Is good governance about big promises?

The nature of good governance has been much in our thoughts lately, especially given press coverage of individuals and their promises of big change. Everyone agrees that “good governance” is essential to First Nations fully manifesting self-government. But what is “good governance”? Media coverage that focuses on individuals can obscure important aspects of good governance. While vision is important, good governance depends on realistic goals, worked towards by groups of people that act as an organized whole through systems of rules and policies.

Part of the “good governance” equation is an organization’s ability to be effective through the  setting and pursuing of goals based on what they can realistically accomplish given available resources, their collective values, and the capacity of their communities. All good governments have limits on what they can realistically accomplish to meet demands. Good governments have a keen awareness of what actions cost, and are not guided by plans and expectations that are ineffectual or unrealistic. Good governance requires responsible decision-making.

Despite a media focus on individual leaders, good governance is also about collective leadership. It is about the ability of a group of people to work together on many tasks and problems, to accomplish concrete goals. Good governance involves skills that collectives of people develop and foster over time. The ability of a group to act effectively requires not only that every one develops skills and experience for their job, but that the group develops and refines systems that allow people to act together. Good governance includes clear roles and responsibilities, policies that help everyone to make better decisions faster, and rules that ensure communication and unified action. Collective governance lies at the centre of institutional capacity.

Of course, sustainable goals and institutional capacity are not the only elements of good governance. Other values of importance include leadership integrity, transparency, and strong relationships with other stakeholders. Yet the ability of any governing body to be effective and unified is important to any community making the best of limited resources. Good governance is not about individual leaders, but collective action towards concrete, realistic ends.

Lisa C. Fong and Michael Ng