Governance: An international journal of policy, administration and institutions

de Renzio on “What is governance?”

Paolo de Renzio of the International Budget Partnership responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:

The “beginning” of Francis Fukuyama’s “effort to better measure governance”, as the scope of his paper is defined, provides interesting and contradictory messages on the shape of things to come. Defining and measuring governance is an area in dire need of attention and debate, on both the academic and the policy-making front. I’m often reminded of this whenever I look again at Merilee Grindle’s depiction of the burgeoning ‘governance agenda’ (Grindle 2004, p528), and at the ‘sausage-making’ approach taken by the World Governance Indicators, squeezing hundreds of different indicators into six somewhat arbitrary dimensions (Kaufmann et al 2009). Yet, in my view Fukuyama’s initial efforts do little to advance the field, at least for now.  Here’s why:

Considerable parts of existing work in this area are not covered. I’m thinking, for example, of the pioneering and widely cited work by La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, Shleifer and Vishny on the quality of government and its determinants (La Porta et al. 1999), or of more recent work by the World Bank and other independent groups to think about and produce governance indicators that speak to some of Fukuyama’s concerns (see, for example, this post on the World Bank’s Governance for Development blog). Matt Andrews’ work on the dangers and pitfalls of trying to develop comprehensive definitions and measures of governance would also have deserved a mention here (Andrews 2008).

There are some gaps and inconsistencies in both the definition and the conceptual categories of governance that he puts forward. Fukuyama does not tell the reader how his own definition compares with many others that exist out there, nor why it might be considered better. Also, the four initial categories seem to overlap in a number of ways. His definition of ‘capacity’ ends up encompassing a number of ‘output measures’ such as basic law and order and population registration. And degrees of ‘autonomy’ end up being put on a scale that includes a number of Weberian measures.

Finally, capacity and autonomy in the way he defines them, are much closer to definitions of the quality of government, not of governance. The term ‘governance’ was introduced exactly to move beyond a narrow focus on government, to introduce a broader field that encompasses state-citizen relations and the role of other actors, i.e. in the private and non-profit sectors.

Clearly, taking all of the above into account would require a whole book, rather than a commentary article. As that might be on the cards, I look forward to reading it when it comes out!


Andrews, M. (2008). “The Good Governance Agenda: Beyond Indicators without Theory.” Oxford Development Studies, 36(4): 379‐407.

Grindle, M. S. (2004). “Good enough governance: poverty reduction and reform in developing countries.” Governance, 17(4): 525‐548.

Kaufmann, D., A. Kraay, et al. (2009). Governance Matters VIII: Aggregate and Individual Governance Indicators, 1996‐2008. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4978. Washington, DC: World Bank.

La Porta, R., F. Lopez‐de‐Silanes, et al. (1999). “The quality of government.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 15(1): 222‐279.

Paolo de Renzio is a senior research fellow with the Open Budget Initiative, International Budget Partnership. He is also adjunct professor of International Relations at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Written by governancejournal

March 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Posted in commentary


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