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Current English-language dictionaries list the following meanings in their definition of ‘governance’: 1: the act or process of governing, 2: the office, power, or function of governing, but also 4: the manner or method of governing and 5: a system of governing. Thus, governance means not only the activity of governing, rather it hints at a particular way or manner of doing it.

While the term has sometimes a normative meaning (e. g. ‘good governance’) in current usages about proper government, governance has gained momentum during the past two decades as an analytical concept (Pierre/Peters 2000). From this point of view the term implies a shift from an actor-centered to an institutional-centered perspective of social coordination for which three aspects are central:

  1. coordination of action, which implies a blurring of steering subjects and objects which are rather mutually interdependent. Within processes of State reform, in which rescaling (shifting and increasing territorial levels of responsibility) and demonopolization (shifting and increasing actors involved in the policy process) gain momentum, the issue of coordination becomes crucial (Kooiman 2003);
  2. from this point of view, multi-level systems (Marks 1992) provide a relevant reference point hinting at non-hierarchical forms of regulation and different game-levels. Though, it is important to notice that network regulation is coupled with a path-dependent hierarchical regulation and a recent market regulation, thus producing specific balances affecting the outcome of governance relations (e.g. number of veto points, level of transparency, etc.);
  3. actor constellations, pointing to the different possible combinations of actors and modes of coordination. Furthermore, the number and the type of actors involved in governance arrangements, and the ties they have (density, multiplexity, accountability, power distribution, etc.), affect also organizational outcomes.

For Renate Mayntz “Governance means the sum of all concurrent forms of collective regulation of social issues: from the institutionalized self-regulation of the civil society, through the diverse forms of cooperation among state and private actors, up to the action of sovereign state agents.” (2004, p. 66, own translation).

Applied to social policy field, the shift from government to governance, from a hierarchical-vertical regulation towards a more cooperative-horizontal one, shows strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, it can increase participation and responsiveness, better grasping social change thanks to an open learning environment. Though, to achieve such a goal some strict conditions are needed, including trust, interdependency, flexibility, proper conflict management, otherwise producing problems of equality, accountability and coordination. These resources are available at different degrees in different institutional contexts, thus promoting specific governance arrangements at the local level (DiGaetano & Strom 2003)

The current debates on educational governance address different dimensions of the education system which are strongly consistent with the above-mentioned issues. Some recurring themes may be identified: (a) a shifting attention from ‘bureaucratic-professional’ (typically through planning, steering, organization and coordination, etc. to ‘post-bureaucratic’ forms of regulation, such as the ‘evaluative state’ and the ‘quasi-market’ models, in other words, from unilateral steering to coordination of action; (b) a view of education systems as complex systems which require a multi-level approach, (c) a decentralization of operative governance (school-based management) as well as (d) a turn to evidence-based policy and evaluation.

In GOETE the term governance refers both to steering mechanisms and discourses and to general institutional arrangements and structures of national and local education and training systems, such as the level of stratification and standardization of the systems; level of administrative competence; influence of actors beyond the nation-state level and of discourses; mode of educational planning; school-day time schedules; allocation of resources (also from a territorial point of view) on education.


Di Gaetano, Alan and Strom, Elizabeth (2003) “Comparative urban governance. An integrated approach”, Urban affairs review 3: 356-395.

Kooiman, J. (2003) Governing as governance. Sage, London.

Mayntz, Renate (2009) Über Governance. Institutionen und Prozesse politischer Regelung. Frankfurt/M.: Campus.

Marks, Gary (1992) ‘Structural Policy and 1992’, in Sbragia, Alberta (ed.), The Political Consequences of 1992 for the European Community, Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Pierre, Jon and Guy Peters (2000) Governance, Politics and the State, MacMillan, London.

(Karin Amos, Marcelo Parreira, Eduardo Barberis & Yuri Kazepov)