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Article Summary

Rhodes, R.A.W., (1996). The New Governance: Governing without Government, Political Studies XLIV:652-667.

In this article Rhodes grapples with the significance and definitions of governance as a way to explicate the trends and form of British government reform since the 1980s. Rhodes reviews and critiques various definitions of governance. And find these inadequate in explaining the new governing structure that had developed in Britain by 1995. Rhodes begins by identifying two generally accepted and understood governing structures 1) hierarchies, namely government bureaucracies, and 2) markets, the rallying cry of privatization advocates in the 1980s. Rhodes, however, finds these lacking in explanatory power and adds a third one, networks, which he recasts as governance, and posits as an alternative conception of contemporary governing structure in Britain. Before arriving at his definition of governance as self-organizing networks, Rhodes evaluates different strands of literature assessing government reform and governance in order to arrive at a critical assessment of how the term governance may contribute to our understanding of the current working of governments as they become increasingly embedded in network relationships in order to provide services to the public.


Governance as Minimal State, Rhodes argues, embodies the ideological and political call for downsizing the state.


Governance as Corporate Governance focuses our attention on the policy-making, goal-setting role of government and sets the requirement for transparency and public accountability.


Governance as New Public Management (NPM), Rhodes argues follows closely from the above criteria and develops a notion of government directing or steering action by structuring the market, which takes over the actual service provision or the rowing function.


Governance as Good Governance, as advanced by the World Bank marries new public management to the advocacy of liberal democracy (657).


Governance as a Socio-cybernetic System can be conceptualized as the effects of the interactions among government, social, political and economic actors wherein no one actor has a monopoly over information or expertise. In other words, the public may set broad goals and create a regulatory framework but as actors interact within this institutional environment, they work in and reshape the network of relations to solve problems.


Governance as Self-organizing Networks is related to the above form of governance in that it focuses on governance as referring to networks in which private, non-profit, and public individuals and organizations interact to provide public services. However, the focus here is on the autonomous character of these networks as deregulation and alternative service provision mechanisms increasingly debilitate the ability of government to steer.


In order to distance his conception of governance from NPM and refute its applicability to inter-organizational networks, Rhodes highlights four ways in which it fails to capture the characteristics of contemporary government structure: 1) NPMs focus is within the organization instead of managing outside linkages; 2) NPM concentrates on objectives instead of on the importance of maintaining relationships and trust; 3) NPM highlights results while Rhodes model reveals a possible breakdown in public accountability; 4) NPMs emphasis on competition does not fit with the imperatives of steering inherent to a network model.


Definitions of governance as a socio-cybernetic system, or as self-organizing networks then are closest to Rhodes conception of governance. In this model no single actor, including government, has all the knowledge, tools, or power to either dominate or to make policy work. The task of government is to enable socio-political interactions and to manage relationships of trust and cooperation within a network (659). Government becomes something broader governance when it provides services through outside organizational patterns. Finally, he suggests that networks to provide services are self-organizing, and that these integrated networks resist government steering, develop their own policies and mold their environments (659).


This emerging governing structure, however, Rhodes postulates, poses serious challenges to accountability and governability, particularly within the context of representative democracies. The fragmentation and decentralization of service delivery reduces the governments control over implementation and its ability to co-ordinate and steer the networks. Worryingly, the complexity of these relationships also erodes responsibility and accountability since outcomes are the product of multiple actors. To address some of these concerns Rhodes suggests tools of intergovernmental management to strengthen communication and facilitate problem solving between different branches of government. At best these efforts may help the problems of co-ordination and steering but cannot address issues of democratic accountability. Rhodes cautions that the policy networks he has identified may both shut out the public and be resistant to central guidance, becoming the prime example of governing without Government 667).