Whilst democracy seems to have won the battle of ideas, it is being questioned everywhere, especially its « representative » form. Power is becoming diluted, shared and is found in an increasing number of places; it is not exercised simply on a territory but also on networks, on given populations or within communities. Governance aims to understand this increased complexity of authority, which is the result of a similar increase in complexity in our societies and economies. It is still looking for its form and will probably do so for some time which leaves an essential question unanswered: how will we take difficult decisions when confronted by the opportunities and risks provided by new technologies or the even greater future difficulties at a global level?

The concept of governance

« Governance » is a neologism that, in relation to words such as « government », « politic » and « power », expresses a distribution of forms and sources of authority that are more diverse and more balanced relationships between citizens and authorities.

From a general point of view, governance can be defined as the intervention of institutional, political or cooperative mechanisms which are themselves regulated and controlled by representatives with the aim of allocating scarce resources, solving shared problems, coordinating and controlling social and economic activity. In other words: everything that the market does not do (including operating rules for the market and the authorities that police them).

In western society, governance is based on interactions between its institutions and society with forms of regulation that associate public and private actors. Its aim is to make public action more effective, more legitimate and to make complex societies more easily governable.

Governance can be seen at every level. Consequently, we talk of local, urban, national, European and global governance – and also company governance to describe the role of shareholders, the company’s social responsibilities, its obligation to be transparent, etc. The complex interweaving of associations, informal groups, international organisations, standards bodies, companies, etc. forms of State involvement, rules on transparency and means of intervention by users motivated by common values that make the internet work, can also be described as « internet governance ». There is not just one governance model but different governance systems that depend on their objectives, their mix of players, the values and traditions on which they are based.

Governance is a concept that has very close ties with liberal practices. Because of this, those who regret the disengagement of the Provident State and the loss of sovereignty of Nation States denounce it. More specifically, « good governance » is seen to be more an issue of process than substance. There is no essence of general interest that is superior to private interests. According to the report « Gouvernance Mondiale » issued by the Conseil d’Analyse Economique, good governance must satisfy five criteria: legitimacy and basis for exercising power, democratic ideals and citizenship, competence and efficacy, cooperation and partnerships, relations between local and global. No other absolute criteria (equality, growth, environmental quality, power…) are useful for evaluating its quality.

The word « governance » therefore has the advantage of covering a diversity of power games and relations between authorities and individuals but this does not mean it is neutral.