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!

On the Way to a More Digital, Innovative and Inclusive Society?

In 2015, the large inflow of refugees, in particular from Syria, overwhelmed Europe. In 2016, the Paris Agreement was celebrated as a historical accord to fight climate change by different global actors, only to be challenged by the new American President Donald Trump later that year, criticising experts in general. In 2017, thousands of private and public organisations became victims of the hacker attack “WannaCry”. The ransomware spread quickly through e-mail attachments all over the world, showing a new dimension of what digitisation can imply (Europol, 2017). These four events seem to be disconnected, but they are united in their implication for the future of governance. How can we increase resilience in the future? Which role do experts and citizens have and how will digitisation change governance? What will be the underlying structures of governance two decades from now?

This paper addresses four major challenges to future governance, namely digital, expert, resilience and network governance by evaluating how they shape governance in the future (Yesilkagit, 2017, p. 14). Governance is defined in this paper as “the coordination and steering of complex societal problems by public and private actors across multiple levels of political systems” (p. 11). It argues that digitisation changes the current governance structure and can function as a solution to increasing resistance against expert governance and politicians, if it leads to a more inclusive and transparent form of governance. It further embeds the developments in the wider context of expansionary network governance, not only on the national, but also on the global level. Network governance in the future is directly interlinked with resilient governance to solve future challenges. After examining the influences of these four trends, the paper summarises the findings in the conclusion.

The paper starts with the developments in the digital sector, where new innovations and big data have an important impact on future governance. Big data refers to “high-volume data that frequently combines highly structured administrative data actively collected by public sector organisations with continuously and automatically collected structured and unstructured real-time data that are often passively created by public and private entities through their Internet interactions” that is rapidly changing the way how our society is organised (Mergel, Rethemeyer, & Isett, 2016, p. 931). The availability of more data and new services enables the development of e-governance, where the state actively uses the digital infrastructure to deliver services, by collecting and producing data. Schedler and Summermatter (2003) argue that the future of governance consists of certain core elements that are completed to create a functioning e-governance model which is presented below.


Figure 1: Basic Model for E-Government (Schedler & Summermatter, 2003, p. 258)

In this model, the electronic Democracy and Participation element (eDP) relates to the preparation and conduction of democratically legitimate decision-making, including the input of citizens to democratically legitimate political organs (Schedler & Summermatter, 2003, p. 257). The electronic Production Networks (ePN) refer to the cooperation between the public and the private sector to supply services. The involvement of the private sector in the supply of public services can vary from high private independence to government-driven innovations (Giest, 2017, p. 370). Electronic public services (ePS) involve the supply of electronic services to citizens while electronic Internal Cooperation (eIC) describes internal governmental processes (Schedler & Summermatter, 2003, p. 258).

The elements presented in the model are however not sufficient to create e-governance in the future, for example digital citizens (e-citizens) that contribute to the new services are required. A potential digital divide can develop in three different ways (a) between countries (b) between regions in the same country or (c) between businesses in different sectors, regions or with different sizes (Asgarkhani, 2005, p. 474; Lateef, 2016, p. 31). Therefore, all citizens and businesses in different regions and countries have to be involved and get access to the digital network and access should not be limited to the elite (Asgarkhani, 2005, p. 484). Despite this, future governance needs a balance between new possibilities arising from the data revolution and privacy rights, as well as effective protection against cyberthreats (Nye, December 16, 2013).  Technological innovation needs to be complemented by a solid digital infrastructure to implement reforms (Asgarkhani, 2005, p. 485).

Different best practise examples show that the transformation to e-governance has already started. For example, the United Kingdom managed to create new ePS and improve its eIC by establishing 14 actions that are summarised under eleven principles and a digital strategy for every department (Cabinet Office, 2012, p. 20). Current developments like the emphasis of the new European Council Presidency Estonia on digitisation and the implementation of the common digital strategy in the European Union or the likely coalition with the liberal party in the newly elected German government, who emphasised the need for digitisation throughout the election campaign, underline the development of full-functioning e-governance in the next two decades, especially in Europe (Ostry & Koch, 2017, p. 1).

This transformation has to be developed in a way that it fulfils citizens’ needs, because governments currently face a legitimacy crisis (Woeffray, February 26, 2016). Citizens do not trust the political elite anymore and have the feeling that politicians neither listen to the public nor are able to solve current problems (Woeffray, February 26, 2016). Increasing expert decision-making leads, especially in countries with well-functioning representative democracies for people that are favourable towards democracies and have a high trust in the political institutions, to negative attitudes towards technocratic decision-making (Bertsou & Pastorella, 2016, p. 448). But the future of governance will be even more complex and requires the involvement of experts. The sustainable development goals by the United Nations provide a summary of the biggest challenges that need to be tackled in the next two decades, including developments like climate change and urbanisation which requires the involvement of experts (United Nations, 2016). 

The rise of populism in Europe and the United States and the new notion of alternative facts make it however implausible that the population accepts a further increase of expert governance without resistance or reforms. The “old methods of command and obedience” are unlikely to work in the future and a redistribution of power could be achieved by a new way of digital governance (Michalski, Miller, & Stevens, 2001, p. 7). Creating services based on the needs of citizens implies that feedback is no longer only limited to elections, but that e-governance will reduce “traditional hierarchies in governmental practices and create an environment where information flow is bi-directional” and orients its services on the needs of its citizens (p. 467; Schedler & Summermatter, 2003, p. 256).

Governments improve their policies and services when they “effectively and efficiently assess citizen behaviour, values and interests” which includes citizens in the problem definition, agenda setting and policy evaluation stage of policy-making by employing the possibilities digitisation has to offer (Beckstrom, January 19, 2014). Apart from that, a new level of government transparency enhances a new system of checks and balances which has already become visible in cases like Wikileaks (Beckstrom, January 19, 2014). Due to the new possibilities, citizens automatically ask for more direct influence (Michalski et al., 2001, p. 15). One example that shows that citizens’ impact is increasing is the Better Reykjavík project in Iceland where citizens present their own ideas to improve the services and operations in Reykjavík and are consulted on which projects they would like to implement; referring back to the basic model on e-governance above, this crowdfunding project creates the eDP element of digital governance (Reykjavík, n.d.). Concluding, if digitisation is implemented in a citizen-oriented way, it has the potential to counter-balance trends like increasing lack of trust and resistance against politicians and expert governance.

The trend of including different parts of the society in politics develops not only on a national scale, but is also visible in a “new global governance model” (Slaughter, December 29, 2015). The beginnings of this new global governance model became visible at the COP21 climate summit. The introduction of collectively supported competition which was supported by transparency did not only include experts and politicians in the debate but also citizens, presenting a new form of “public problem solving on a global scale” (Slaughter, December 29, 2015). This can be connected to a more decentralised approach that is part of the current academic debate on network governance. Networks can be defined as “more or less stable patterns of social relations between mutual dependent actors, which form around policy program and/or cluster of means and which are formed, maintained and changed through series of games” overcoming the classical hierarchical way of governance (Koppenjan & Klijn, 2004, pp. 69-70). COP21 has proven as a good example how a network of different actors can govern the future. Big global challenges need expert knowledge, but also the commitment of society to solve them, making experts, politicians and citizens dependent on each other.

Therefore, the paper argues that network administrative organisations (NAO) as introduced by Provan and Kenis (2008) will increasingly solve global societal challenges in the future (p. 236). Global organisations acting as network brokers coordinate and sustain networks without being a member themselves. Due to the large amount of participants, it is not possible that networks are centrally organised, but they are dependent on a NAO government (Provan & Kenis, 2008, pp. 234-35). However, on the local or national level networks also gain increasing importance and a small number of actors of equal power can create participant-governed networks that organise themselves to tackle local, regional and national problems (p. 234).

A networked society is also able to increase its resilience when it comes to critical infrastructure breakdowns that cannot be simply solved by traditional top-down approaches (Boin & McConnell, 2007, pp. 53-54). Joint leadership by public, private and civic organisations, including experts and politicians increases societal resilience to deal with critical infrastructure breakdowns in the future. Different networks that are prepared and specialised for different crises improve crisis resilience (Boin & McConnell, 2007, p. 55). It is essential that current independent functioning actors are better connected in the future to solve transboundary crises (Broughton, Lombardi & Malkin, 2017, p. 38; Kuipers & Boin, 2015, p. 191).

The analysis has delivered an overview of how the different challenges confronting current governments will shape the future of governance. Due to the scope of the paper, it is not possible to depict all possible different future scenarios. Therefore, this paper examined the four major contemporary governance trends, their interconnectedness and the way in which they shape the future of governance. It focused on digital, expert, network and resilience governance, while bearing the broader implications on democracy in mind. The paper argued that the data science revolution leads to digital governance in the future. Different aspects of e-governance have already been introduced in different countries. The way digital governance is applied in the upcoming two decades is shaped to counterbalance trends of popular distrust towards expert governance.

The paper has shown that digital governance creates a new link between experts, politicians and citizens. More connectedness between mutually dependent actors fosters the development of network governance, not only on the national but also on the global level. These networks can be used to increase the resilience of current modes of government. Thus, the future of governance is a mixture of digital, network and expert governance whose resilience is increased through cooperation. Two decades from now, governance will be more innovative, transparent, inclusive and interconnected. Future research on this topic should focus on how other future trends like urbanisation or population growth shape the future of governance two decades from now.


Reference List

Asgarkhani, M. (2007). Digital government and its effectiveness in public management reform. Public Management Review, 7(3), 465-487.

Beckstrom, R. (January 19, 2014). 2050: How can we avoid an electronic 1984? World Economic Forum. Retrieved October 2, 2017, from

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

Boin, A., & McConnell, A. (2007). Preparing for Critical Infrastructure Breakdowns: The Limits of Crisis Management and the Need for Resilience. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 15(1), 50-59.

Boughton, J.M., Lombardi, D, & Malkin, A. (2017). The Limits of Global Economic Governance after the 2007-09 International Financial Crisis. Global Policy, 8 (S4), 30-41.

Cabinet Office (2012). Government Digital Strategy. Retrieved on October 3, 2017, from

Europol (2017). How does the wannacry ransomware work? Retreived September 30, 2017, from

Koppenjan, J. &  Klijn, E. (2004). Managing Uncertainty in Networks. London: Routledge.

Kuipers, S., & Boin, A. (2015). Exploring the EU’s Role as Transboundary Crisis Manager: The Facilitation of Sense-Making during the Ash-Crisis. In European Civil Security Governance: Diversity and Cooperation in Crisis and Disaster Management (pp. 191-210). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Lateef (2016). Evolution of the World Bank’s thinking on governance. World Bank. Retrieved on October 6, 2017, from

Mergel, I., Rethemeyer, R.K., & Isett, K. (2016). Big Data in Public Affairs. Public Administration Review, 76(6), 864-872.

Michalski, W., Miller, R., Stevens, B. (2001). Governance in the 21st century. Paris, France: Organisation for economic co-operation and development (OECD). Retrieved on October 3, 2017, from

Nye, J. (December 16, 2013). What is the future of governance? World Economic Forum. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from

Ostry, H., & Koch, M. (2017). Digitalisierungsgipfel in Tallinn: Wichtigkeit erkannt, aber keine konkreten Resultate. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Europabüro Brüssel. Retrieved on October 3, 2017 from

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

Reykjavík (n.d.). Better Reykjavík. Retreived on October 3, from

Schedler, K., & Summermatter, L. (2003). E-Government. Journal of Political Marketing, 2 (3-4), 255-277.

Slaughter, A.-M. (December 29, 2015). Why the Paris Agreement is a model for 21st century global governance. World Economic Forum. Retrieved on October 3, 2017, from

United Nations (2016). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved on October 3, 2017, from

Woeffray, O. (February 26, 2016). Could these three ideas reshape governance? World Economic Forum. Retrieved October 2, 2017, from

Yesilkagit, K. (2017). Institutions of Governance [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from

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