Governance is how society or groups within it, organize to make decisions; it comprises all of the processes of governing. The concept of governance has been around in both political and academic discourse for a long time, referring in a generic sense to the task of running a government, or any other appropriate entity for that matter. Starting from the corporate language, in which it indicates the way, style or system of running and directing a company, the term governance has rapidly expanded to the overall meaning of the principles, methods, procedures for management and governance of companies, entities, institutions, or complex phenomena, with significant social repercussions.

It could be argued that governance is not a new concept, it being as old as human civilization. The roots of governance can be found in the Greek word kubernaein, which means to steer or to pilot a ship, but the concept was also used during the Roman Empire under the Latin word gubernare, meaning to direct, rule and guide. Obviously, its meaning has changed throughout the centuries, and nowadays, governance can be broadly understood as the interaction between governments, business stakeholders, and non-profit organizations by which policy decisions and implementation are undertaken.

Governance has been defined to refer to structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Governance also represents the norms, values, and rules of the game through which public affairs are managed in a manner that is transparent, participatory, inclusive, and responsive. Governance, therefore, can be subtle and may not be easily observable. In a broad sense, governance is about the culture and institutional environment in which citizens and stakeholders interact among themselves and participate in public affairs. It is more than the organs of the government.

  • Governance refers to the process whereby elements in society wield power and authority, and influence and enact policies and decisions concerning public life, and economic and social development. 
  • Governance is a broader notion than the government, whose principal elements include the constitution, legislature, executive, and judiciary. Governance involves interaction between these formal institutions and those of civil society. 
  • Governance has no automatic normative connotation. However, typical criteria for assessing governance in a particular context might include the degree of legitimacy, representativeness, popular accountability, and efficiency with which public affairs are conducted.

The essential nature of governance is the structure of institutions and norms by which authority is exercised for everyone’s benefit at all levels, from local to global. Governance, in general, has among others, three dimensions: 

  • the political dimension – processes by which those in authority are selected, elected, monitored, and replaced;
  • the economic dimension – the process by which public resources are effectively managed and sound policies implemented;
  • the institutional dimension – processes by which citizens and the state itself respect the society’s/public institutions.

Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard, and how the account is rendered. Governance challenges include:

  • effective representation of a diverse population;
  • aging citizens;
  • integrating transportation networks;
  • preparing for the effects of climate change;
  • new disruptive technologies are both driving and enabling change and everything from policymaking to service delivery to citizen activism;
  • as expectations grow, the relationship between government and citizens is changing;
  • renewing our notions of privacy of openness;
  • control of government data;
  • how to incorporate the direct involvement of citizens between elections while responding to the newly empowered activist citizens.

Governance includes the role of sub-national and trans-national authorities as well as private organizations (business and non-profit organizations). In this sense, governance appears in the context of the discussion about the role of the State, which can no longer be regarded as the center of power and authority gave that it shares the decision and implementation processes with other actors.

Governance entails two processes: decision-making and implementation of the decision. In broad terms, decision-making refers to the process by which a person or group of persons, guided by socio-political structures, arrive at a decision involving their individual and communal needs and wants.  Implementation is the process that logically follows the decision; it entails the actualization or materialization of the plan or decision. Governance is not just decision-making because decision without implementation is self-defeating. Neither is it just implementation because there is nothing to implement without a decision or plan. Thus, the two processes necessarily go hand-in-hand and are constitutive of, governance.

Actors and Structures

Understanding the two processes requires an analysis of the “actors” involved and “structures” established for making and implementing a decision. An actor is a sector or group or institution that participates in the process of decision-making and implementation. A structure refers to an organization or mechanism that formally or informally guides the decision-making process and sets into motion the different actors and apparatuses in the implementation process.

Having such a broad scope, governance has different facets and may be applied in different contexts, such as corporate governance, international governance, and national and local governance. In each context, governance has different actors and structures. Depending on the kind of decision made and the structure implementing it, governance may be good or bad governance.

The government is almost always the main actor in governance, whether it is in the corporate, international, national, or local level. The government is called the “public sector.” While it is the biggest actor in governance, it is not the only actor. Modern complex societies, in order to meet the growing demands of development, are managed at different levels by various actors. The main role of the public sector is to provide an enabling environment for the other actors of governance to participate and respond to the mandate of the common good.

All actors other than the government are called the “civil society.” The civil society includes non-governmental organizations, and other community-based and sectoral organizations, such as the association of farmers, charitable institutions, cooperatives, religious communities, political parties, and research institutes. These organizations are private in nature but have public functions or objectives.

Types of governance

  • Process governance: Paim (2007, 2010) and Paim et. al. (2009) state that process governance comprises the “definition of overall guidelines of the process management model, the process control model and the activities of the various organizational units, and involves mainly the distribution of Process Management-related responsibilities within the organization. Briefly, it involves fostering the definition of overall guidelines to orient what should be done in Process Management and how it should be done”.
  • Public governance: in general terms, public governance occurs in three broad ways:
    1. through networks involving public-private partnerships (PPP) or with the collaboration of community organizations;
    2. through the use of market mechanisms whereby market principles of competition serve to allocate resources while operating under government regulation;
    3. through top-down methods that primarily involve governments and the state bureaucracy.
  • Private governance: occurs when non-governmental entities, including private organizations, dispute resolution organizations, or other third-party groups, make rules and/or standards that have a binding effect on the “quality of life and opportunities of the larger public.“
  • Global governance: is defined as “the complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental, through which collective interests on the global plane are articulated, right and obligations are established, and differences are mediated.“
  • Governance Analytical Framework (GAF): is a practical methodology for investigating governance processes, where various stakeholders interact and make decisions regarding collective issues, thus creating or reinforcing social norms and institutions.
  • Nonprofit governance: has a dual focus: achieving the organization’s social mission and ensuring the organization is viable.
  • Corporate governance: consists of the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way people direct, administer, or control a corporation.
  • Project governance: is the management framework within which project decisions are made; entails all the key elements that make a project successful.
  • Environmental governance: is a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability (sustainable development) as the supreme consideration for managing all human activities (political, social, and economic).
  • Land governance: it consists of the policies, processes, and institutions by which decisions about access to, use of, and control over land are made, implemented, and enforced; it is also about managing and reconciling competing claims on the land.
  • Health governance: refers to a wide range of steering and rule-making related functions carried out by governments/decisions makers as they seek to achieve national health policy objectives that are conducive to universal health coverage.
  • Internet governance: is the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • Information technology governance: is a subset discipline of corporate governance, focused on information technology (IT) and its performance and risk management.
  • Blockchain governance: relies on a set of protocols and code-based rules.
  • Regulatory governance: refers to the expansion in the use of rulemaking, monitoring, enforcement techniques, and institutions by the state and to a parallel change in the way its positive functions in society are being carried out. The expansion of the state nowadays is generally via regulation and less via taxing and spending. The notion of the regulatory state is increasingly more attractive for theoreticians of the state with the growth in the use and application of rulemaking, monitoring, enforcement strategies, and with the parallel growth of civil regulation and business regulation. The rise of the regulatory state in the Industrial Revolution can be traced to network regulation first instituted by William Gladstone in 1844. The co-expansion of state, civil and business regulation at the domestic and the transnational arenas suggests that the notions of regulatory governance and regulatory capitalism are as usefully theoretically as the notion of the regulatory state. The term was coined during the Progressive era.
  • Participatory governance: focuses on deepening democratic engagement through the participation of citizens in the processes of governance with the state.
  • Contract governance: is focusing on creating a governance structure in which the parties have a vested interest in managing what are often highly complex contractual arrangements in a more collaborative, aligned, flexible, and credible way.
  • Multi-level governance: is the concept and study of the fact that many intertangled authority structures are present in a global political economy.
  • Metagovernance: is the “governing of governing“ – it represents the established ethical principles, or ’norms’, that shape and steers the entire governing process.
  • Collaborative governance: is a framework that uses a relationship management structure, joint performance and transformation management processes, and an exit management plan as controlling mechanisms to encourage the organizations to make ethical, proactive changes for the mutual benefit of all the parties.
  • Security sector governance (SSG): is a subpart concept or framework of security governance that focuses specifically on decisions about security and their implementation within the security sector of a single state. SSG applies the principles of good governance to the security sector in question.
  • Urban governance: can be defined as the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels. Governance comprises the complex mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences, and exercise their legal rights and obligations.

Governance is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest.

Good governance

Good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.

Good governance is among other things effective, equitable, and it promotes the rule of law. Good governance assures that political, social, and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision-making over the allocation of development resources.

Good governance occurs when societal norms and practices empower and encourage people to take increasingly greater control over their own development in a manner that does not impinge upon the accepted rights of others.


Good governance essentially requires the participation of different sectors of society. Participation means active involvement of all affected and interested parties in the decision-making process. It requires an enabling environment wherein pertinent information is effectively disseminated and people could respond in an unconstrained and truthful manner. It also means gender equality, recognizing the vital roles of both men and women in decision-making.

Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.

The management of highly complex societies and of their ever-growing needs requires a participatory form of governance by diffusing power. The move for decentralization is a response to this as it widens the base of participation and allows local government units to exercise governmental powers directly within their respective districts. Service delivery is enhanced because of the proximity of local government units to their constituents, and because of the linking which happens between the national government and regional concerns.

Rule of law

Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.

Democracy is essentially the rule of law. It is through the law that people express their will and exercise their sovereignty. That the government is of law and not of men is an underlying democratic principle which puts no one, however rich and powerful, above the law. Not even the government can arbitrarily act in contravention of the law. Thus, good democratic governance is fundamentally adherence to the rule of law.

Rule of law demands that the people and the civil society render habitual obedience to the law. It also demands that the government acts within the limits of the powers and functions prescribed by the law. The absence of the rule of law is anarchy. Anarchy happens when people act in utter disregard of law and when the government acts whimsically or arbitrarily beyond their powers. In more concrete terms, rule of law means “peace and order,” “absence of corruption,” “impartial and effective justice system,” “observance and protection of human rights,” and “clear, publicized, and stable laws.”


Transparency means that decisions are taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media.

Transparency, as an indicator of good governance, means that people are open to information regarding the decision-making process and the implementation of the same. In legal terms, it means that information on matters of public concern is made available to the citizens or those who will be directly affected. It also means that transactions involving public interests must be fully disclosed and made accessible to the people. It is anchored on the democratic right to information and the right to access the same.

Transparency is necessary not just from government transactions but also in those transactions of the civil society and private sector imbued with public interests.


Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.

Responsiveness means that institutions and processes serve all stakeholders in a timely and appropriate manner. It also means that actors and structures of governance easily give genuine expression to the will or desire of the people. In other words, the interests of all citizens must be well protected in a prompt and appropriate manner so that each of them can appreciate and take part in the process of governance. While responsiveness is also a characteristic sought from the private sector and civil society, more is demanded from the government or the public sector.

Gender equality is engrained in the egalitarian principles of democracy. Gender concerns that respond to the women and their community must always be part of the agenda of the public sector and civil society. Thus, emerging as important areas in the study of democratic governance is “Gender and Development” and “Gender Responsiveness.” The participation of women in governance within the context of “gendered socialization” rests on how responsive the structures and processes are to their roles and needs.

Consensus oriented

There are several actors and as many viewpoints in a given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development. This can only result from an understanding of the historical, cultural, and social contexts of a given society or community.

Governance is consensus-oriented when decisions are made after taking into consideration the different viewpoints of the actors of society. Mechanisms for conflict resolution must be in place because inevitably conflict that will arise from the competing interests of the actors. To meet the consensus, a strong, impartial, and flexible mediation structure must be established. Without such, compromises and a broad consensus cannot be reached that serves that best interest of the whole community.

Equity and inclusiveness

A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society.

Equity and inclusiveness mean that all the members of the society, especially the most vulnerable ones or the grassroots level, must be taken into consideration in policymaking. Everyone has a stake in the society and no one should feel alienated from it. Particularly, those who belong to the grassroots level must not only be the subject of legislation but they must be given the opportunity to participate in decision or policymaking.

Social equity refers to a kind of justice that gives more opportunity to the less fortunate members of society. It is based on the principle that those who have less in life should have more in law. Good governance demands that the actors must give preferential attention to the plight of the poor. Laws must be geared towards this end and the society must actively participate in the promotion of the same.

Effectiveness and efficiency

Good governance means that processes and institutions, processes, and actors produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal. The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.

That the different actors meet the needs of the society means that there is effective governance. That the valuable resources are utilized, without wasting or underutilizing any of them, means that there is efficient governance. Effectiveness (meeting the needs) and efficiency (proper utilization of resources) must necessarily go together to ensure the best possible results for the community.

Concretely, effectiveness and efficiency demand “enhancement and standardization of the quality of public service delivery consistent with international standards,” “professionalization of bureaucracy,” “focusing of government efforts on its vital functions, and elimination of redundancies or overlaps in functions and operations,” “a citizen-centered government,” and “an improved financial management system of the government.”


Accountability means answerability or responsibility for one’s action. It is based on the principle that every person or group is responsible for their actions most especially when their acts affect the public interest. The actors have an obligation to explain and be answerable for the consequences of decisions and actions they have made on behalf of the community it serves.

Accountability is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution. In general, an organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.

Accountability comes in various forms: political, hierarchical, and managerial accountability. Political accountability refers to the accountability of public officials to the people they represent. Hierarchical accountability refers to the ordered accountability of the various agencies and their respective officers and personnel in relation to their program objectives. Managerial accountability refers to employee accountability based on organization and individual performance. A system of rewards and punishment must be in place to strengthen the processes and institutions of governance.


  • What is governance. Ysa, Tamyko & Albareda, Adrià & Forberger, Sarah. (2014).
  • Business Law I Essentials. OpenStax.
  • Governance. Wikipedia.

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