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Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Governance: The capacity to govern

Global Strategies Project


In 1994 Yehezkel Dror presented a commissioned report to the Club of Rome on The Capacity to Govern, building on an earlier report by the Club (Note 6.1). As one of the founders of the discipline of policy sciences, and a prolific author on the more challenging dimensions of governance, the Dror report can useful be seen as a valuable challenge to the work of the Commission on Global Governance (Note 6.2).

1. Challenging approaches to governance

In the spirit of this challenging report, it is useful to ask whether it is not based on a metaphor which relies on a simplistic framing of the relationship of governance and governed. To what extent might this be reframed in ecological terms, where it is far less clear where the governor lies? Why the emphasis on "delinking governance" in order to improve its excellence when its quality may emerge from the quality of its linking -- the pattern that connects in Bateson's words? There is a call for transferring "many tasks to other bodies and processes which would perform them more satisfactorily" -- but how is the system of such linkages to be understood?

The effort to improve governance of states needs to be compared with some decades of effort to improve governance of corporations -- and the backlash now developing against fashionable approaches-of-the-month. What is to prevent governance of states going this route?

What happens to useful governance proposals? Where are they gathered? Or are they cast into the information system to be retrieved haphazardly? It is interesting to note the long-term experiment with the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Oslo). Why not a Bulletin of Governance Proposals? Or better still a data base into which links between proposals, and with any follow-ups, could be incorporated. Why not a data base for innovative governance ideas? In this respect, it is appropriate to note a new journal Global Governance: a review of multilateralism and international organizations co-sponsored by the Academic Council on the United Nations and the United Nations University.

As Dror notes, whilst governments will indeed continue to be the dominant form, a key issue will be how that dominance is used, and abused, in relation to other actors. Such relationships call for much imaginative thinking. Governments need to explore how to "work with" other actors rather than constantly seeking ways to avoid doing so -- thus alienating potential partners and support --especially from lookout and exploratory institutions. Whilst it may be a task of governance to "enlighten citizens", historically there is a marked necessity for citizens to first enlighten government --as Dror is effectively doing through this Club of Rome document. This is typical of a function performed by nongovernmental organizations (whose acronym of NGO might be better interpreted to signify Necessary-for-Governance Organizations).

Dror argues the need to speed up the demise of obsolete institutions. Paradoxically the quickest way to contain their negative effects, whilst retaining their positive functions, may be to endeavour to preserve them in a manner analogous to aristocracies and other such symbolic systems. There is a place for bodies which concentrate on symbolism and honouring -- a sort of "elephants' graveyard."

2. Social experiments

Given the call for "More imaginative thinking about policy", why is there almost no reference in Dror's report to social experiments to match and challenge the imaginative thinking around governance. This lack helps to reinforce the marginalization of such experiments and to discourage any investment in them as sources of learning. Many Sociosphere2s are needed instead of Biosphere2s. Why not encourage and collect the learnings of "small community" experiments? Why is there no knowledge base on alternative governance experiments in order not to lose what has been learnt in many marginalized experiments. Inventing new governance designs calls for an arena in which they can be experimented upon.Why no experiments to test out various understandings of the "good life" under different conditions? Many social problems arise from policies based upon untested assumptions about the good life. How is collective understanding to be improved when citizens do not have the opportunity to live in such experimental environments? Why does it take unusual "outward bound" experiences to teach business executives the value of solidarity, etc? Are "societal learning" and the "development of new policy options" not to be encouraged through such experiments? In all the discussion of innovative responses to employment, there is almost no desire to experiment with radical new approaches to employment -- and to find ways of funding them.

3. Critical choices

Accepting Dror's advocacy of "selective radicalism", through what means are such small improvements to be located on a continuing basis? Is there not a place for a sort of "ombudsman" to collect and structure proposals in this realm that might otherwise be filtered out?

Why is there no progress in processes of critical choice? Is this not a core question? For example is it not ironic that many of the people in the Commission on World Governance were party to and supported decisions which contributed to the current situation? It is possible that innovation in governance will only be credible and acceptable to voters when such innovations have in some way been internalized through experiments in other more accessible groupings -- of which Internet may offer many interesting examples. Such insights may permeate upwards from the family as much as down to it.

Governments may indeed retain considerable power to make critical choices, but it is questionable to what degree such choices effectively extend to their implementation over any significant period. As Tony Benn once said, I have all the leavers of power before me, but I have discovered that they are not really connected to anything".

4. Cartography of governance

With regard to Dror's comments on the lack of any universally valid model of governance and the dependence on different value configurations, is there not a case for considering the configuration of different models of governance? What would a typology of experiments in governance look like? Could such a map also be considered as an ecology, or a proto-ecology, responsive to different conditions? It is this configuration or ecology which contains the variety to respond to unpredictable global and local conditions -- it defines the domain of possibilities within which particular solutions may be found at this time. Seeking a single "adequate" model is to reduce the necessary complexity to what may only appear relevant now.

It is interesting to reflect on Lao Tzu's view that when we stress one thing, it in effect escapes us. What is interesting is the gap between that to which we subscribe and what we effectively implement. The Declaration of Human Rights is an interesting example. Dror makes a strong case for categoric imperatives. But there is an equally strong case for looking at ways in which the skilled can use them to disguise abuse. The advocacy of "peace" is an example. Devil's advocates should be used to test them, just as is done with security systems.

5. Avant-gardes

Dror argues for "global networks of avant-gardes committed to raison d'humanité". Many groups undoubtedly see themselves in this light already. But what about the commitment to "raison de planète", as the deep ecologists and others would argue? At what point should the former take precedence over the latter...and vice versa?

Within an evolutionary ecological metaphor, different advocacy groups are each potentially avant garde's for each other. They each represent different potential futures. Which one will constitute the effective "avant" remains to be seen. In a turbulent environment, any such "avant" may subsequently be rejected as inadequate in favour of another -- a least by some groups and societies. Fundamentalism is one such "avant" in some contexts. The points made fail to address the necessary disagreements between the "avants" if they are to be of adequate diversity.

6. Elitism

Dror makes a strong case for more effective use of intellectual elites. How is the appropriate sense of "elite" to emerge when it tends to be defined largely by self-selection using criteria refined by the existing elite and consciously or unconsciously excluding other criteria? There are mediocre concepts of elite. For elitism to work it must be based on a system of mutual challenge to avoid complacency and self-satisfaction. It is difficult to avoid confusing elites with Nomenklatura -- the international civil service and its perks converges on the self-seeking of the Soviet Nomenklatura.

It is unfortunate that Dror uses the phrasing that such elites "will decide our future". The future may in fact be decided by the failure of such elites to decide (as Bosnia demonstrates so effectively) and the decision of the masses to act otherwise -- through transformational breakdowns. The "elites" motivating such revolt are not the same elites. We are where we are because of the abysmal failure of self-satisfied elites to respond to emerging conditions.

It is odd that elites always avoid any "commitment database" --whereby every verbal promise or commitment is registered for later comparison against performance. Such promises would then take the form of a kind of contract with voters -- and breach of promise would become more evident than at present. It is not enough to raise standards, as Dror argues. There must be a record against which performance can be judged.

7. Corruption

The report takes a uniquely creative response to the challenge of widespread public corruption. It seems to be unlikely that corruption can be designed out. There is therefore a case for looking at ways in which it can be designed in with minimum damage to collective policies. This might be called a proactive approach to corruption. Minimally, all projects should have a "corruption vulnerability" chapter (somewhat analogous to an environmental impact audit) -- for this will otherwise be provided by those reading between the lines and seeking ways to turn the project to other ends. The issue is that virtue does not currently "pay" -- corruption does. A major problem is the reframing of corruption through euphemisms as perfectly acceptable "commissions" and the like, or simply increasing the profit margin. Indirect and delayed corruption: the issue of favouring third parties who will, much later, reimburse the "incorruptible" official (or his family), needs addressing in any Code of Ethics. It is not covered by candidate examination.

8. Collective ignorance

It is useful to question why, as Dror notes, people are ignorant of the facts. In large part this is due to the ways in which "fact-holders" tend to present the facts. As with religions, there is a tendency to priesthood-ism amongst elites -- through which fact-holders seek to avoid using means by which people may gain access to such facts without the intervention of some priesthood of interpreters. This relates especially to any cartography of facts. There is a recapitulation of the history of maps as strategic secrets. People are required to invest a long time to gain access through courses and other systems involving priesthood apprenticeship and accreditation. In contrast note the learning available through SimCity and SimEarth video games -- although the medical equivalents are carefully kept off the market.

There remains the impression that, by defining the need of people for enlightenment and guidance, a system is set up which fails to recognize their existing degree of enlightenment and its nature --which some have argued is a reason for their current scepticism with their elected representatives and the democratic processes. By definition are they always less enlightened than government --making a nonsense of any Club of Rome report on governance!

9. Global Outlook Institute

The difficult with the Global Outlook Institute advocated by Dror lies not with what it may be explicitly required to do but more withwhat it effectively chooses not to do -- for all the usual reasons of priorities and pressures from vested interests. It is for this reason that exercises such as this Encyclopedia are of value. It is deliberately designed for "insight capture" -- to be sensitive to variety and minority views rather than to the flavour-of-the-month priorities characteristic of many international reports influenced by majority perspectives. It would be useful to study what think tanks of past decades have failed to detect and why -- especially at the international level.

10. Containing zealots

In arguing for the need to keep zealots within bounds, Dror unfortunately makes use of the whaling example. This is unfortunate given the case of the Rainbow Warrior and its aftermath (especially ten years later). The French government has had the greatest difficulty in admitting any wrong-doing in the matter. One may ask who were the zealots and whose were the bounds? Were it not for Greenpeace zealots, governments would be more than happy to wallow in complacency. There is an infinite capacity for designing run-around democratic procedures. Zealots have their place in inadequate systems -- and most systems are inadequate. Zealots are one necessary counter-actant to simplistic thinking.

11. Symbols and metaphors

More effective use of symbols, as advocated by Dror, is recognition of present conceptual inadequacy and manipulation. The UN has long played with symbols in a sadly unfruitful way. It is for this reason that this Encyclopedia has argued for the use of metaphor, especially metaphor discovered and used by people. It is the metaphor-using potential to explore many facets of solidarity that is more important than symbols of a single monolithic understanding of solidarity. Note that solidarity is based on the metaphor of "solid", suggesting regimentation -- "liquidity" is reserved for economics. Why? There may be valid alternative forms of bonding -- especially in order to capture such notions as "conviviality".

12. Political will and global consensus

Dror stresses the need to cultivate political will. Again Bosnia is an example. It is possible that the reason political will and resoluteness can not be effectively articulated internationally is precisely because it is quite clear that it is being articulated simplistically and inadequately. The challenge is for richer metaphors through which people can understand how complexity is being managed with sensitivity to their particular perspectives. At present all that can be envisaged is an exercise in over-simplification. How is Dror's "shared imagined community" to be built up?

The deep commitment to a need for global consensus, which he articulates, should be challenged, even if ways of limiting its scope are envisaged. Such a consensus is so obviously lacking on values, and for good reason, notably because of failure to distinguish between "universal" values and those cultivated by the West (especially under the banner of the American Way of Life). Having long committed so many resources to the consensus/agreement "horse", maybe it is time to put some on other horses in the race, such as those based on "configured disagreement." There is very little evidence that consensus and resoluteness can be effectively combined in turbulent governance situations. Believing it is possible to do so seems to be part of the problem, as Bosnia has so effectively illustrated. There is a place for more complex understandings and representations of consensus (articulated by mathematics as the study of relationships) that allow for a variety of simpler understandings (through computer-enhanced visual arts).

13. Policy "gearbox"

It is possible that the innovation sought in governance may not be so much a single new model but rather the ability to configure the full range of existing models and possibilities so that choices can be made dynamically between them without hubris. It is the search for the single model which is itself part of the problem. Rather it is the metaphor through which the model set is understood (like the gear box of a car) which is the challenge. The characteristics of each gear are known -- but how to shift between them (with a policy gearbox) is not. It is within this ecology of possibilities that the many actors currently manoeuvre. Articulating this ecology in new ways is a useful challenge.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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