Santiso on “What is governance?”
Carlos Santiso of the Inter-American Development Bank responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:
Francis Fukuyama’s article and project on governance at Stanford University are timely and useful contributions to the current debate on that has re-emerged in recent years on better metrics to measure the quality of governance in terms of (state) capacity and (embedded) autonomy.
However, as Rothstein and de Renzio note, Fukuyama’s approach is much closer to the assessment of the quality of government, than the quality of governance. This is much welcome, as Fukuyama underscores, because the overwhelming emphasis of comparative politics and comparative political economy has been on studying “political institutions that limit of check power” rather than “the functioning of the executive branches and their bureaucracies”, that is “the ability of governments to make and enforce rules, and the ability to provide services.”
Indeed, a new conceptualization of the state and the quality of government is in order to go back to the basics and “bringing the state back in” after two decades of focus on the quality of governance; that is a better measure of the effectiveness of the machinery of government and core government functions. By government, I do not refer to the structure or organization of government, but rather the functions and functioning of government to set policies, implement programs, and deliver services.
A critical challenge of many developed and developing countries resides in closing the “implementation gap” that is the gap between the policies enacted and their effective implementation. It would then be useful to apply Fukuyama’s approach, as he suggests, not only to the different levels of government or agencies of government, but also along the public policy cycle in different policy arenas, such as fiscal policy or education policy. The concepts of capacity and autonomy could indeed be usefully applied to the different phases of the policy process, “upstream” in the setting of policy priorities and the design of policy responses at the center of government, “mainstream” in the machinery of government and the public bureaucracy, and “downstream” in the delivery of services.
Carlos Santiso is Division Chief of the Institutional Capacity of the State Division of the Inter-American Development Bank