Returning to Our Roots: “Good Government” Evolves to “Good Governance”

Date01 January 2014
Published date01 January 2014
Returning to Our Roots: “Good Government” Evolves to “Good Governance” 27
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 1, pp. 27–28. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12164.
public management decisions. In recent years, the
attention to good governance has also been criticized.
Grindle (2010), for instance, has characterized good
governance as an “inf‌l ated idea.” Choudry (2002)
tells us, “Good governance is a serious contender for a
prize for the best example of Orwellian doublespeak.”
Such dismissals leave us empty-handed, however, in
our attempts to mitigate or cope with value tensions.
It is easier to agree on what constitutes bad govern-
ance than on what good governance is. Within the
literature, there is an extensive debate about how good
governance should be def‌i ned.
Should it be about procedures only (like most
def‌i nitions of representative democracy) or
should it also contain substantial policies and
outcomes? Should the concept be universally
applicable worldwide (like the UN Declaration
of Human Rights) or should it be relativized
to dif‌f erent cultures? Should the concept be
equated with administrative and economic
ef‌f‌i ciency or should it be understood as some-
thing that explains such ef‌f‌i ciency? Should
good governance include how well those who
govern represent those who are governed, or
should it be about the capacity to steer society?
(Rothstein and Teorell 2012, 17)
Usually, organizations employing the good governance
concept def‌i ne it by constructing a wish list consist-
ing of rules, processes, and behaviors of governments
(Bevir 2009; Brinkerhof‌f and Goldsmith 2005). As
Kettl (1993) claimed, government’s fundamental
challenge in serving the public interest is to balance
the pursuit of dif‌f erent—and inevitably contradic-
tory—standards. Trade-of‌f s between valued principles
are thus the inevitable fate of any design proc-
ess (LeGrand 2007). Ideas of ef‌f ective operational
structures, for instance, could be in breach of the law.
Especially in volatile times characterized by budget-
ary restraints and dynamic stakeholder expectations,
public decision makers face trade-of‌f s between con-
f‌l icting and contradictory public values and interests.
erefore, we believe that a compelling way to think
about “good governance” is as the ability to manage
tensions between conf‌l icting or contradictory public
In this issue of Public Administration Review, we
present a symposium about good governance that
takes us back to our roots, but also forward to our
future. For most of the twentieth century, beginning
with the Progressive movement, “good government”
represented a meaningful aspiration for people who
were dedicated to the betterment and ef‌f ective opera-
tion of public institutions.  e substance and rhetoric
of the twentieth century is increasingly being replaced
today by new conversations about “good governance.
What constitutes good governance? We generally
subscribe to a simple principle: good governance is
that which contributes to the good of society. Good
governance, as a concept, traditionally has been used in
the context of development and developing countries.
It has been common for poorer countries to abide by
“good governance principles” in order to get aid from
the International Monetary Fund or World Bank
(De Graaf 2013). Yet the idea of good governance is
increasingly applied to modern nation-states struggling
to f‌i nd new (multiactor and multilevel) approaches to
public governance (Rhodes 2007). It is this shift that
may explain the recent growth of scholarly interest in
a wider application of the good governance concept.
As the traditional institutions of government no longer
def‌i ne “what works” and “what is right,” questions
about the quality of governance automatically return
to the center of public and academic attention.  ese
questions touch on the ef‌f ectiveness and ef‌f‌i ciency of
governance, as well as elements of ethics (integrity),
democracy, and legitimacy.
e concept of good governance is both appealing and
annoying. It is appealing because it widens the scope
of public performance evaluation. Whereas the New
Public Management movement focuses mainly on
questions of ef‌f‌i ciency and output, good governance
writers refer to a richer and more extensive landscape
of relevant public values and performance parameters.
Such broad ground, however, is also annoying: it is
not easy to attend to a multitude of good governance
criteria in practice. Moreover, many oft-mentioned
“global” good governance values such as voice and
transparency, rule of law, and government ef‌f ective-
ness (Kaufmann, Kraay, and Mastruzzi 2007) may
be conf‌l icting or contradictory in public policy and
Returning to Our Roots: “Good Government” Evolves to
“Good Governance”

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