The Governance Project


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Principal Investigator
Senior Fellow
  • Director, Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy
  • Professor, by courtesy, Political Science
Distelhorst HS
Research Affiliate, Governance Project
Boittin HS
Research Affiliate, Governance Project
dinsha headshot
Research Affiliate, CDDRL
Research Affiliate, Governance Project
Research Affiliate, CDDRL
Research Affiliate, Governance Project
Research Affiliate, CDDRL

The Governance Project at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law seeks to better conceptualize and measure governance. Initially, it will seek to understand how it functions in two societies ­­— the Peoples Republic of China and the United States, and then expand to additional countries. Led by FSI senior fellow and Mosbacher Director of CDDRL Francis Fukuyama, the project begins with the premise that governance is a characteristic of modern polities concerning the delivery of public services that is different from either democratic institutions or the rule of law.

The term “governance” has been widely used in both development studies and comparative politics in recent years with the resurgence of interest in the role of institutions in broader socioeconomic development. This has led to an explosion of writing and research on the topic, as well as the development of quantitative indicators of “good governance” and their incorporation into aid policies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Nonetheless, there is still no consensus on exactly what constitutes governance – indeed, there exists considerable confusion – and therefore on how it can be measured. Many definitions of governance are very expansive and include virtually any coordinating activity performed by any social organization.

This project will focus on the administrative capacities of states to deliver public goods and services. While broader definitions have their uses, state capacity remains a critical determinant of many social outcomes, both in the developing and developed worlds.

Moreover, there has been little systematic effort to look at the empirical relationship between governance so defined and democracy. In particular, we need to ask whether the quality of governance is helped or hurt by the advent of institutions of democratic accountability. (Indeed, this problem is exacerbated by the tendency of many observers to include accountability and legal institutions in their definitions of governance, as in the term "democratic governance.") While there are opinions and theories on the relationship between democracy and governance (e.g., that greater transparency and accountability will improve the quality of governance), it is not possible at this juncture to prove that this is true on a global basis.

The project will look specifically at how governance works in both China and the United States, and then expand to three of the world's largest emerging economies by examining the remaining BRIC nations. China has a long historical tradition of strong centralized governance, but no formal mechanisms of accountability or a strong rule of law. The United States - by contrast - has traditionally had a weak state (when compared to other developed democracies), and powerful legal and democratic institutions. In light of the conceptualization of governance developed in the course of the project, researchers will explore the strengths and weaknesses of these systems, and whether there are actually any similarities not just in the problems but in the governance structures that have evolved.

The project will involve a speakers series, as well as workshops to be held both in China and at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Updated: Aug. 2017


Phil Keefer
-Development Research Group of the World Bank