Volker von Prittwitz

Basic Types of Governance



Three basic types of governance are outlined, power based, disputed, and bound governance. In practice, these types are combined up to shaping whole political systems. Insofar governance analysis and political system analysis turn into each other.


Drei grundlegende Governancetypen werden dargestellt, machtfundierte (einseitig regelbeherrschende), regelumkämpfte und gebundene Governance. In der Praxis werden diese drei Governancetypen miteinander kombiniert bis hin zu ganzen politischen Systemen. Insoweit gehen die Governanceanalyse und die Analyse politischer Systeme ineinander über.


1. The Term Governance

Governance can be understood as institutionalized coordination. Governance analysis primarily deals with the question how coordinating institutions are and should be shaped. Governance is usually influenced by political processes including actor constellations. Additionly collective criteria like problem-solving, effectivity, efficiency and compatibility with existing norms are relevant.

From some points of view, the meaning of governance goes beyond the meaning of public policy:

a) Governance refers not only to state institutions but also to society.

b)  Governance includes aside of regulative also non-regulative patterns of coordination, such as forms of arguing and bargaining.

c)  Governance usually does not happen as single action. Rather it appears in long-term processes of developing, implementing and learning.


2. Basic Types of Governance

We differentiate between three fundamental types of governance: 1) power based governance, 2) disputed governance and 3) bound governance.

Power based governance is founded on asymmetric influence structures (power): Here powerful actors set, shape, interprete and control rules. Typical qualities are hierarchical structures, privileges or buerocracy. Also group structures such as families, clubs, or networks can be coordinated by power founded ruling governance.

This type of governance is characterized through a relatively simple und clear social structure. That's why this type of governance may be adequate whenever a clear power structur between actors does exist. That particularly holds amongst people with uneven capacities (skill, power). Also in situations with high pressure (particularly time pressure) and low capacities, governance of this type seems to be superior. If there is no clear power structure, for instance in an interest conflict between actors with similar power sources, ruling governance, however, is not effective or breaks down. 

Disputed governance refers to forms of coordination where the involved actors are fighting for who determines the rules of coordination. This type particularly includes mechanisms of bargaining and arguing. Uneven to power based governance, where conflicts usually are suppressed, interest conflicts are legitimate and will be openly treated. Because there are no generally accepted rules, the actors at least subliminally are fighting for the rules of their interaction.

Disputed governance enables coordination processes where different interests and values can be communicated in an atmosphere of reciprocal respect. That' s why this type of governance usually fosters peaceful communication. The involved actors are able to react on changing challenges in a flexible way. However, the current (subliminal) struggle for what rules and terms shall be valid reduces the efficiency of this type of governance. Actors may even be afraid to be deceived, no good precondition for trustful, productive communication...

Bound governance is founded on generally accepted, i.e. binding, norms, procedures, or attitudes.  Here the involved actors feel being bound to general demands, such as to comply with certain social norms, to behave in an ethically sound way, to comply with certain procedural requirements or to fulfil certain role demands (for instance as defendant, attorney or judge in a court process). Obeying these general demands, the actors are, in principal, equal and free. Therefore, bound governance principially motivates the adressed people to behave productively and innovatively. In the final consequence, bound governance increases collective productivity and general welfare.

This overwhelming capability of bound governance is based on the differentiation of two spheres, 1) the regulative sphere of binding demands, 2) the operative sphere of free decisions within the given demands. If both spheres are mixed (for instance through corruption), the whole logic and attractivity of bound governance does collapse. That's why it is a fundamental requirement of bound governance to avoid any mixture of its regulative and operative spheres.

This clear insight should not be confused through the fact that the term bound governance is referred to two different aspects: a) putting or using certain patterns of coordination that allow the addressed actors to act freely within binding demands (active governance aspect), b) forms of coordination that themselves are bound to certain binding demands (passive governance aspect). Independently on whether we look at the active or the passive aspect of governance, in any case the regulative and the operative spheres of governance have strictly to be separated form each other.

In sum, we state different types of governance with different relations to power: Power based governance reproduces and reinforces one-sided power structures. Disputed governance reproduces and strengthens more open structures where different actors fight for influence. Bound governance depends on common acceptance of certain binding norms or demands by all involved actors, that is a certain degree of bonds and equality along with guaranteed liberties of any addressee. Those different types of governance have, in any case, specific capabilities. Therefore, each of them fits in an optimal way to certain preconditions and each of them may be used in an optimal way within governance systems.  

3. Governance Systems

In principle, the outlined types of governance are clearly distinguished from each other. Bound procedures loose their legitimation and effectivity if they are manipulated or completely determined by powerful actors (Example: manipulated elections). Also disputed governance turns by forced power – the pistole in the back of the bargaining partner – into a persiflage. In spite of these differences, there is in practice a variety of relations between the different types of governance:

Governance usually is realized in mixed forms. How general procedures work, for example, is often influenced by powerful networks. Beside the logic of bound procedures, therefore, the logic of bargaining or even the logic of pure power gets influence. Vice versa, typical forms of power based governance, such as bureaucratic coordination, usually has also components of bound governance. 

Certain types of governance depend on other governance types. For example, democratic elections require security of both, the candidates and the electorate. Security usually depends on an effective state monopoly of force, i.e. a power based structure.

Governance types have side-effects. Actors accept each other only as bargaining partners if they can offer something valuable, i.e. they have bargaining power. That's why bargaining is not only a form of rule disputed governance between the immediatly involved persons but also exercising power against third parties without bargaining power.  

Indeed, different types of governance only seldom merge with each other in totally diffuse forms. Induced by leading ideas and traditions as well through certain actor constellations, rather certain systems of governance arise. Of particular relevance is the difference between procedurally bound systems including democracies and autocracies where power founded forms of governance are dominating. A peculiar challenge of governance analysis arises through anomic structures where no legitimate rule and no legitimate procedures exist. That's why the discussion of governance, finally, turns into the analysis of political systems.


Based on: Prittwitz, Volker von 2007: Vergleichende Politikanalyse, Stuttgart, UTB 2871, 210 - 248: http://www.utb.de/katalog_suchen_detailseite.jsp?buchid=1686