Governance: An international journal of policy, administration and institutions

Pollitt on “What is governance?”

Christopher Pollitt of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”, published by Governance this week:

There is much to agree with in Fukuyama’s ‘beginning of an effort to better measure governance’, not least his analysis of the ‘woefully inadequate’ state of existing measures. However, in the same exploring spirit, I will use my few words to try to push matters a little further.

Fukuyama does not ask the fundamental question of why we would wish to measure governance in the first place?  This merits debate, since the fast growth of such measures seems to have been mainly driven by the short term needs of development aid practitioners and investors.  Those approaching governance issues with different aims might well need somewhat different measures.

One part of Fukuyama’s analysis which I found disappointing was the treatment of output measures.  I would argue that he gives up on this too easily.  First, he does not acknowledge much of the work that has already been done on international comparisons (e.g. Arndt, 2008; Hood et al, 2008; Pollitt, 2010, 2011; Van de Walle, 2005).  Second, we already have a few strong studies showing outputs and/or outcomes and relating them to specific polices (e.g. Kelman and Friedman, 2009; Propper et al, 2008).  Third, to my mind he does not sufficiently acknowledge the magnitude of the loss if one abandons any attempt to measure the impacts of government actions and settles for just input and process measures.  Finally, I found the discussion of outputs, outcomes and efficiency slightly confusing, as it appeared to blur different dimensions which many authors have struggled, for good reasons, to keep separate.

By contrast the discussion of bureaucratic autonomy was refreshingly clear, and cut through much of the over-elaborate analysis which has appeared in the public administration literature.

Finally, Fukuyama’s observations about the attractions of more disaggregated measures are important.  It may well be that the fruits of such efforts will be greater than from the continued manufacture of aggregate, composite measures that purport, somehow, to sum up the ‘governance quality’ of entire states (Andrews, 2008; Pollitt, 2010)


Andrews, M. (2008) ‘The good governance agenda:  beyond indicators without theory’, Oxford Development Studies, 36:4, pp379-407

Arndt, C. (2008) ‘The politics of governance ratings’, International Public Management Journal, 11:3, pp1-23

Hood, C.; R. Dixon and C. Beeston (2008) ‘Rating the rankings:  assessing international rankings of public service performance’, International Public Management Journal 11:3, pp298-358

Kelman, S. & Friedman, J. (2009). Performance improvement and performance dysfunction: an empirical examination of the distortionary impacts of the emergency room wait-time target in the English National Health Service. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19(4), 917-946.

Pollitt, C. (2010) ‘Simply the best?  The international benchmarking of reform and good governance’, pp91-113 in J.Pierre and P.Ingraham (eds.) Comparative administrative change and reform:  lessons learned, Monteal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press

Pollitt, C. (2011) ‘”Moderation in all things”: international comparisons of governance quality’, Financial Accountability and Management 27:4, pp437-457

Propper, C., Sutton, M., Whitnall, C. & Windmeijer, F. (2008). Incentives and targets in hospital care: evidence from a natural experiment. Bath, CMPO Working Paper 9.

Van de Walle, S. (2005) ‘Peut-on mesurer la qualité publiques grâce aux indicateurs de gouvernance ?’, Revue française d’administration publique, 3 : 115, pp435-461

Christopher Pollitt is Emeritus Professor at the Public Management Institute, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and Editor in Chief of the International Review of Administrative Sciences.

Written by governancejournal

March 6, 2013 at 4:50 am

Posted in commentary


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