Metagovernance

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

SageKnowledge (reference below) defines metagovernance as the need of formal public organizations to exercise some control over devolved and decentralized decision-making organizations.

In its review of a 2012 book chapter by Torfing, Peters, Pierre and Sorensen, Metagoverance – The art of governing interactive governance (reference below), Oxford Scholarship says:

“The basic argument is that metagovernance is not only a new and important task for governments and other capable actors but also a difficult task that is prone to failure. …  As such, it is claimed that although the concept of metagovernance is new, it helps us to understand practices of “regulated self-regulation” that have played an increasing role in the last few decades [and] … can help us to avoid the misguided idea that interactive governance drastically reduces the role of the government and to secure the democratic anchorage of quasi-markets, networks, and partnerships in elected politicians.”

Writing in the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Knowledge Hub, Louis Meuleman (reference below, link to article above) uses the example of the European Union’s successful introduction of a plastics tax to illustrate how metagovernance involves “combining or switching between governance styles to create and maintain an effective mixture for a specific situation.” He says:

“Successful governance requires leaders to have intuition about emerging windows of opportunity, and instincts for using those opportunities successfully. For example, the current political attention to plastics presents a window of opportunity to address the problem. It arose due to a rare combination of factors. NGO pressure and public awareness played a role, but China also closed its borders to the EU’s plastic waste, at the same time the European Commission was looking for new revenue options to fill the budget gap caused by UK’s decision to leave the Union. A plastic tax suddenly became a politically feasible idea.

“An open mind for using such opportunities is a prerequisite of effective governance for sustainable development, but it is not enough. Successful decision makers do not stick to one governance approach but – by intuition or calculation – use a broad toolbox that draws on multiple approaches. They think beyond the governance style that their organization or culture may be used to.

“Even if we do not realize it, each of us has a values-based preference for governance by either rules (hierarchical governance), partnerships (network governance) or market-based instruments (market governance), or a specific combination of these. This preference can be personal, organizational, part of a national culture, or all of the above. In my work at an international organisation, I experience on a daily basis that my German and Eastern European colleagues tend to favor legal instruments, the Scandinavians and Dutch prefer network tools, and UK and Irish colleagues are inclined towards market-based solutions. Of course, we learn from each other, and are discovering the usefulness of combining the approaches.

“The EU’s plastics strategy adopted earlier this year includes elements from all three styles, which sets it up for success. The strategy’s incorporation of tools from diverse governance styles also makes it a good example of smart and adaptive “metagovernance”. Metagovernance is combining or switching between governance styles to create and maintain an effective mixture for a specific situation. It is by definition context-related, in a dynamic way. It is not just theory, but good practice. In order to use metagovernance as a tool or method, it is necessary to understand the context of the problem. This includes the cultural dimension already mentioned, but also a mind-set consistent with the ‘New Public Management’ movement. Slogans like “less is more”, “break down the silos” and “get rid of red tape” are very popular but in practice have their limits: they sometimes result in more efficient but less effective governance.”

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Modernizing Government in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100.

Sources

SageKnowledge Reference, Metagovernance, at http://sk.sagepub.com/reference/intlpoliticalscience/n355.xml, accessed 9 March 2019.

Oxford Scholarship Online, Metagovernance – The art of governing interactive governance, at http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199596751.001.0001/acprof-9780199596751-chapter-8, accessed 9 March 2019.

Louis Meuleman (2018), Metagovernance for Sustainability: A Full Toolbox for Implementing the SDGs, SDG Knowledge Hub, IISD, at http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/metagovernance-for-sustainability-a-full-toolbox-for-implementing-the-sdgs/, accessed 9 March 2019.

Page created by: Ian Clark and Bryan Roh, last modified on 9 March 2019.

Image: Louis Meuleman (2018), Metagovernance for Sustainability: A Full Toolbox for Implementing the SDGs, SDG Knowledge Hub, IISD, at http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/metagovernance-for-sustainability-a-full-toolbox-for-implementing-the-sdgs/, accessed 9 March 2019.