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!

Towards different modes of governance between policy areas


What is the likely future of governance is a topic that has been widely debated (Nye, 2013). This paper will argue that the future of governance will be different from today, questioning who will steer governance and what will be the mode of governance. It will estimate the likely evolution of governance in different policy areas. Modes of governance will not necessarily be similar in these different policy areas. It is because modes of governance are more or less efficient in different policy areas (Klijn, 2010, p. 1075-1077) and the modern output-oriented policy-makers care about choosing the most efficient modes of governance (Peters & Pierre, 1998, p. 230). On an additional note, modes of governance will also differ between countries, as administrative change is dependent on traditions and needs (Peters & Pierre, 1998, p. 241). However, analysing the future of governance in different countries is beyond the scope of this paper, which will focus on the future of governance in different policy areas.

    This essay will be answering two central questions to estimate some of the core evolutions in governance. Who will govern? Will governance become exclusively based on a private model of management?  Each of these questions will be studied in the following way. First, the literature will be presented. Then the likely evolutions of governance within two policy areas (digital and resilient governance) will be investigated. These evolutions will be compared to identify whether modes of governance within different policy areas will differ, or whether there is a common trend in the evolution of governance. Finally, the likely challenges brought by these modes of governance will be identified.

Defining governance

Before aiming at answering what is the future of governance, it is important to define what is actually meant by "governance". Today's governance is still based on the strong Weberian state model. However, the new public governance literature argues that this system of governance is delegitimised because of its inefficiency to tackle modern challenges, leaving space for alternative modes to emerge - networks, public-private ventures and others (Peters & Pierre, 1998, p. 225-227). Overall, Robichau (2011) points to the massive amount of academic papers that aim at defining governance in different ways. It results in the confusion on what governance actually means. This essay will adopt the broadest definition of governance, according to Stivers. Governance is defined as "statecraft" - the art of governing -, aimed at solving policy problems through democracy, with creative solutions (Stivers, 2008).

    The next section will address the first core question concerning the likely evolutions of governance: who will steer future governance? The literature on that topic will be presented, followed by the case studies of digital and resilient governance.


1. Who will steer future governance?

1.1. Literature

Many academics question what will be the role of the government and non-state actors like citizens and firms in the future of governance. The following theories are representative of the wider debate on the role each actor is expected to have (Peters & Pierre, 1998; Provan & Kenis, 2007, p. 234-236). On one hand, the "state-centric approach" (Robichau, 2011, p.117) defends that the state will maintain its central role in decision-making. On the other hand, the "society-centric approach" argues that the decentralisation of government will lead to a significant reduction of its role, transmitting its power to non-state actors. Finally, theorists defending the "state-centric relational approach" (Bell & Hindmoor, 2009) argue that the state will steer governance, with the influence of non-state actors.

1.2. Digital governance - State-centric relational perspective

Digital governance is the field of governance that studies the impact of big data on the way key actors steer and coordinate governance. Big data is the increase in variety, velocity and veracity of the data in recent years, adding to traditional data the real-time data gathered mostly through social media (Giest, 2017, p. 368; Mergel, Rethemeyer & Isett, 2016, p. 931). Who will steer digital governance in the upcoming 20 years? It is likely that the state-centric relational perspective will be the most appropriate to answer this question, as digitalisation has a huge potential in becoming a tool of cooperation between the state and non-state actors. Through the development of crowdsourcing, citizens will be able to give their data to the state, which in exchange will be held responsible for improving its services (Giest, 2017). Also, it is likely that there will be cooperation between the state and social media firms to provide public services, as social media enables massive gathering of real-time data (Mergel, Rethemeyer & Isett, 2016).

    It is important to identify the challenges such a state-centric relational mode of digital governance would bring in the future. It is likely that inclusiveness will be the core challenge. The "digital divide" might undermine the inclusiveness of decision-making, as some citizens will be excluded from decision-making because of a low access or use of Internet (Mergel, Rethemeyer & Isett, 2016; p. 933).

1.3. Resilient governance - State-centric perspective

Resilient governance is the governance when facing a short or long-term crisis. On the contrary of digital governance, it is likely that the state-centric approach to governance will be the most appropriate to identify who will steer governance. In fact, as security is at stake in resilient governance, states want to keep a high level of control on this field (Robichau, 2011, p. 123). It might explain why an important resurgence of state control in many resilient fields has been noticed. For instance, in the case of France following the recent terrorist attacks, the state of emergency has been established. It assigns to the state a role of higher supervision over individuals and their private data (Laffargue, 2017).

    The state-centric mode of resilient governance poses the challenge that states undermine the need for inter-country cooperation.  Economic interdependence has the tendency to incentivise states to prioritise national instead of global governance (Boughton et al., 2017, p. 35). Scholars have noticed that this failure to cooperate between countries reduces each government's performance in resilient governance, as the nature of modern crises is transboundary.

    The role of the state and other actors in the future of governance has been investigated in this section. The next part will address a second key concern when assessing the future of governance. Will governance be structured in a market-based style or in a public sector manner?


3. To what extent will governance be market-based?

3.1. Literature

The main theory in favour of a market-based style of governance management is the New Public Management theory (NPM). This theory defends that the welfare state's legitimacy crisis in the 1980s has proven that the public sector style of management is inefficient. This theory defends that there should be a "unilateral infusion of corporate-sector values and objectives into the public sector and public-service production and delivery" (Peters & Pierre, 1998, p.234). Importantly, it argues competition should be introduced within the delivery of public services. This would stimulate benchmarking to improve cost efficiency and would bring closer consumers and producers of public services. On the other hand, the governance literature, or New Public Governance (NPG), argues that the public sector should not be fully transformed into a private-style management system. Instead, in order to improve efficiency, public and private resources should be combined. For instance, public-private collaboration should be stimulated with the creation of quangos, which are semi-private organisations (Peters & Pierre, 1998). Advocates of this theory are not opposed to introduce competition into the management process, but they do not consider it essential.

3.2. Digital governance - NPG

This paper argues that it is likely digital governance will be following a NPG type of management, mostly because the NPM private-style of management is widely criticised. The Digital Era Governance explains that the NPM system has a negative impact on citizens' autonomy and is institutionally complex (Dunleavy et al., 2005, p. 475). With the rise of Digital Era Governance, there would not be a need for NPM anymore. Instead it would be possible to reintegrate the role of the government as a key actor, coupled with the influence of non-state actors through crowdsourcing. Digital era governance resembles NPG blending of private and public resources, as the state and non-state actors collaborate. Therefore, the NPG management system merging public and private resources should be the most appropriate in this policy field.

    A challenge the NPG framework could bring to digital governance is that crowdsourcing is not an ideal tool to make decision-making democratic (Giest, 2017, p. 376). The government can struggle to incorporate additional data in decision-making, limiting the scope of participative democracy.

3.3. Resilient governance - NPG

In the case of resilient governance, it is likely that the most appropriate framework will be the NPG blending of resources. It is primarily because the NPM model induces serious problems. Particularly, in time of crisis citizens need a political leader to guide them (Boin et al., 2005). However, in the NPM format, there lacks political leadership. NPM introduces disaggregation into the management system, which implies an M-form structure with different public sector agencies to develop flatter hierarchies (Dunleavy et al., 2005). In case of crisis, blame shifting is likely when many agencies are involved as leaders (Lodge & Wegrich: 2012). The NPG is hence more appropriate, as state leaders need to assume their role of coordinator. The smaller number of political leaders in the NPG format makes them more accountable than the multiple agencies in the NPM format.



The future of governance should vary between policy areas, with some major trends identified. First, this paper has looked at who will govern. The literature points to the state-centric, society-centric and state-centric relational perspectives of governance. In the case of digital governance, it is likely that the state-centric relational system will be the most likely. This is due to the increasing influence of citizens through crowdsourcing, and of firms through social media. However, it brings the challenge of inclusiveness with the rise of the digital divide. On the other hand, resilient governance is likely to follow the state-centric approach. It is because there has been a recent resurgence of state control in fields putting at stake national safety. However, it brings the challenge of low cooperation between states, as states mistakenly give a national instead of a global response to transboundary crises. Overall, these policy areas show that different modes of governance concerning who governs should develop. It is however important to note that the state should keep an important role in both policy areas, and potentially in other policy areas.

    Second, this paper has looked at whether the management system will be of a private-style. The literature points at the NPM theory for private-style management against the NPG literature for blending public and private resources. To start with, it is likely that digital governance will move towards a NPG management system, as NPM is detrimental for citizens' autonomy and is institutionally complex. Fortunately, the Digital Era Governance theorists point to the NPG format as a better alternative to NPM. The challenge brought should be that crowdsourcing is not an ideal democratic tool. To finish with, it is likely that resilient governance will move towards a NPG format as well. It is because the flat hierarchy between agencies in the NPM private-style of management should encourage blame-shifting, in a context where citizens express the need to be guided by political leaders throughout crises. Fortunately, the NPG model presents a better alternative, in that state leaders have to assume responsibilities throughout crises. To conclude, NPM is likely to disappear from most policy areas, as it has a negative impact on both policy areas and is widely criticised.



Bell, S., and A. Hindmoor. 2009. Rethinking Governance: The Centrality of the State in Modern Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boin, A., Hart, P., Stern, E. & Sundelius, E. (2005). The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership under Pressure. Cambridge University Press, New York.

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.

Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Bastow, S., & Tinkler, J. (2005). New public management is dead. Long live digital-era governance. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 16, 467–494.

Giest, S. (2017). Big Data for Policy-Making: Fad of Fasttrack? Policy Sciences, 50, 367-382.

Klijn, E.H., Steijn, B. & Edelenbos, J. (2010). The Impact of Network Management on Outcomes in Governance Networks. Public Administration, 88 (4), 1063-1082.

Laffargue, O. (2017, September 26). Etat d'urgence dans le droit commun: les enjeux de la loi. Le Retrieved from

Lodge, M. & Wegrich, K. (2012). Chapter 11 on Risk and Regulation, in Managing regulation: Regulatory analysis, politics and policy. Basington: Palgrave Macmillan

Mergel, I., Rethemeyer, R.K. & Isett, K. (2016). Big Data in Public Affairs. Public Administration Review, 76(6), 928-937.

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

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

Provan, K.G. & Kenis, P. (2008). Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management and Effectiveness. Journal of Public Administration 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, 113-131.

Stivers, C. (2008). Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

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