Since the late 1990s, works on governance have increasingly assumed central attention among scholars working in the field of of public administration and public policy. There is now greater need to make the distinction between governance from government when it comes to public service delivery.
The waves of democratisation in the 1990s and the introduction of the internet have forced states to look at new and better ways of governing to respond to a changed environment . Indeed, the internet democratizes knowledge and such egalitarian-like acquisition of knowledge has inadvertently tested conventional mode of governing. The changed environment had invited questions on the continued attractiveness of traditional forms of hierarchy, the relevance of bureaucracy’s specialisation of knowledge or the need for traditional authority structures. In the discussions that ensued, governance, rather than government, seemed to be the way forward for more effective and efficient delivery of the public good.
By governance we mean the changing role of the state, from traditional forms of governing to one where the public sector actively interacts with the private and civil society. By governance, we no longer talk about the state having the monopoly over acts of policy making. Rather it is one where the state involves other non-state actors – the private sector and civil society – in the decision making process and formulation of policies.
The late 1990s saw various scholars giving special attention to this new idea of governance. To make for easier comprehension of the development on the idea of governance it is best to portray discussions on governance by the phases in which discussions on governance has evolved over the years.
The early years of governance saw ideas about governance as relating networks. The term “network” was evidently inspired by the internet technology that was sweeping the world at the time. Network governance tests the traditional workings of the state and bureaucracy – specifically, that of hierarchy and specialisation. It promotes the idea that public policy making and implementation are best produced when they factor possible network of stakeholders that could be involved in a policy project. Network governance involves the clustering of actors or organisations around a government functions. The rationale for network governance is that no actors – not the state – has the capacity, knowledge and authority to decide on policy alone. Network governance suggests the need for state to forego its traditional role as the single most important repository of knowledge in formulating policies.
There are certain keywords that are associated with network governance and they are: collective actions, mutual trust, interdependence, autonomy and horizontal rather than vertical association between participating agencies. A feature that needs mentioning is that network governance see strength in multiplicity of actors; actors’ diverse interests and resources are seen as important in producing durable and effective policies. Advocates believe that by employing network governance, designing policies can benefit from extensive negotiations, pooling of resources and the divergent interests of various stakeholders. Also, in network governance we can overcome limitations of hierarchy of traditional administration or the role of markets or neo-liberal ideas in delivering the public good. Common pool resources – like water, forest and wildlife preservation – are often cited as examples where public policy benefits from negotiations, resources and mutual dependency of relevant stakeholders.
The early discussions on network governance gave rise, in later years, to another type of governance, called metagovernance. Metagovernance is a variant of network governance. In metagovernance, the state plays a central role in facilitating governance. If network governance is about multiplicity of actors and promotes more egalitarian-like arrangement between actors that includes the state, in metagovernance the state plays a more central role in the networked interactions involving actors. Specifically, the state plays a steering role, one where it facilitates interaction between different players. The state coordinates governance, manages negotiations and indulges in moral suasion. If in network governance the state is seen as being equal partners with other non-state actors, in metagovernance, the state assumes the role of an enabler, one where it mobilises different organisations, government agencies and networks.
Besides metagovernance, collaborative governance is another genre of governance that is influencing public administration and policy making. There are many similarities between collaborative governance and network governance. Both see the flaws in vertical and hierarchical arrangement. Both also stress on ideas of reciprocity, interdependence and trust. But there are differences between the two. The first, is that if network governance is about equity and multiplicity of actors in governance; collaborative governance, on most times, see the state assuming a more dominant role. Second, though collaborative governance is deliberative in nature given the role of the state, it could be narrower in scope as far as the involvement of actors is concerned. For instance, it might involve the private sector and civil society or just public sector organisations so long as the arrangement will see the concentration of stakeholders that share a common interest.
The discussions on governance will continue to evolve in the coming years given new complexities and new expectations that the public has on service delivery. However, the direction of development is geared to a particular direction. One thing that governance is not, is that it will not continue to tread on the traditional forms of bureaucratic decision where emphasis is on vertical and hierarchical consideration. Decisions will need to be more egalitarian, participative or deliberative. With the emphasis on big data which is coupled with the wickedness of policy problems, the idea on how best to arrange governance and the considerations that go into decision making would be more sophisticated and complex. The new realities will put constant pressure on traditional administrative functions. For example, local governments and agencies will continue to see the need to co-opt as many actors as possible in policy making calculations.
These are interesting times for public policy practitioners and scholars. The changing environment and public expectation ate forcing states to rethink about conventional approaches to public policy making process. With this new emphasis on governance, states are now struggling to straddle between the need to rely on a top-down approach or to employ more bottom-up method for better policy legitimacy, effectiveness, efficiency and compliance. Indeed, these are interesting times for public policy and administration.