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What is governance?


The word governance comes from the Greek word "kubernaein" and the Latin verb "gubernare" which means "to steer". Having the same linguistic root, the term was often used interchangeably with the term "government". Yet, while government is broadly defined as a set of institutions established by constitutions and laws, governance broadly refers to a behavioural relationship between governors and the governed. The United Nations defines governance as "the structures and processes whereby a social organisation - from a family to corporate business to international institution - steers itself, ranging from centralised control to self-regulation" (see United Nations, 2016, p. iv). The United Nations has also defined governance more simply, as referring to "the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented" (see UNESCAP, 2009, p. 1). Still, the terms governance and government are closely linked: government institutions produce laws and provide public services, whereas governance refers to a wider set of relationships between ordinary citizens and public officials who apply the laws and deliver the services; between different government institutions (sometimes conceptualized as "checks and balances") and private entities involved in policy design and delivery; and between formal and informal institutions. In other words, governance refers to the way in which those with power exercise that power, formally and informally, and it describes how institutions work and how States relate to societies more broadly, rather than just through standard government bodies (Grindle, 2017). In this way, questions of governance intersect with questions concerning ethical leadership and public integrity (see, respectively, Module 4 and Module 13 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics). It should be noted that although the present Module discusses governance mainly in the context of the public sector, the term can be associated with any organization or grouping at any level and is used in various contexts such as corporate governance, global governance, international, national, local governance or even within the family (see further discussion on the website of the Institute on Governance).

Governance generally relates to institutions, power, order, justice and equity. In the public sector, governance also refers to the process of wielding power - in this case entailing the enactment and promulgation of effective public policies, procedures that are legitimate and accountable to the citizenry, and laws which directly affect human and institutional interaction, and economic and social development (Rose-Ackerman, 2016). Thus, the study of governance usually focuses on the design and implementation of modern regulatory welfare programmes and mass public benefits systems, such as old age pensions, health insurance, and so forth, and seeks to encourage efficient service delivery in ways that accord with democratic ideals and resource limits (Rose-Ackerman, 2016).

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