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Just when you thought it was safe to talk about Governance…


March 4, 2013

Francis Fukuyama asks What is Governance?

Doug Hadden, VP Products

We’ve been building a governance framework that shows linkages between the use of technology, such as Government Resource Planning (GRP) systems, and Public Financial Management (PFM) processes to improving governance in government. Our President and CEO, Manuel Pietra, presented a draft of this framework to a class at the Harvard Kennedy School last week.

We recognize that there is no universal “governance” definition.

Now, Francis Fukuyama has entered the fray with What is Governance? published through the Center for Global Development. It’s an important work.

Fukuyama doesn’t pull any punches. He states up front: “points to the poor state of empirical measures of the quality of states, that is, executive branches and their bureaucracies.” He articulates the flaws from current thinking on governance.

Flaws in theory. In ideology. In the difficulty of measuring.

Fukuyama points out that “an authoritarian regime can be well governed, just as a democracy can be mal-administered.

What about those flaws?

Fukuyama focuses on examples where a governance rating can be misleading. But, he doesn’t show whether a rating such as the World Governance Indicator of Rule of Law has frequent exceptions to the rule.

It seems to me that many observers attempt to decompose governance into a limited set of measures and concepts. As Fukuyama attempts. But, perhaps, considering multiple governance measurements, can, in aggregate, provide an effective meta picture. Some flaws might be canceled out. At least, the exceptions could be easily exposed.

Capacity and Autonomy

Fukuyama does good work in presenting the impact of capacity and autonomy in government. He shows the interrelationship between these factors. The need for human capacity to achieve discretion. And, the potential reversal of governance effects through increased public service autonomy.

My sense is that the quality to autonomy and capacity relationship differs when applied to other governance stakeholders such as civil society, businesses and legislatures.


Fukuyama suggests that Max Weber’s bureaucracy ideal of “officials subject to strict discipline and control” is “incompatible with civil service protection.” My sense is that “discipline and control” might relate to governance in a similar way as capacity and autonomy. Governments need to ensure that public servants operate to a budget, and therefore, to achieve fiscal discipline.

The notion of measuring ‘outputs’ as a governance measurement comes under fire by Fukuyama. He is concerned about the “tainting of output measures by exogenous factors” and the difficulty of measuring these outputs in the first. Yes, outputs and outcomes are notoriously hard to measure in government because there is not objective bottom line such as ‘profit’.

I think Fukuyama is confused about outputs and outcomes. Outputs, such as the number of vaccinations or the kilometers or roads built, can be easily measured. Outcomes are the problem. Yet, outputs can lead to better understanding outcomes and can help to determine what exogenous factors are at play.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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