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ZHANG JILIANG: State as the actor in meta-governance has its advantages

| 2018-06-19
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Since the 1990s, the traditional models of governance have shown themselves to be incapable of adapting to complicated and changing social situations. As a result, some new governance models are emerging, such as interactive governance, cooperative governance, participatory governance and network governance. Some international researchers of public management thus regard national governance as “governance without government.” Without government, they argue, people could still effectively solve thorny problems, and there is no need to resort to government authority. This actually ignores the unique role of the state, the actor of meta-governance, which ensures that the network for governing has sufficient input and output legitimacy.


The new models of governance, to some extent, operate within the framework of self-regulation through consultation. This will help achieve public goals. Consisting of “institutions and actors within and outside the government,” the new models of governance bring the actors involved in various interests and pertinent resources—especially all kinds of information—into the network of governing, which improves the efficiency of problem solving, and can effectively respond to the new development of modern society.


If people were really able to cope with various problems without relying on the government, then there would indeed be no need for a state, and people would enter the era of “governance without government.” The question, however, is whether people can really effectively deal with problems without the government. The answer is no. The new models of governance themselves have some defects.


Compared with the traditional models of governance, the new models are characterized by inclusiveness, bringing various stakeholders into the network of governing, however, in a relative sense. Since those representative groups are afforded a higher importance within the network of governing, it means that groups that are less representative are easily ignored. In addition, some networks of governing lack transparency and the problem of accountability needs to be solved.


Moreover, despite the fact that the new models of governance can bring pertinent resources and information into the network of governing, these are sometimes insufficient to tackle the various problems that arise. In addition, due to the lack of effective strong support, the new models may not be able to manage the free rider problem.


To ensure the efficacy of the network of governing, it is necessary to introduce the concept of meta-governance, which is to exert governance on the governance itself.


Some scholars believe that the entities that exercise meta-governance include not only the state as the actor, but also non-state actors, such as non-profit organizations, companies and international organizations. To them, meta-governance can potentially be exercised by any resourceful actor, public or private. But to me, the state should be the entity that exercises meta-governance because it has incomparable legitimacy and possesses various resources that non-state actors lack.
The advantages of the state as the actor indicate the possibility of its exercising meta-governance, but the issue that is more noteworthy is that in what way it is exercised, or in other words, its feasibility.


Generally speaking, there are two ways that a state exercises meta-governance: directly and indirectly. In the first case, the state participates in various networks of governing in a direct way as the actor. On one hand, the state reduces the apparent or potential conflict existing in the networks by means of different types of material and non-material incentives; on the other hand, the state influences the definition of specific policy agendas, range of policy options and the premise of policy formulation.


In the second case, the state as the actor does not participate directly in the concrete activities that take place within the network of governing, but influences the overall political goals, financial situation, legal basis and the specific narrative mode of the network, and the scope, feature, membership, systems and procedures involved in the network.


If the state intervenes too much in the network, the willingness of stakeholders participating in the network of governing would wane, which will also make meta-governance the tool controlled by the state in a top-down approach. If it intervenes too little, the state would not be able to offer potent support for the network of governing. Therefore, as the actor of meta-governance, the state needs to keep balancing the participation and efficiency, stability and elasticity and other values according to the specific changing situation that it faces in the practice.

 

Zhang Jiliang is from the School of Politics and Administration at Tianjin Normal University.

(edited by BAI LE)