From Governance to Government

  • Ann Marie BissessarEmail author
Living reference work entry


Private Sector Public Sector Civil Society Corporate Governance Public Administration 
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Government involves the political direction and control exercised by members of a governing body over its population.

Government is a form or system of rule by which a state or community is governed.

Government is a system of polity in a state.


Numerous definitions of the word “government” abound. Government, according to one definition, involves the political direction and control exercised by members of a governing body over its population. Another definition is that government is the form or system of rule by which a state or community is governed. If one examines the legal description of the word “government,” it is evident that the meaning of government is more extensive. For instance, government involves the regulation, restraint, supervision, or control which is exercised upon the individual members of an organized jural society by those invested with the supreme political authority, for the good and welfare of the body politic, or the act of exercising supreme political power or control.

Another definition is that government is the system of polity in a state, the form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions, and a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined, as a monarchical government and a republican government.

Another, shorter version defining the term is that it is an empire, kingdom, state, or independent political community, as in the phrase, “compacts between independent governments.” A wider and more expansive version is government can be described as the framework of political institutions, departments, and offices, by means of which the executive, judicial, legislative, and administrative business of the state. In an examination of the term government then (noun), a number of elements can be distilled. Firstly, government comprises a group of persons – elected or nominated or sitting by way of inheritance such as in the case of a monarchy. In some cases, this “group” could be expanded to include institutions, departments, or even offices. It could also be based on laws such as a constitution. Further to this, the role of this body is not limited but encompasses the judicial, legislative, and the executive arena. Finally, this group has “supreme” control over its populace.

Changing of Governance to Government

In dissecting the term “government,” a number of features can be clearly established. Firstly, the term suggests that decisions are made by a small, elite group. Secondly, that little or no discussion with the wider population and the decisions taken by the politicians, albeit for the good of the populace, are merely disseminated to the wider population. In addition, it is evident that in most systems of government, there are three major arms, namely, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial arm. In Westminster systems or their modified systems such as the Westminster Whitehall model of government which exists in the case of the countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, these arms are theoretically separate and apart. This concept of the separation of government responsibility into three arms was first developed in ancient Greece. Under this model, governmental power is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches. In his The Spirit of the Laws (1748), French philosopher, Montesquieu, described the separation of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. His major argument to support this arrangement was that powers should not be excessively centralized and each arm of government should serve as a check and balance on the other. This model of government formed the basis for both the presidential as well as the parliamentary systems of government.

The governmental model relied on centralized control, set rules and guidelines, separated policymaking from implementation, and employed a hierarchical organizational structure. In many systems, particularly in the Anglophone Caribbean, the overarching authority was a written constitution. The constitution set out or prescribed the guidelines under which different authorities reported. Thus, the constitution established the role and functions of the parliament (which comprised in the case of the Anglophone Caribbean, the house of representatives and the senate) and the functions of the judiciary and the executive which comprised the public sector.

Some of the central features of this model, also, included a separation between politics and elected politicians on the one hand and administration and appointed administrators on the other. With respect to the public sector, the administration was continuous, predictable, and rule-governed. The administrators in this sector were appointed on the basis of qualifications and were trained professionals. There was a functional division of labor and a hierarchy of tasks and people. This “command-and-control” approach to public administration was the reference point for bureaucratic systems introduced around the world which were formerly under colonial rule and later attained independence.

By the 1990s, however, it was evident that there were some fundamental flaws with the old method of government. One of the primary concerns was the “slowness” of government. Indeed, the executive or implementing arm of government, the public sector, was often criticized for red tape and excessive delays in the delivery of goods and services. It was also felt that government was unable to respond in a timely fashion to the changes in the environment as a result of global forces. Additionally, the typical “welfare” culture of government which prevailed prior to the 1990s, as a result of economic pressures, could no longer be supported. It is suggested that a number of forces converged so as to lead to attempts worldwide to reform the old method of government. Many suggest that one of the major pressures was the force of globalization.

Globalization, as it should be recalled, had a number of dimensions including a social, cultural, as well as an economic dimension. It was perhaps the economic dimension that created an intensified exchange between states and a number of different international organizations. According to Rhodes (1996), these dependencies fundamentally changed the conditions for both politics and administration. Pollitt (2003) and Jessop (2002) suggested that perhaps the variety of social forces, such as increased complexity in social problems, a growing and more specialized public administration, increased demand for expertise, internationalization, decentralization, and a rapid development of information and communication technologies, were also at play. The end result was that countries around the world shifted from a system of government to a system of governance.

Strangely, the definition offered for governance was not significantly different from the definition of government. Governance according to one definition was the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs. This model, too, was perceived as complex, comprising mechanisms, processes, relationships, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulated their interests, exercised their rights and obligations, and mediated their differences. But, the governance model was different in that it entailed a fundamental shift from the traditional hierarchical form of organization to the adoption of a more inclusive form of governance. The top-down approach where decisions were formulated at the top of the hierarchy was now replaced with a participatory form. Two major actors apart from the politicians were now included in this model, the civil society broadly conceived and the private sector. The intension of this new mode of governance was to include all the partners in the county in dialogues or discussions of public policy. In other words, there was a shift in emphasis away from command and control in favor of more “regulatory” approaches. These approaches were less rigid than the former government arrangement, less prescriptive, and less committed to uniform outcomes. Theoretically, this new arrangement was one in which the views of all the stakeholders in the society were considered.

Apart from the shift in political decision-making arrangements, new organizational arrangements within the public sector were also introduced. For instance, in many countries around the world, including the Anglophone Caribbean as well, there were attempts to remove the monopoly within the public sector by introducing private sector techniques including competitive tendering of goods and services. Accordingly, countries in an attempt to move away from a monopolistic bureaucracy experimented with privatization, quasi-privatization, the introduction of executive agencies, as well as devolution of activities from central ministries to devolved authorities. The term networking as well as networking systems was introduced as a way of breaking the bottlenecks within the traditional bureaucracy.

Governance therefore was a move away from the traditional hierarchical form of organization to network arrangements. This new arrangement, it was believed, would lead to faster responses to environmental demands. There also was a revision of the relationship between state and civil society in a more participatory direction. Apart from structural changes, the introduction of the “new” governance also led to changes in lawmaking as well. Governance was deemed to be responsible for shifting the emphasis away from statute law to more flexible forms of regulation and implementation. The state, some suggest, thus claimed to be superseded by a “networked polity” where authority is devolved to task-specific institutions with unlimited jurisdictions and intersecting memberships operating at sub- and supranational level.

But it was not only the arrangement of “governance” or law that became the focus. Later, a comparison would be made about what was termed “bad” governance and later “good” governance. “Good” governance comprised eight primary characteristics. It was felt that this model of governance was participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable, inclusive, and adhered to the rule of law. Under this model of government, it was felt that corruption was minimized and that the voices of the most vulnerable in the society were heard. The concept of “good” governance further extended to local governance, and 12 principles were enunciated.

The first principle of good governance at the local level focused on the fair conduct of elections, representation, and participation. Other principles focused on issues of responsiveness of the government to the needs of the citizens, efficiency and effectiveness, openness and transparency particularly with respect to accessing of information, the rule of law, ethical conduct of public officials, competence and capacity, innovation and openness to change, sustainability and long-term orientation, sound financial management, human rights, cultural diversity and social cohesion, and finally accountability.


Farazmand (2004) contends, however, that the concept of “good governance” as defined by the UNDP stems from two major factors. The first factor has to do with the triadic relationship between the state, civil society, and the private sector. This interaction, according to Farazmand (2004), ignores one primary force, namely, the international global power structure. Within this global power structure are the elite actors. These actors he suggested, has to a large extent, replaced the nineteenth century colonialism with imperialism. Another critical issue highlighted by Farazmand (2004) is more normative. He observes the concept of “good” or “bad” is purely the measurements that are introduced by the global elites to suit their particular agenda. Farazmand (2004:11) states a more concise definition of governance as follows:

Governance here means a participatory process of governing the social, economic, and political affairs of a country, state, or local community though structures and values that mirror the society. In includes the state as an enabling institution, the constitutional framework, the civil society, the private sector and the international/global structure within limits.

Governance, as defined above, therefore not only takes into account the triadic partnership with the country but extends to the international actor as well.



  1. Farazmand, Ali (2004) Sound Governance: Policy and Administrative Innovation. Praeger, UK.Google Scholar
  2. Jessop B (2002) Governance and metagovernance: on reflexivity, requisite variety, and requisite irony. On-Line Paper: the service of democracy? J Eur Public Policy, 10(5):695–709
  3. Pollitt C (2003) The essential public manager. Open University Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  4. Rhodes RAW (1996) The new governance: governing without government. PolStud 44:652–667Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social SciencesThe University of the West IndiesSt AugustineTrinidad and Tobago