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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > F, G, H > Governance


The processes and structures through which power and authority are exercised, including decision-making processes.

(Ontario Ministry of Finance)


Governance has been defined in many different ways, but the essence of the concept is that public and private actors act not separately but as part of voluntary, collaborative arrangements to serve a public interest. (Kooiman, cited in Phillips, 2006, p. 11).  

Keohane and Nye (2000, p 12) say “By governance we mean the processes and institutions, both formal and informal , that guide and restrain the collective activities of a group. Government is the subset that acts with authority and creates formal obligations. Governance need not necessarily be conducted exclusively by governments. Private firms, associations of firms, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and associations of NGOs all engage in it: sometimes without government authority."

Rhodes defines governance as "self-organizing, interorganizational networks characterized by interdependence, resource exchange, rules of the game and significant autonomy from the state" (Rhodes, in Phillips, 2006, p. 11). These networks complement markets and hierarchies as governing structures for authoritatively allocating resources and exercising control and co-ordination.

Michael Stein (PPG 1000 Lecture, 2007) defines governance as "the activity of governing; making decisions for society at large."

Richard Stren (PPG 1001 class notes, Sept. 28, 2007) defines governance as "the relationship between government and civil society in the process of providing direction to society and the economy." In this context, governance may be supply or demand driven. Demand driven refers to a bottom-up approach to governance: responding to what citizens want (i.e., democratizing the model). Supply-driven refers to a more dictatorial style of governance. Governance is a strategy to link the contemporary state to contemporary society (partnerships and participation).

According to Robert Shepherd (PADM 5117 Lecture Notes, 2009), the move to “governance” took hold in the late 1990s and 2000s in Canada due to:
- Shifting public expectations about citizen participation and that of other social actors,
- Reduced reliance on technical rationality to guide decision-makers
- Increasing influence of international institutions in domestic decisions
- Increasing complexity of public problems leading to more people having to be involved in decisions in a creative way.

Major features of governance in Canada include:
- Increasingly important role of the media
- Greater sensitivity by government to private markets and actors
- Concentration of power and decision-making in the hands of few governmental actors to steer the affairs of state – driven by the centre(PM) rather than by Cabinet or Ministers
- Increasing attention to “transparency” and “accountability” for government action
- Diminution of government institutions to resolve problems – greater reliance on individuals (e.g., PM advisors)
- Increasing role for central agencies in matters of policy – steering from the centre (Savoie, Court Government, 2008, p. Ch. 7 )

CIDA (2011) states that governance encompasses the values, rules, institutions, and processes through which people and organizations attempt to work towards common objectives, make decisions, generate authority and legitimacy, and exercise power.

The World Bank (cited in Bovaird, 2005, p. 220) defines governance as “the exercise of political power to manage a nation’s affairs.”

The Canadian Institute of Governance (cited in Bovaird, 2005, p. 220) defines governance as "the traditions, institutions and processes that determine how power is exercised, how citizens are given a voice, and how decisions are made on issues of public concern."


Bovaird, Tony. 2005. “Public Governance: Balancing Stakeholder Power in a Network Society." International Review of Administrative Sciences 71 (2): 217-228.

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). 2011. Governance – Overview. Last modified August 2, 2011.

Keohane, Robert and Nye, Joseph, 2000. "Introduction" in Governance in a Globalizing World, Donahue, John and Joseph Nye, Joseph eds, Brookings, Washington. 

Pal. Leslie. 2006. Beyond Policy Analysis: Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, 3rd ed. Toronto: Nelson Education. 

Phillips, Susan D.2006. “The Intersection of Governance and Citizenship in Canada: Not Quite the Third Way." IRPP Policy Matters, 7 (4). Published August 2006. Accessed June 15, 2008.

Ontario Ministry of Finance, Transfer Payment Accountability Directive



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