Good Governance

“Good Governance” has become a much overworked word as it has had to take on a number of different meanings that were previously treated separately. It is important to separate the “good” from the “governance”.

“Governance” by itself refers to the decision making processes in some context., and as to whether these work or not. “Good governance” can therefore mean that there are competent, operational decision making procedures in a country, or a region or in an institution. By implication, “poor governance” can mean that there is an absence of decision making procedures, or that the decision making processes that do exist are incompetent, dysfunctional, and unhelpful. This is, increasingly, the way that the term is used, in reference to post disaster situations, or in fragile states when the fabric of society breaks down.

According to the UNDP and a few others, good governance refers to governance procedures and processes that are in accordance with international conventions on human rights or other kinds of agreements which promote anti-poverty programmes and support other developmental goals – like gender equity. In other words it is possible to have good governance meaning effective governance (in the sense that the decision making processes are effective and work well) at the same time as the governance procedures are not necessarily helpful to poor and powerless people.

In general, development agencies seem to mix these two definitions, referring to “governance problems” when clear decision making is not evident, as well as when such decision making as does exist usually results in decisions that are not helpful to poor and powerless people.

In order to understand the state of governance in a country or region, it is very important to know how things actually work, and how decisions are made. I had the opportunity, with the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia, to help with the Annual Review of Governance in Indonesia, which allowed the Partnership systematically to look at de iure and de facto processes and procedures.

I was also lucky to be involved in the work of the Centre for Global Integrity, as it designed and defined its methodology for its Global Report – assessing anti-corruption and good governance mechanisms. After much field testing this methodology looks at the laws and the practices (de iure and de facto) in the following areas:

  • NGOs, Public Information and media
  • Elections
  • Government conflict of interest safeguards and checks and balances
  • Public Administration and Professionalism
  • Government Oversight and controls
  • Anti corruption legal frameworks, judicial impartiality and law enforcement professionalism


Documents that I have found to be important are:

Governance Report on Indonesia – Partnership for Governance Reform

Global Integrity Reports – Centre for Global Integrity

World Bank Reports on the Topic of “Demand for Good Governance” (DFGG)

Governance, Development, and Democratic politics – DFID’s work in building more effective states. 2007

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