… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Concept description

The Business Dictionary (reference below) defines decentralization as the “transfer of decision making power and assignment of accountability and responsibility for results … accompanied by delegation of commensurate authority to individuals or units at all levels of an organization even those far removed from headquarters or other centers of power.”

Administrative decentralization

The World Bank (reference below) writes:

“Administrative decentralization seeks to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of government. It is the transfer of responsibility for the planning, financing and management of certain public functions from the central government and its agencies to field units of government agencies, subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, or area-wide, regional or functional authorities.

“The three major forms of administrative decentralization – deconcentration, delegation, and devolution – each have different characteristics.

Deconcentration – which is often considered to be the weakest form of decentralization and is used most frequently in unitary states– redistributes decision making authority and financial and management responsibilities among different levels of the central government. It can merely shift responsibilities from central government officials in the capital city to those working in regions, provinces or districts, or it can create strong field administration or local administrative capacity under the supervision of central government ministries.

Delegation is a more extensive form of decentralization. Through delegation central governments transfer responsibility for decision-making and administration of public functions to semi-autonomous organizations not wholly controlled by the central government, but ultimately accountable to it. Governments delegate responsibilities when they create public enterprises or corporations, housing authorities, transportation authorities, special service districts, semi-autonomous school districts, regional development corporations, or special project implementation units. Usually these organizations have a great deal of discretion in decision-making. They may be exempt from constraints on regular civil service personnel and may be able to charge users directly for services.

Devolution. A third type of administrative decentralization is devolution. When governments devolve functions, they transfer authority for decision-making, finance, and management to quasi-autonomous units of local government with corporate status. Devolution usually transfers responsibilities for services to municipalities that elect their own mayors and councils, raise their own revenues, and have independent authority to make investment decisions. In a devolved system, local governments have clear and legally recognized geographical boundaries over which they exercise authority and within which they perform public functions. It is this type of administrative decentralization that underlies most political decentralization.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Organizational Design and Behaviour (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Source, decentralization, at, accessed 19 January 2017.

World Bank, Decentralization, at, accessed 19 January 2017.

Page created by: Steven Tavone, last modified by Ian Clark on 19 January 2017.

Image: Idar Nouti, LinkedIn, at, accessed 19 January 2017.