In an early edition of the journal Global Governance, Lawrence Finkelstein (1995:368) rather boldly stated that “‘Global Governance’ appears to be virtually everything” and that “we say ‘governance’ because we really don’t know what to call what is going on”. Despite the wealth of literature and analysis that has since been dedicated to the topic, there remains little consensus as to what global governance is, but rather than a paucity of definitions, we are grappling with too many (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006; Van Kersbergen and Van Waarden 2004).
To help make sense of this multifarious term, it is useful to begin by defining governance. Governance, which Brown and Ainley (2009:129) explain was originally synonymous with government, “has been pressed into service as a convenient term for the collective impact of the various disparate quasi-governmental institutions that have proliferated (internally and externally) over the last century or more” (see also Rosenau and Czempial 1992). According to Thomas Weiss (2000:795), “[m]any academics and international practitioners employ ‘governance’ to connote a complex set of structures and processes, both public and private, while more popular writers tend to use it synonymously with ‘government’.”
In their book “Governance and Performance: New Perspectives”, Carolyn Heinrich and Laurence Lynn (2000:4) state that governance “implies an arrangement of distinct but interrelated elements – statues, including policy mandates; organizational, financial, and programmatic structures; resource levels; administrative rules and guidelines; and institutionalized rules and norms – that constrains and enables the tasks, priorities, and values that are incorporated into regulatory, service production, and service delivery processes.”
Tim Lang et al. (2009:75) contrast governance to government, explaining that “governance implies more indirect, softer forms of direction from the state than command and control, and reflects collaborative outcomes, involving a wide range of actors often from the private sector, as well as from government bureaucracy, as much as deliberate interventions by the state.” They (2009: 81) continue that governance is “an interactive process of state and public laws and policy with private interests and actors.”
In a discussion paper on Voluntary Guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land and other natural resources, the FAO (2009:6) notes:
Governance is the process of governing. It is the way in which society is managed and how the competing priorities and interests of different groups are reconciled. It includes the formal institutions of government but also informal arrangements. Governance is concerned with the processes by which citizens participate in decision-making, how government is accountable to its citizens and how society obliges its members to observe its rules and laws. Governance comprises the mechanisms and processes for citizens and groups to articulate their interests, mediate their differences, and exercise their legal rights and obligations. It is the rules, institutions, and practices that sets limits and provides incentives for individuals, organizations and firms.
To this definition, drawing from the description above, we can also add the rules and practices that set limits and incentive for governments.
To summarise then, from these definitions we can conclude that governance broadly refers to the management functions of societies – formal and informal – that are generally focussed or coordinated around the state or government institutions but include diverse actors, including civil society and the private sector.