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Government to Networked Governance: A global trend

Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev, Policy/ad. on March 27, 2012

Networked governance is greatly increasing in importance and influence.  That’s highlighted in a recent report to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) titled Networks for Prosperity:  Achieving Development Goals through Knowledge Sharing.  And what are the implications for government?

“Government” comprises the structures that are distinguished by their access to “legitimate” coercion – the police, courts, regulators – and their responsibility for ensuring societal “order”.  Within this structure the governance processes are associated with politicians, ministers, presidents and prime ministers.

“Governance”, however, relates to any apex decision-making structures, processes and bodies.  “Corporate” governance, as related to boards of directors and senior management, is a hot topic.

The UNIDO report identifies four manifestations of this shift to networked governance with the rapid increase in:

  • Multi-stakeholder policy development
  • Multi-stakeholder regulatory approaches
  • Cross-functional (Ministry/department/local-to-global) government
  • Non-coercive (‘soft’) policy instruments (norm/standards development)
  • Adaptability and constant learning

Governments come from a “ruler” tradition – it was only a century ago that European nations were dominated by royalty.  In this tradition the mindset is that “the royal “we” (the king/government) have the right/power/responsibility” to do what we want, and the role of others is to obey.  This is still reflected in many government workings, which is an enormous hindrance to the emerging networked governance model.

In the networked governance tradition, stakeholders in an issue are brought into the decision-making process.  This can range from “consultations” to full-fledged peer decision-making roles.  In the latter, the government is a co-participant, often convener and a co-decision-maker.  It brings in views from the government apparatus such as what the government bureaucracy is capable of doing, potential impacts on other government issues, financial and other resources, etc.  And it plays its particular role in implementing the collective decision – often through policy and legislation.  Other stakeholders play a similar role with respect to their distinctive capacity, expertise and resources.

The report points to four types of governance networks:

Network 1:  Inter-personal networks – In her seminal work, A New World Order, Anne-Marie Slaughter points to the growing importance of linkages across national boundaries, such as lawyers and judges who meet in their international professional associations to share knowledge about their practice.  The US in particular emphasizes relationships between military personnel.  This is having great influence on decision-making content, processes and standards.

Network 2:  Intra-governmental networks – These are multi-level (local-to-global) and across levels – the archetypes of the latter being the UN and World Bank.  These define rules and agreements across governments’ distinct jurisdictions, for “harmonization”.

Network 3:  Inter-sectoral partnerships (the report refers to these as “embedded” networks”) – These are modest groups of organizations that have a stake in addressing an issue or develop an opportunity and get together to do so.  These are usually “task” oriented – they have distinctive roles, resources and interests that must be combined to realize a goal.  Often these are referred to as “private-public” partnerships, a term I dislike as reflecting a government-oriented mindset (the UN classifies “businesses”, technically quite accurately, as “non-governmental organizations”);  I prefer business-government-civil society or intersectoral partnerships (“sector” refers to the three organizational sectors, not industries).

Network 4:  Inter-sectoral networks (the report refers to these as “arms-length” networks) – These are networks of partnerships, including Global Action Networks.  They are networks of organizations taking partnership action that are connected to share knowledge, develop power through collective strength, mobilize resources and gain scale.  They are having an increasing impact on setting norms and standards globally, such as the Forest Stewardship Council and forestry standards and the Global Reporting Initiative and corporate reporting practices

Of course there are other networks, such as industry associations and civil society advocacy ones.  (These network types can be further understood in another blog.) But in terms of networked governance as in making societal decisions, these other networks usually participate in networks type 3 and 4.

There are many potential positives about this trend, but a big negative is that the power and responsibility become very opaque and confusing.  We need more tools to make these networks “visible”, such as the mapping ones we did with the Global Finance Initiative.  And we need more clarity in how individuals and organizations can actively particulate.

This all leads to the interesting question about the future of networked governance.  Ten or 20 years from now, will we associate type 4 networks more with governance than governments?  Certainly that seems to be happening in the global sphere, given the lack of global government. UN summits, such as the environmental ones, are more successful as global coherence generation events to spur and support others to take action in a common direction, than as places where global agreements are reached.

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