One of the first questions we wanted to answer was, “What do we mean when we say governance?” and “What areas of governance are in scope for our work?” Our inclination was to start with a taxonomy of the governance space. But, it didn’t seem like we should be reinventing the wheel. Surely, there must be some consensus out there on what governance means. So we turned to existing literature. We soon discovered that not only was there no consensus, each actor seemed to define governance differently.
So we went back to the drawing board. For us, governance encompasses public institutions in the broadest sense: from the mechanisms that bring politicians into office, to the policymaking process, to the bureaucracies which deliver essential public services. The actors relevant for us aren’t confined to those working within government. We are particularly interested in the ways in which citizens and civil society interact with governments outside of elections; the ways in which an empowered populace makes government more efficient and accountable.
Within this broad definition, we’ve outlined three general areas wherein the Governance Collaboratory seeks to foster innovation:
Efficiency. In some places, governments want to do the right thing, but they have limited human and financial resources and/or broken bureaucratic processes. How can we increase a government’s ability to achieve its stated policy objectives? Innovations in this space might address any number of the core functions of bureaucracy – collecting tax revenues, distributing public resources, making purchases, resolving disputes, delivering basic services, and enacting policies. How might we fundamentally redesign these government processes to make them more efficient and effective, without requiring substantial increases in the financial resources or human capital available? How might we enable governments to more actively draw on expertise from outside of government to solve problems?
Social Accountability. Too often, people are apathetic about the poor performance of government and are not empowered to articulate their views. When they do speak up, citizens often hear nothing back or see nothing change, further decreasing their motivation to act. There are profound consequences of the fact that many governments have few good ways of soliciting input from citizens (outside of elections): policies don’t reflect people’s priorities, resources are not targeted to those who need it most, and officials don’t get the feedback they need to improve performance. How might we empower people to more actively articulate what they want from their government? How might we ensure that citizens are able to hold politicians and government officials to their commitments?
Checks and Balances. The reality in many developing countries is that power is highly concentrated and politicians are in business to protect the interests of a privileged elite. Citizens can play an important role in increasing accountability. But, formal institutions matter as well. Changes to formal institutions – that strengthen the independence of an electoral commission, establish an anti-corruption authority, ensure oversight of the executive by an empowered parliament, promote an independent judiciary, and sustain a vibrant media – can balance the almost unrivaled power of the executive. But often these independent institutions are controlled by the same special interests or are set up to fail. What can be done to strengthen existing institutions of horizontal accountability (i.e., legislatures, judiciaries, independent oversight bodies, and the media)? How might we increase their legitimacy and strengthen their capacity in support of a healthier democratic system?