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Challenge: Contemporary crisis of governance

Metaphor Project

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1. Scope of governance

The experience of the past decades in designing and implementing international development-related strategies, and governing the process through which they become possible, is not especially encouraging. Major disaster has been averted but the early hopes are far from being fulfilled. The situation has become worse for many and the risks of major disaster have increased for everyone. Particularly tragic is the recognition that the international system of institutions is defective in its management of the development process, riddled with inefficiencies and lacking in credibility, especially in the eye of public opinion. This situation has recently been officially documented for the first time for the United Nations system by Maurice Bertrand of the Joint Inspection Unit (Some Reflections on Reform of the United Nations, 1985). It is within the constraints of this context that the sustainability of development advocated in the Brundtland Report needs to be considered.

This paper follows earlier work on the challenges of collective comprehension of appropriateness and the special constraints it imposes on the design and implementation of any development initiative (Anthony Judge, Comprehension of Appropriateness, 1986). The paper addressed the resulting challenges for "governance". This term has been resuscitated by John Fobes, former Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, in order to promote a reconceptualization of the commonly used terms "governing" and "government". In recent remarks to a Club of Rome conference he states:

"The concept of governance emphasizes that order in society is created and maintained by a spectrum of institutions, only one of which is known as government. By examining that spectrum at all levels of society, we can obtain a broader sense of "governability" as it is exercised in policy-making, in providing services and the application of law. Order is certainly part of governance. But I believe that one should also consider governance, at least at the international level, as a global learning exercise. By so doing, politicians, practitioners, activists and academies may expand their thinking beyond the traditional concepts of government, of international organizations and of the exercise of sovereignty". (Next Steps in World Governance, 1985)

Of special value in Fobes' remarks is his creative response to the complexities of the situation. He recognizes that the processes of governance have become increasingly complex and are no longer strictly limited to governments. He points out that the fact that so many individuals and groups, whether NGO's or IGO's, at all levels, want to "get into the act" of learning, if not governing, is both hopeful and chaotic. It is for this reason that he points to the need to re-examine attitudes to different "learning modes". "Learning, and learning to "govern", or to participate in governance, on the part of citizens and their civic and special interest groups, have become part of the survival skills for nations and for humanity as a whole."(John Fobes, 1985)

The dimension of the challenge is indicated, if only within the international community of organizations, by that the latest edition of the Yearbook of International Organizations (UIA, 1990/1991). It identifies over 25,800 international governmental and nongovernmental bodies, acting in 3,000 subject areas, on the world problems described in Section P of this Encyclopedia..

The focus in this paper on the use of metaphor in governance is one response to the recognition articulated by Fobes that: "The stresses from social change that require a broader sense of governance have called into play Ashby's "law of requisite variety" (which may be interpreted as stating that "the regulators or governors of a system must reflect the variety in that system in order to be of service to it"). This applies as much to the government of a country, as of a small group, or even an individual's endeavours to govern his or her own behaviour in a turbulent social environment.

The question explored here is that of the need to provide a sufficiently rich medium for the communication of complex insights in a world in which the possibilities of governance are constrained by the explanations and proposals that can be made meaningful to public opinion. The complexity of econometric and global models in their present form makes it improbable that they can be of any significance to those who must justify their actions to public opinion and receive their mandates from an informed electorate.

2. Clusters of dilemmas

This section endeavours to order the principal factors contributing to the contemporary crisis of governance and of bringing about any form of sustainable development. Such factors may be clustered of course in different ways. The number of such clusters it is useful to select is partially determined by constraints explored in earlier papers (Judge, 1987).

In order therefore to maximize the number of explicit factors identified as contributing to the crisis of governance the following eight clusters are proposed:

(a) Simplicity: Governance, to be feasible, requires that the number of factors or issues on which a mandate is sought, or for which policies must be developed, should be limited in number and defined simply enough to be meaningful. They should be interesting rather than boring. Failing this the preoccupations of governance lose their focus, and the governing body becomes vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some other coalition whose focus is appropriately simple. Conventional strategies in response to this dilemma include:

(b) Complexity: Governance, to be practical, must necessarily deal with the complexities and crises of the real world, whether or not they lend themselves to any meaningful ordering or pattern of mandates for specialized agencies. Failing this governance is overwhelmed by the many pressures of the moment and becomes vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some other coalition that can deal with them. Conventional strategies in response to complexity and the associated information overload include: (c) Requisite variety: Governance, in order to be able to exert some long-term degree of control over the dynamics of society, must itself be sufficiently varied in its policy-making capacity to respond to the variety of issues which may emerge. Failing this the governing body is caught off-balance by the dynamics of the society and is vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some appropriately dynamic coalition. Conventional strategies in response to this challenge include: (d) Operational relevance: Governance, in order to be credible to those mandating it, must be able to formulate its policies in a form which is readily implementable, especially in response to issues which call for immediate action. Failing this the governing body is perceived as irrelevant to the solution of pressing issues and is vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some more practical coalition. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include: (e) Complementarity: Governance, in order to attract support from a plurality of unrelated (or even mutually hostile) sectors, must be able to configure those sectors into a pattern such that they appear as complementary to one another. Failure of the governing body to establish such a context, or community of interest, leads to fragmentation and erosion of its support, rendering it vulnerable to any coalition of wider appeal. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include: (f) Difference: Governance, in order to respond effectively to disagreement, critical opposition and alternative insights, must develop some means of dealing with incommensurable positions. Failure of the governing body to develop such skills makes any form of co-existence with its opponents unstable and renders it highly vulnerable to attack. Conventional strategies in response to such differences include: (g) Containment: Governance, to be able to maintain its domain of influence, must reinforce a certain order within definable boundaries. Failure of the governing body to do so results in an open system vulnerable to the effects of uncontrollable variations in external influences. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include: (h) Empowerment: Governance, to be able to encourage the growth and development expected by those who mandate it, must be able to empower people and groups to undertake and sustain new initiatives of their own accord. Failure of the governing body to do so results in stagnation and disaffection rendering it vulnerable to replacement by a coalition encouraging such initiative. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include: 3. Fourfold principle of uncertainty in governance

As argued elsewhere (Anthony Judge, Beyond Method, 1981), especially in the light of epistemological problems in the social sciences which suggest that a generalized Heizenberg principle operates in the social sciences (Garrison Sposito, Does a Generalized Heisenberg Principle Operate in the Social Sciences?, 1969), the dilemmas of the previous section could well be summarized in a four-fold principle of uncertainty as follows:

Use of the terms "overt" and "covert" could be considered as unnecessarily value-loaded. Alternatives might be "formal" and "informal" or else "public" and "private".

The merit of using "covert" is that it emphasizes the potential for procedural abuse and manipulative processes in certain situations, namely insidious corruption. These points are perhaps well illustrated by the difference between the overt processes in international organizations and those occurring behind the scenes (and covered by security clauses in employment contacts).

Whilst there is much overt discussion of the efficiencies in the overt processes (as in the recent reviews of the United Nations and UNESCO), the dysfunctional features of the covert processes are only discussed in corridor gossip and newsworthy exposés. There has never been any overt study by an international body of corruption in governance at all levels, and especially of corruption in such international bodies. Yet "corruption" is frequently cited in informal reports as a cause of inefficiencies in the implementation of programmes.

This paper is not about corruption but about the inability to fully encompass conceptually the processes of governance in an adequate model or set of models. This results in grey areas in which dysfunctional processes proliferate, however carefully the overt processes are defined. These are the shadow side of governance. Any attempt to envisage new approaches to governance that neglects this dimension, or fails to come to terms with it, must necessarily fall victim to the ways in which it undermines effectiveness.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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