Decentralizing Governance: Emerging Concepts and Practices

by G. Shabbir Cheema, Dennis A. Rondinelli
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Decentralizing Governance: Emerging Concepts and Practices

The trend toward greater decentralization of governance activities, now accepted as commonplace in the West, has become a worldwide movement. This international development—largely a product of globalization and democratization—is clearly one of the key factors reshaping economic, political, and social conditions throughout the world. Rather than the top-down, centralized decisionmaking that characterized communist economies and Third World dictatorships in the twentieth century, today's world demands flexibility, adaptability, and the autonomy to bring those qualities to bear. In this thought-provoking book, the first in a new series on Innovations in Governance, experts in government and public management trace the evolution and performance of decentralization concepts, from the transfer of authority within government to the sharing of power, authority, and responsibilities among broader governance institutions. This movement is not limited to national government—it also affects subnational governments, NGOs, private corporations, and even civil associations. The contributors assess the emerging concepts of decentralization (e.g., devolution, empowerment, capacity building, and democratic governance). They detail the factors driving the movement, including political changes such as the fall of the Iron Curtain and the ascendance of democracy; economic factors such as globalization and outsourcing; and technological advances (e.g. increased information technology and electronic commerce). Their analysis covers many different contexts and regions. For example, William Ascher of Claremont McKenna College chronicles how decentralization concepts are playing out in natural resources policy, while Kadmeil Wekwete (United Nations) outlines the specific challenges to decentralizing governance in sub-Saharan Africa. In each case, contributors explore the objectives of a decentralizing strategy as well as the benefits and difficulties that will likely result.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815713890
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
Publication date: 06/28/2007
Series: Brookings / Ash Center Series, "Innovative Governance in the 21st Century" Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

G. Shabbir Cheema is the principal adviser on governance in the Department of Public Administration and Development Management, within the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. His most recent book is Building Democratic Institutions: Governance Reform in Developing Countries (Kumarian Press, 2005). The late Dennis A. Rondinelli was senior research scholar of public policy studies at Duke University's Center for International Development. Among his books is Beyond Reconstruction in Afghanistan: Lessons from Development Experience , coedited with John D. Montgomery (Palgrave, 2004).

Read an Excerpt

Decentralizing Governance

Emerging Concepts and Practices

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2007 Brookings Institution Press and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8157-1389-0

Chapter One

From Government Decentralization to Decentralized Governance


Concepts of decentralization have changed rapidly over the past quarter of a century in tandem with the evolution in thinking about governance. Until the early 1980s government and the state were generally perceived of interchangeably. Government was seen as the institutional embodiment of state sovereignty and as the dominant source of political and legal decisionmaking. In developing countries, debates over the structure, roles, and functions of government focused on the effectiveness of central power and authority in promoting economic and social progress and on the potential advantages and disadvantages of decentralizing authority to subnational units of administration, local governments, or other agents of the state. Decentralization was defined as the transfer of authority, responsibility, and resources-through deconcentration, delegation, or devolution-from the center to lower levels of administration.

By the early 1980s increasing international trade and investment; growing economic, social, and politicalinteraction across national borders; and rapidly emerging technological innovations that increased the scope and reduced the costs of communications and transportation and helped spread knowledge and information worldwide, changed perceptions of governance and of the appropriate functions of the state. The concept of governance expanded to include not only government but also other societal institutions, including the private sector and civil associations. Debates shifted from the proper allocation of responsibilities within government to how strongly the state should intervene in economic activities, whether central governments inhibited or promoted economic growth and social development, and the appropriate roles of government, the private sector, and civil society.

As international economic interaction grew and as societies became more complex and interconnected, government came to be seen as only one, albeit a critically important, governance institution. The fact that people's lives were also shaped by decisions made by individual entrepreneurs, family enterprises, and private firms; by multinational corporations and international financial institutions; and by a variety of civil society organizations operating both within and outside of national territories, became more apparent. As globalization pushed more countries to adopt market or quasi-market economies, and as technology drove the growth and integration of worldwide communication and transportation networks, demands for political and economic participation grew even in countries that had totalitarian, authoritarian, or dictatorial governments and in which the state traditionally played the dominant or controlling role in managing national affairs. Good governance came to be seen as transparent, representative, accountable, and participatory systems of institutions and procedures for public decisionmaking.

From this broader perspective on governance new concepts of decentralization emerged as well. As the concept of governance became more inclusive, decentralization took on new meanings and new forms. In this book, we trace the transformation and evolution of concepts and practices of decentralization from the transfer of authority within government to the sharing of power, authority, and responsibilities among broader governance institutions. The contributors to this volume assess the emerging concepts of decentralization; the political, economic, social, and technological forces driving them; and new approaches to decentralizing both government and governance. The authors of each chapter explore the objectives of decentralization within this changing paradigm and the potential benefits of and difficulties in achieving them. Each of the chapters offers lessons of experience from countries around the world where attempts have been made to decentralize government or governance and the implications for public policy in the future.

Emerging Concepts of Decentralization and Governance

As the concept of decentralization evolved over the past half century, it has taken on increasingly more diverse and varied meanings, objectives, and forms. The first wave of post-World War II thinking on decentralization, in the 1970s and 1980s, focused on deconcentrating hierarchical government structures and bureaucracies. The second wave of decentralization, beginning in the mid-1980s, broadened the concept to include political power sharing, democratization, and market liberalization, expanding the scope for private sector decisionmaking. During the 1990s decentralization was seen as a way of opening governance to wider public participation through organizations of civil society.

After more than two decades-that is, the 1940s and the 1950s-of increasing centralization of government power and authority in both more developed and less developed countries, governments around the world began, during the 1960s and 1970s, to decentralize their hierarchical structures in an effort to make public service delivery more efficient and to extend service coverage by giving local administrative units more responsibility. During the 1970s and 1980s, globalization forced some governments to recognize the limitations and constraints of central economic planning and management. A shift during the same period in development theories and strategies in international aid agencies away from central economic planning and trickle-down theories of economic growth toward meeting basic human needs, growth-with-equity objectives, and participatory development also led to increasing calls for decentralization. International assistance organizations promoted decentralization as an essential part of a "process approach" to development that depended primarily on self-help by local communities and local governments. National governments decentralized in order to accelerate development, break bureaucratic bottlenecks arising from centralized government planning and management, and participate more effectively in a globalizing economy.

Until the late 1980s governments pursued three primary forms of decentralization: deconcentration, devolution, and delegation. Deconcentration sought to shift administrative responsibilities from central ministries and departments to regional and local administrative levels by establishing field offices of national departments and transferring some authority for decisionmaking to regional field staff. Devolution aimed to strengthen local governments by granting them the authority, responsibility, and resources to provide services and infrastructure, protect public health and safety, and formulate and implement local policies. Through delegation, national governments shifted management authority for specific functions to semiautonomous or parastatal organizations and state enterprises, regional planning and area development agencies, and multi- and single-purpose public authorities.

By the mid-1980s, with the continued weakening of centrally planned economies, the waning of the cold war, and the rapid growth of international trade and investment, economic and political forces reshaped conventional concepts of not only economic development but governance and decentralization as well. The fall of authoritarian regimes in Latin America during the 1980s and in Central and Eastern Europe during the early 1990s and the rapid spread of market economies and more democratic principles in East Asia brought renewed interest in decentralization. In Latin America, East Asia, and Central Europe, governments overseeing the transition from state-planned to market economies focused on strengthening the private sector, privatizing or liquidating state enterprises, downsizing large central government bureaucracies, and strengthening local governments. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international development organizations prescribed decentralization as part of the structural adjustments needed to restore markets, create or strengthen democracy, and promote good governance.

Governments were also pressured to decentralize by political, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups seeking greater autonomy in decisionmaking and stronger control over national resources. In much of Africa, calls for decentralization emanated from tribal minorities and economically peripheral ethnic groups. Growing discontent with the inability of central government bureaucracies to deliver effectively almost any type of service to local areas fueled the decentralization movement in Africa. Calls for devolution or autonomous rule also came from minority groups in Belgium, Quebec, Wales, Scotland, Malaysia, the Baltic countries, Mexico, the Philippines, India, Yugoslavia, and the former Soviet Union that were dissatisfied with their political representation or the allocation of national expenditures.

The "new public management" movement of the 1990s in richer countries shaped the way international development organizations and many reform-oriented public officials in developing countries began to think about what governments should do and how they should perform. In their book Reinventing Government, which reflected innovative reforms in the United States and influenced thinking in other countries during the 1990s, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler argue that national, state, and local government should be innovative, market oriented, decentralized, and focused on offering their "customers" the highest quality services. They and advocates of new public management contended that governments should "steer rather than row" and oversee service provision rather than deliver it directly; further, governments should encourage local groups to solve their own problems by deregulating and privatizing those activities that could be carried out by the private sector or by civil society organizations more efficiently or effectively than by public agencies.

New public management focused on making government mission driven rather than rule bound, results oriented, enterprising, anticipatory, and customer driven. Government agencies should meet the needs of citizens rather than those of the bureaucracy. At the heart of this approach to government was the notion that it had to be decentralized in order to achieve all of the other goals; that is, it would be most effective working through participation and teamwork among government agencies at different levels and with groups outside of government.

Globalization and Decentralization

Little doubt remains that globalization has shaped and will continue to shape economic, political, and social conditions throughout the world. Not surprisingly, globalization has shaped not only concepts of economic growth but also perceptions of governance and the roles and functions of government. In the twenty-first century the driving forces of globalization-increasing international trade and investment, rapid progress in information, communications and transportation technology, the increasing mobility of factors of production, the rapid transmission of financial capital across national borders, the emergence of knowledge economies and electronic commerce, the spread of innovation capability, and the worldwide expansion of markets for goods and services-are creating new pressures on governments to decentralize. Globalization is deconcentrating economic activity among and within countries. It increases pressures on governments to enhance the administrative and fiscal capacity of subnational regions, cities, towns, and rural areas in order to facilitate the participation of individuals and enterprises in a global marketplace and to benefit from it.

Increasingly, foreign direct investment flows to those countries where the government not only creates a strong national business climate but where "location assets" in towns, cities, and regions are well developed and where local governments can provide the services, infrastructure, quality of life, and other forms of support for foreign-owned and domestic firms. Strengthening these location assets usually requires strong local governments and civil society organizations that can raise the revenues and provide the supporting services that both foreign investors and domestic entrepreneurs need to participate effectively in a global marketplace.

The emergence of globally dispersed industrial clusters and worldwide supply chains, the global outsourcing of manufacturing and services, and the expansion of electronic commerce have simultaneously, and seemingly paradoxically, made the spread of international economic activity less dependent on specific geographical locations and made the location assets of subnational geographical areas more important in attracting international firms or incubating domestic enterprises. Successful economic zones, science and industrial parks, geographically focused industrial clusters, and emerging urban hubs of globally oriented commercial activity all have rich networks of interaction among central and local governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations. Globalization and technological change not only have pressured governments in some countries to decentralize administrative and fiscal authority but also have created conditions under which regional, state, provincial, and local administrative or government units are moving toward de facto decentralization through local leadership and initiative.

The global deconcentration of economic activity has not only given localities new resources but has also brought new pressures on local governments to perform their administrative tasks more effectively. National government officials sometimes use the weak performance of local governments as a reason to keep decisionmaking centralized. One of the most critical issues in implementing decentralization, therefore, is identifying those factors that facilitate strong local government performance. As they create new local structures, organizations, and procedures, governments are training employees to perform increasingly more complex tasks and introducing reforms that increase local capacity to manage fiscal resources and public services.

A Broader View of Governance

The United Nations, in the 1990s, helped to reconceptualize governance, defining it as "the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country's affairs." The United Nations Development Program perceived of governance as those institutions and processes through which government, civil society organizations, and the private sector interact with each other in shaping public affairs and through which citizens articulate their interests, mediate their differences, and exercise their political, economic, and social rights.

This broader concept of governance viewed decisionmaking as not only the province of government but also the right and obligation of citizens as members of a free electorate mobilized through social organizations and the private sector. Democratic governance implied a mandate for governments to create or strengthen channels and mechanisms for public participation in decisionmaking, to abide by the rule of law, to increase transparency in public procedures, and to hold officials accountable. The case for democratic governance was based on two arguments: first, that it provides an institutional framework for participation by all citizens in economic and political processes; and second, that it promotes core, universal human rights and values as ends in themselves. Democratic governance implied that the state would ensure free and fair elections; appropriately decentralize power and resources to local communities; protect the independence of the judiciary and access to justice; maintain an effectively functioning civil service; ensure the separation of powers; safeguard access to information and the independence of the media; protect basic human rights, freedom of enterprise, and freedom of expression; and pursue sound economic policies.


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Table of Contents

1. From Government Decentralization to Decentralized Governance
2. Parallel and Partnership Approaches to Decentralized Governance: Experience in Weak States
3. Decentralization and Electronic Governance
4. Local Governments That Perform Well: Four Explanations
5. Political Decentralization in Africa: Experiences of Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa
6. Devolution toward Democracy: Lessons for Theory and Practice from the Philippines
7. Decentralization, Deconcentration, and Poverty Reduction in the Asia Pacific
8. Fiscal Decentralization and Intergovernmental Fiscal Relations: Navigating a Viable Path to Reform
9. Government Decentralization and Decentralized Governance in Latin America: The Silent Revolution of the Local Level?
10. Devolution with Accountability: Learning from Good Practices
11. Decentralization and Participatory Local Governance: A Decision Space Analysis and Application to Peru
12. Challenges to Decentralized Governance in Weak States
13. Decentralization and Legal Empowerment of the Poor
14. Decentralization to Promote Effective and Efficient Pro-Poor Infrastructure and Service Delivery in the Least-Developed Countries
15. Designing Decentralized Coastal Management Programs
16. Issues and Best Practices in the Decentralization of Natural Resource Control in Developing Countries

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