Governance refers to the distribution and exercise of authority in the taking of collective decisions. Constitutions represent its most general expression, but governance includes all attempts to parcel out authority, including within organizations—so-called corporate governance. Any given governance arrangement stipulates, more or less precisely, how various voices are heard, how decisions are made and how accounts are rendered, in short, who has the power to determine what. Getting governance right is the key to good policy and organizational effectiveness; when governance fails poor choices are made, resources are squandered and distrust grows.
Facing the flaws
The concept of governance has developed in response to the growing realization that the exercise of authority is no longer confined entirely to the institutions of government. Stakeholders, experts, organized advocates, public servants, their clients, politicians and citizens all possess knowledge that is vital to the governing process. Legislatures, executives and bureaucracies remain important, but they must now be studied in new contexts in which many more participants evaluate the legitimacy and effectiveness of public authority.
Governance research in the School focuses on situations in which governance systems have produced significantly sub-optimal outcomes. Our faculty members’ research interests range from the political economic models that predict “why nations fail” to the public management models that explain political scandals, regulatory breakdowns, public health hazards. Our commitment is to good governance: efficient, ethical and effective organizational performance and leadership behaviour.
Collectively, our research focuses on four types of governance:
- Multi-level Governance: relations among political authorities from the global to the local
- Network governance: relations among organizations that are exercising public authority, both governmental and non-governmental
- Public sector governance: relations among bureaucratic and political units within government
- Corporate governance: relations between directors and managers in public and social sector organizations
In each case the school is concerned with solving the core problems of governance: how to coordinate disparate actors and clarify political and bureaucratic linkages; how to avoid common cognitive errors; how to overcome opportunistic behaviour; and how to organize decision processes to confer legitimacy on outcomes.
Solving governance problems
The Structure of Government
The quality of the government that citizens enjoy depends to some degree on how authority is internally organized and led. In large part, the distribution of power within government is determined in large part by constitutional authorizations, but these are subject to continual pressures and renegotiations. Old forms struggle to meet new challenges and often give way to new organizations, new practices and new power relations. Sometimes new patterns contribute to good government, other times they either concentrate authority beyond what is required or create veto points that stifle innovation. Researchers ask whether structural changes contribute to good government or whether they produce inefficiencies, generate waste or even foster corruption
Digital Era Governance
The digital electronic computer as we know it is rapidly closing in on its centenary. Yet the increasing pace of technological development over the past decade and the more recent proliferation of computing devices throughout society are occurring alongside social, political, economic, and cultural shifts that are as profound as those occurring as a consequence of the industrial revolution. The label “digital era” signifies the contemporary period where powerful and ubiquitous digital electronic devices have become so central to our lives, making available large amounts of digital data and increased analytical capacity. These changes are challenging the nature of policy making and governance, requiring significant institutional recalibrations in response. Research in this area focuses on whether big data can be used to improve policy formulation and implementation, on what happens to the “digitally invisible” – those people who are not represented in data sets and hence not reflected in policy analysis – and on how new governance models are challenging traditional institutional forms.
The Governance of Social Economy Organizations
In an attempt to increase program efficiency, governments are increasingly handing off the implementation of policy (and sometimes even the development of policy) to third-party groups. Among these service providers are social economy organizations, including co-operatives. These groups are also becoming more prominent due to the growing realization that government is ill-suited to tackle many of the problems that society faces, at least on its own. Research in this area will focus on such things as: understanding the ability of government to hold these organizations accountable while still giving them the flexibility to address economic problems; the impact of the internal organizational structure of these groups on effective policy implementation; and the degree to which ordinary citizens can be given a role in formulating and implementing policy.
Leadership and Human Resources in the Public Sector
An important factor in producing good policy outcomes is the performance of those hired and appointed to develop and implement policy. The performance of these persons is determined by the incentive structures in place and the degree to which their beliefs, ethical acumen and expertise line up with the mission of the organization for which they work. Research in this area focuses on topics such as the maturity and competence of leaders, the structure of executive pay in the public service, the impact of unionization, and the challenges associated with attracting and retaining people who are able to innovate in constrained environments. Implementation and its challenges is an abiding theme.
Rules for Governing
Good public policies depend on traditional institutions such as free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, and a neutral and competent public service. Institutions are by no means perfect however. They cannot eliminate transaction costs or rent seeking behaviour and they cannot guarantee that elected politicians will adopt policies and practices that align with public preferences. Nor can institutions always protect decision makers from the myriad cognitive biases to which they are prone. New rules for governing hope to address some of these deficiencies by demanding representational diversity in public agencies, accountability on the part of professional bodies, impartiality from adjudicating entities, and compliance with performance standards such as fiscal and ethical rules. Research in this area asks whether these new restrictions and expectations are part of an emerging good governance paradigm, or a false path that will violate democratic and efficiency norms.