Sub-theme 47: Public Governance: A Kaleidoscope of Levels, Structures and Roles

Luca Gnan
Tor Vergata University, Rome, Italy
Tony Bovaird
University of Birmingham, UK

Call for Papers

Public sector dynamics have changed radically over the last decades. Two changes have been particularly significant (Cornforth, 2003): (a) the creation of a wide range of agencies to deliver public services; and (b) the increasing adoption of market-type mechanisms through the separation of the "purchaser" (that keeps being the guarantor of the satisfaction of public needs) from the "provider" role (responsible for delivering the services).

These strategic changes have lead to a change of the public governance concept. Since the term governance has been used with many different meanings, we have adapted a framework from Jessop (1995) and Kooiman et al. (1999) in order to specify the topic of this sub-theme. The framework distinguishes between macro (state or society), meso (networks) and micro (single organizations) levels. Moreover, we suggest distinctions between the notions of governance systems, governance mechanisms and governance roles. A governance system is the set of governance mechanisms for directing and controlling an organization. A governance system is sustained by a series of governance mechanisms, which embody the governance roles undertaken by the various stakeholders; in turn, governance roles encompass the tasks to be performed within each governance mechanisms and the relationships between the various stakeholders. We also refer to the term governance in order to understand the new arrangements in public services provision resulting from the shift away from a unitary state to a more fragmented system of government (Rhodes, 1997).

The focus of the sub-theme is mainly on the "micro" or "organizational" level. The term governance is primarily conceptualized as "organizational governance", i.e. the systems by which a public or non profit organization is directed, controlled and made accountable. Accordingly, governance deals with the rights and responsibilities of an organization's governing body, its management, shareholders, and stakeholders (Charkham & Simpson, 1999). However, we are also interested in how this 'organizational governance' relates to the meso-level of governance in the networks within which public service organizations operate.

Compared to the wider debate on corporate governance in the private sector and to the literature on the macro and meso levels of governance in the public sector, the micro-level governance of public organizations remains "a neglected area of governance" (Corkery & Wettenhall, 1990). This is also acknowledged by Hodges, Wright & Keasey (1996) and Ostrower & Stone (2001) stating that a number of relevant issues still remain under-investigated in the public domain and in the non profit sector.

Against this backdrop, the sub-theme aims: (1) at contributing to the definition of the theoretical components that assign a innovation role to governance systems in public organizations; (2) at showing the opportunity for a deeper analysis of governance mechanisms in their relationships with both the external (stakeholders) actors and the internal (management) actors; (3) at addressing the conditions which enable governance mechanisms to effectively cover their own roles.


Corkery, J. & R. Wettenhall (1990): Public Enterprise Boards: A Neglected Area of Governance. Brussels: International Institute of Administrative Sciences.
Cornforth, C. (2003): The Governance of Public and Non-Profit Organizations. What do boards do? London: Routledge.
Hodges, R., M. Wrigh & K. Keasey (1996): "Corporate governance in the public services: Concepts and issues." Public Money & Management, 16 (2), 7-13.
Jessop, B. (1995): "The regulation approach, governance and post-Fordism: alternative perspectives on economic and political change." Economy and Society, 24 (3), 307-33.
Kooiman, J., M. van Vliet & S. Jentoft (1999): Creative Governance: Opportunities for Fisheries in Europe. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Ostrower, F. & M.M. Stone (2001): Governance Research: Trends, Gaps and Prospects for the Future. Paper presented at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) Annual Conference 2001, Miami, Florida, November 27–December 1.
Rhodes, R. (1997): Understanding Governance: Policy Networks, Governance, Reflexivity and Accountability. Buckingham: Open University Press.


Luca Gnan 
Tony Bovaird