This book defines governance in very broad terms as the structured network of rules and relationships through which people exercise power over each other’s behaviour: they negotiate in economic transactions; they have codes of behaviour which they expect each other to comply with; they create institutions to keep order and to provide other collective services; and they appoint people to make decisions on their behalf. Governance, in this usage of the term, is a shared understanding of how power will be exercised in a society; it will probably not completely satisfy any individual and may be only grudgingly accepted.
People can exercise power on a peer-to-peer basis or from positions of formal authority. Power, in this sense of the word, is a form of influence or control; coercion might be used in some cases. The following examples of the use of power show how widely it varies:
- People might build fences to protect themselves and their property.
- A driver obeys a policeman’s traffic instruction.
- A bank manager sets conditions for making a loan to a customer.
- A local council increases property taxes to pay for more police.
- A parent teaches a child not to hurt other children.
- Someone asks a neighbour to make less noise.
- Consumer demand leads to a company producing a new product.
All of these are uses of power – but the first is an example of Self-Protection whereas the others are part of, or are subject to, governance as defined in this book. In the last example, under the regulations which govern buying and selling, consumers are exercising their purchasing power – thereby affecting the employment and prosperity of other people.
It is difficult to define what constitutes good governance; people have different ideas and needs. They might want their governance to meet some, if not all, of the following requirements:
- People want to be protected from physical harm or the threat of harm. This might include protection from environmental threats or from economic hardship.
- Governance might be seen as having a role in enabling everyone to have theopportunity to flourish as well as their talents, and the society’s circumstances, permit.
- It might be judged on the extent to which it supports a cohesive societywhich people feel that they belong to, which is supportive, which they contribute to, and in whose wealth they share.
- Publicservices and infrastructure should be adequate and should be competently managed.
- The economy should be managed for everyone’s benefit.
- Politiciansshould be competent, trustworthy and conform to established rules.
- They should be responsive: allowing people to express their wishes and needs, and being prepared to negotiate meaningfully.
- They should serve the public interest, not abuse their power for personal gain.
- Clearly-identifiable mechanisms should exist for the appointment and replacement of leaders.
- Governance should allow people a considerable freedom of choiceand not unduly restrict their individual liberty.
- It should be inclusive– that is to say it should treat the whole population equally and no-one should be unjustly treated.
- It should ensure that people’s human rights are respected.
These requirements can be grouped: the first five are about what people might think that governance should achieve, the next four are about people’s relationship with those who have been given leadership responsibilities, and the last three are about safeguarding individuals.
Each of the governance requirements listed here is subjective in two ways: people have different views on what kind of life they want to lead; and they differ on what role, if any, they want governance to play in helping them to realise their aspirations.
What satisfies one person may not satisfy another, so all these requirements can be contested. People will define them differently, or perhaps have a different list. Each can be satisfied in different ways, to varying degrees. There are no universally accepted standards of expectation for any of them. Some people see God as being the only arbiter of what is right and wrong, but religious authorities differ in their interpretations of what God wants. Disagreement is inevitable, as illustrated in the next section, but all societies implement systems of governance with some degree of compliance to these requirements.
The list is intended to be indicative of the type of characteristics that people expect from their governance; it is used as a mechanism to identify reasons why particular patterns of power might or might not be acceptable. Some of these requirements are treated as specific topics in the five chapters which analyse the dimensions of power, but negotiability, inclusivity and prudence are characteristics which affect many topics – so they are further defined in this chapter and are revisited in the last chapter.
Links are made directly to these requirements in the following chapters; they are cross-referenced in the index; and at the end of the book they are used as a checklist against which to assess the feasibility of improvements.
© PatternsofPower.org, 2014