Governance and Global Affairs Blog

Student perspective: The future of governance

Student perspective: The future of governance

In the master course Public Institutions, students where asked about how they see the future of governance. The best papers of our students are now available on this blog. Have a closer look!

The Future of Governance: a historical approach on developments in governance forms

Within the academic field of Public Administration, the development of governance is a widely studied subject (Robichau, 2011). It can be defined as “the steering and coordination of complex societal problems by public and private actors at various levels of the political system” (prof. dr. A.K. Yesilkagit, personal communication, September 11, 2017). Despite its key role in achieving complex societal goals, governance faces some difficult challenges as well. During the last decades, for instance, populist attitudes among citizens are rising and the current political establishment is more often not trusted (Bertsou & Pastorella, 2017; Akkerman, Mudde & Zaslove, 2013). These developments not only show disunity within society, but also large dissatisfaction with the governmental system.

It is interesting to take a closer look at how these challenges are to be dealt with in the next twenty years. Once we have a better understanding of this, it becomes clear what to expect and what the primarily focus of those governing should be. This paper will therefore address the following question: What are the most optimal forms of steering and coordination that involves public and private actors at various levels of the political system that can address humankind’s most pressing problems in the 21st century?

In this essay, I will first elaborate on two former forms of government, being Old Public Administration (OPA) and New Public Management (NPM). After that, I will dive into the upcoming New Public Governance (NPG) and the new role for citizens. By using the theory of the participation ladder, I will then argue that network governance and citizen engagement is likely to grow within the next twenty years from now. Incorporating citizens in the governance network can be an effective way to deal with the earlier described challenges. The historical approach of this paper will give a clear understanding of the different forms of governance and guide us towards the future.

Paradigm shifts in governance

After World War II, the established welfare state got extended in especially European countries (Peters & Pierre, 1998). The primary focus of government was no longer to solely provide safety, but also to invest in education and healthcare. This form of government was based on input legitimacy and complied with strict predetermined rules and procedures (Iacovino, Barsanti & Cinquini, 2017). The underlying idea of the welfare state was to mitigate social and economic inequality which were created by the capitalist economies (Boyle & Harris, 2009). Professional knowledge went largely unchallenged in that time (Boyle & Harris, 2009). The resource allocation mechanism of this form of government, now often referred to as Old Public Administration, can be characterized as a hierarchy (Robichau, 2011). Over the years, however, limitations of the extending welfare state, such as the rising costs of all new services, became more visible (Bovaird, 2007; Hood, 1991).

During the 1980’s, OECD countries started to move towards New Public Management, also known as NPM (Hood, 1991). NPM was a new way of managing, inspired by business-oriented styles that focus on efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector (Hood, 1991). In many Western countries, the new way of managing had to counteract the emerging dissatisfaction among citizens (Hood,1991). Governments started to prioritize economic growth above social and economic equality and citizens were seen as consumers from now on (Boyle & Harris, 2009). This lead to the privatization and contracting out of public services, using the market as its resource allocation mechanism (Robichau, 2011). These changes moved government away from its role as the central actor that could determine what is best for society (Peters & Pierre, 1998).

Although the NPM approach seemed to work well, the primary focus on efficiency undermined the “innovation, flexibility and learning, and the ability of any public service organization to achieve its objectives creatively and effectively” (Boyle & Harris, 2009, p. 8). According to Boyle & Harris, “public services have become constrained by the New Public Management of centralized targets, […] and customer relationship management software” (2009, p. 5). The systems had become more inflexible than before, due to the divisions between policymakers and citizens. Hence, measures were needed to “free up the concrete structures and procedures of public services to make them more effective and cost-efficient” (Boyle & Harris, 2009, p. 5).

After the NPM era, a third subsequent type of governance came into place, namely New Public Governance. The NPG model sees the government not only as “a plural state, where multiple interdependent actors contribute to the delivery of public services”, but also as “a pluralist state, where multiple processes inform the policy-making system” (Osborne, 2010, p. 9). In New Public Governance, the professionals interact with networks of organizations in an inter-organizational context (Brandsen & Honingh, 2013). Their legitimacy is, as with NPM, based on organizational output and professional standards, but also on inter-organizational and communication skills (Brandsen & Honingh, 2013). For scholars, NPG offers “an alternative perspective with the capacity to analyze the intricacies of design, delivery, and management of present-day public services” (Robichau, 2011, p. 118).

Towards the future: citizens’ role and the degree of participation

These different forms of governance all have a different perspective on the role of citizens. In the OPA period, the “proper role of the public traditionally had been viewed as confined to policy making by elected bodies” (Moynihan & Thomas, 2013, p. 787). During the 1980’s, citizen participation reforms lead to a more responsiveness government by engaging with the citizens. In the NPM era, the main focus was to improve government performance by aiming for “customer-driven government” (Osborne & Gaebler, 1993, p. 166). NPG scholars state governments can not provide all public services on their own (Moynihan & Thomas, 2013). Rather, “networks of private and nonprofit entities, members of the public, and governments” are needed to deliver public services (Moynihan & Thomas, 2013, p. 788). In this governance model, citizens are seen as partners instead of customers (Moynihan & Thomas, 2013).

These different roles and the input of citizens can be placed among the so-called Participation ladder by Arnstein (1969). The Participation ladder consists of eight different rungs, merged into three main groups. The first group, non participation, consists of ‘manipulation’ and ‘therapy’, and entails politicians teaching and steering the citizens. These forms are used “to enable powerholders to ‘educate’ or ‘cure’ the participant” (Arnstein, 1969, p. 217), but seem not to occur in the recent governance forms. The second group, degrees of tokenism, consists of ‘informing’, ‘consultation’ and ‘placation’. In these rungs, civil servants still take the lead in the governmental processes, but while listening to citizens’ input. However, there is no strict obligation to listen to these citizens and therefore they can hardly change the status quo (Arnstein, 1969). Both the OPA and NPM model seem to fit in this category, in which the OPA model has informing and consultation through voting as its main pillars, while NPM leans towards placation. In the rung of placation, “the groundrules allow have-nots to advise, but retain for the powerholders the continued right to decide” (Arnstein, 1969, p. 217). The third group, degrees of citizen power, includes the rungs of ‘partnership’, ‘delegated power’, and ‘citizen control’ (Arnstein, 1969). In these rungs, civil servants actively collaborate with citizens, as is also evident in the NPG era. The main difference with group two is that citizens now have formal power within the decision making process and can therefore make a difference (Arnstein, 1969).

Currently, there seems to be a trend in OECD countries towards collaboration with citizens in all sorts of projects. According to Bovaird (2007), services are no longer solely delivered by public professional, but are co-produced by the users of those services and their communities. This shows a paradigm shift towards NPG is taking place, since citizens are more often seen as partners. Despite the fact that this change is expressed in each country differently, examples of co-production projects can be derived from the UK (Bovaird, 2007), the Netherlands (Moynihan & Thomas, 2013), the USA (Etzioni, 1995), France, Germany, Sweden (Pestoff, 2006), Brazil, Mexico (Ackerman, 2004; Fung & Wright, 2001), and so on. These examples illustrate co-production is a widespread phenomena and not exclusive to the last ten years.

When we take a look at the future, and extend the trend of the past decades, it is plausible that governments are going to enlarge the degree of citizen power in the upcoming twenty years even more. Acknowledging citizens as a legitimate actor in the production and delivery of public services offers governments a chance to cope with the dissatisfaction among citizens. However, as noted by Peters & Pierre (1998), path dependency of administrative systems results in incremental but consistent changes. The role of civil servants is therefore likely to slowly change from executing and facilitating, as it has been during the OPA and NPM era, towards mediating and co-producing, like in the NPG model. Citizens, on the other hand, will no longer be seen as consumers, but rather as partners to jointly deliver public services in a network form. These predictions also find support in several studies from scholars who looked at the role of networks. An example of this would be Jackson’s article (2009), in which he states that the future government will need to function as an ‘broker’ between the public and the private sector, even though the boundaries of the state may be unclear.

Although Provan & Kenis (2008) have identified different forms of network governance, it would be premature to gamble which modes will dominate in the future. Since the emergence of the New Public

Governance era is relatively new, it is hard to predict what the full effects of citizen engagement on a large scale will be. When citizens are for instance unwilling to spend time on co-producing or when they get disappointed about how they are being treated in the co-production process, citizen engagement may lead to negative results (Irvin & Stansbury, 2004). In any case, the governance system will have to adapt itself to environmental influences. For now, engaging citizens and starting co-production processes seems to be the only way to overcome the current dissatisfaction among society (Boyle & Harris, 2009). On a more abstract level, steps towards greater citizen enlargement can be the core mechanism to seal the gap between government and society, but it is hard to predict how the future network forms will exactly look like.

In this paper, a historical approach to governmental systems has been used to predict the future of governance and its reaction to the rising devision between government and society by using the participation ladder. The last seventy years have been subject to governmental change. Old Public Administration is underpinned by New Public Management, that is now being followed by New Public Governance. In the latter system, co-production is widely used to provide services jointly with its users.

For the upcoming twenty years, the most optimal forms of steering and coordination that involves public and private actors at various levels of the political system are expected to be the three highest rungs of the ladder of citizen participation. By partnering with and delegating power to citizens, public actors can operate in a governance network to provide public services. Citizen engagement can therefore be seen as a mechanism to gain trust from citizens and raise satisfaction.

Although this all seems positive, there will always be remaining challenges for governance. Not only citizen satisfaction is a complex subject, governments also need to deal with external influences they can hardly control. Examples include technological developments, but also systematic disruptions as natural disasters and financial crises. Further research is needed to get a broader understanding of how all these challenges influence each other and what the effects on governance will be. Hence, it remains hard to fully predict what the future of governance will look like.


Ackerman, J. (2004). Co-Governance for Accountability: Beyond “Exit” and “Voice.” World Development, 32(3), 447-63.

Akkerman, A., Mudde, C. & Zaslove, A. (2013) How Populist Are the People? Measuring Populist Attitudes in Voters. Compara,ve Poli,cal Studies, 47(9), 1324-1353.

Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Associa,on, 35(4), 216-224.

Bertsou, E. & Pastorella, G. (2017). Technocratic Attitudes: A Citizens’ Perspectives of Expert Decision-Making. West European Poli,cs, 40(2), 430-458.

Bovaird, T. (2007). Beyond Engagement and Participation: User and Community Coproduction of Public Services. Public Administration Review, 67(5): 846-860.

Boyle, D. & M. Harris (2009). The Challenge of Co-produc,on. How equal partnerships between professionals and the public are crucial to improving public services. Discussion paper. London: NESTA.

Brandsen, T. & M. Honingh (2016). Distinguishing Different Types of Coproduction: A Conceptual Analysis Based on the Classical Definitions. Public Administra,on Review, 76(3), 427-435.

Etzioni, A. (1995). The Spirit of Community: Reinvention of American Society. London: Fontana Press.

Fung, A. & Wright, E. O. (2001). Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. Politics and Society, 29(1), 5-41.

Hood, C. (1991). A public management for all seasons? Public Administration, 69(1), 3-19.

Iacovino N. M., Barsanti, S. & Cinquini, L. (2017). Public Organizations Between Old Public Administration, New Public Management and Public Governance: the Case of the Tuscany Region. Public Organization Review, 17(1), 61-82.

Irvin, R. & Stansbury, J. (2004). Citizen participation in decision making. Is it worth the effort? Public Administration Review, 64(1): 55-65.

Jackson, P. M. (2009). The Size and Scope of the Public Sector. In Public Management and Governance, 2nd ed., eds. T. Bovaird, and E. Löffler. New York: Routledge, 27-40.

Moynihan, D.P. & J.C. Thomas (2013). Citizen, Customer, Partner: Rethinking the Place of the Public in Public Management. Public Administration Review, 73(6), 786-796.

Osborne, S. P. (2010). The New Public Governance? Emerging Perspectives on the Theory and Practice of Public Governance. London: Routledge, 1-16.

Osborne, D. & Gaebler, T. (1993). Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. New York: Penguin.

Pestoff, V. (2006). Citizens and Co-Production of Welfare Services: Childcare in eight European countries. Public Management Review, 8(4), 503-519.

Peters, B.G. & Pierre, J. (1998). Governance without Government? Rethinking Public Administration. Journal of Public Administra,on Research and Theory, 8(2), 223-243.

Provan, K.G. & Kenis, P. (2008). Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management and Effectiveness. Journal of Public Administra,on Research and Theory, 18(2), 229-252.

Robichau, R.W. (2011). The Mosaic of Governance: Creating a Picture with Definitions, Theories, and Debates. Policy Studies Journal, 39(1), 113-131.

Add a Comment

Name (required)

E-mail (required)

Your own avatar? Go to

Remember me
Notify me by e-mail about comments