, or mixed (Smith and Brassett 2008, p. 70). Global governance, moreover, focuses on the impact of policymaking at different levels of the international system; on the emergence of international and regional orders and new forms of political steering or social norms as well as sovereignty; and on decision-making competences and authority at the global level (Biermann et al. 2009; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006).

Most basically, global governance is defined as 'governing, without sovereign authority, relationships that transcend national frontiers' (Finkelstein 1995, p. 369) or as the provision of 'good order and workable arrangements' in transnational contexts (Williamson 2005, p. 1). In this way, the term describes 'any purposeful activity intended to "control" or influence someone else that either occurs in the arena occupied by nations or, occurring at other levels, projects influence into that arena' (Finkelstein 1995, p. 368).

In more detail, global governance underlines the transformation of the political space beyond the international interaction of nation states, including civil societies' worldwide activities. It integrates transnational social movements and organizations, private-public network interactions, private authority within the international system, and formal and informal institutions of inter- and transnational rule-setting. Biermann et al. hence underline that the transformation of global politics represents a 'highly fragmented global governance architecture' consisting of an 'overarching system of public and private institutions that are valid or active in a given issue area of world politics' (Biermann etal. 2009, p. 15). Global governance is also pertinent to a strengthening of the international legal system and many other forms of global political processes and structures (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006). Weiss uses the term 'to describe phenomena that go beyond a synonym for "government" and the legal authority with which such polities are vested' (Weiss 2000, p. 795). Finally, for some scholars, the term describes 'the obvious and spatially extensive powers of international organizations, while seeking to cut off the critical charge of global government (Smith and Brassett 2008, p. 70). As these various definitions show, by extending conceptualization efforts even to the global level, the term is in danger of turning into a catch-all phrase referring to 'the crazy-quilt nature of modern interdependence' (Rosenau 1995, p. 15).

In the normative understanding, 'good' global governance frames political action meant to balance market externalities and other outcomes of globalization, such as most prominently the participation in growth and wealth. As a key normative reference point for the international donor community, 'good' global governance especially serves to guide action to foster development and reduce poverty. As an international blueprint for the reform of state structures, 'good' global governance has 'become a political and economic conditionality that is inseparable from debates about appropriate bilateral and multilateral financing for developing and formerly socialist bloc countries' (Weiss 2000, p. 801). As a result, the concept has turned into 'a necessary instrument enabling the launching of a new generation of political conditionalities' after the end of the Cold War (Doornbos 2001; Murphy 2000).

As a key normative concept within the global political arena, 'good' global governance establishes common global rules, ethics, norms, values, paradigms, standards, understandings of transnational interactions and an overall frame for 'the pursuit of democracy as an international goal' (Finkelstein 1995, p. 367). In this perspective, one of the main goals of 'good' governance at the global level is to regain control over globalized political and social interactions and structures that otherwise potentially remain unregulated as they are out of the reach of nation states' control. Reflections on the provision of global public goods, the establishment of global policy arenas within the UN systems or the development of global principles, such as the 'common but differentiated responsibility' within the framework of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations, are cases in point (Biermann et al. 2009; Calliess and Renner 2009; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006; Doornbos 2001, p. 93; Grindle 2004; Kennedy 2008; Murphy 2000; Woods 1999).

Due to these various elements, diverse attributes, and different fields of application, the global governance debate so far seems to have produced 'more heat than light' as it strongly echoes the conceptual broadness of the original governance concept (Weiss 2000, p. 806). Given that 'the attribute global can at least refer to two different spheres—the top-level scale of human activity or the sum of all scales of activity' (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006, p. 188), further complexity, if not confusion, is, moreover, pre-programmed. As a result, its conceptual openness became a key obstacle to 'developing more coherent theories of global governance' (ibid., p. 185) and we still seem to be trapped in an 'intellectual cottage industry' (Weiss 2000, p. 796) that keeps on saying global' "governance" [maybe] because we [still] don't really know what to call what is going on' (Finkelstein 1995, p. 368).

As becomes clear from the above analysis, the differentiation of governance structures and processes is indeed a common trend of the globalization and transformation of politics at different political levels (global, regional, national, local). As a consequence, at its conceptual core governance seems to be divested of a unique political reference space and 'the logical link between the patterns of governance at the national and global levels [basically] lies in solving the collective action puzzle to provide public goods' (Weiss 2000, p. 807). The missing fusion with a particular level, space, function, or context is, however, the conceptual advantage and disadvantage of the governance concept at the same time. At its heart stands the understanding of modern policymaking structures and processes. As governance per definitionem presumes them to be interlinked and multilevel, governance definitions may vary from level to level, space to space, function to function, and context to context. Its core features outlined above yet remain valid. So, depending on the geographical, institutional, political, and functional level and context applied, certain characteristics and definitions may differ, yet its core logic persists and describes the continuing transformation of statehood and the international system (Finkelstein 1995; Fukuyama 2013; Grindle 2007; Pierre and Peters 2005).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >