A Research Agenda for Governance

Guy Peters, Jon Pierre, Eva Sørensen, Jacob Torfing* | 2022

This incisive Research Agenda for Governance, published by Edward Elgar Publishing**, draws together unique contributions from leading scholars to examine the two distinct models of governance: the traditional model, based on the state and exercise of control through law and bureaucracy, and an alternative model centred on the collaboration of public and private sector actors.

Introducing the essential principles and rationale of these alternative models of governance, both of which can be seen operating at all levels of government in democratic as well as non-democratic regimes, the chapters evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems. Drawing conclusions from critical areas of inquiry, including multi-level governance, the nature of governance in democratic and authoritarian regimes, and digital innovations in governance, the book offers a richly detailed insight into the respective workings of the models of governing by control and by collaboration.

This Research Agenda will be an invaluable resource for academics and graduate students of public policy, regulation and governance, and public administration management. Its measured consideration of the possibilities for enhancing public innovation via alternative models of governance will also be of significant interest to employees within the public sector.


  1. Foundations for thinking about governance
  2. State-centric governance
  3. The rise of collaborative governance
  4. Metagovernance
  5. How does collaboration function in multilevel governance?
  6. What is good governance and how good is it?
  7. How collaborative governance can make political systems more democratic and effective
  8. The promise, perils and pitfalls of digital governance
  9. Is global governance possible?
  10. Measuring governance
  11. The quest for public innovation
  12. Conclusion: the implications of control and collaboration in public governance Index

A quote from chapter 1. Foundations for thinking about governance

“Although governance has become a very popular term in political science over the past several decades, it is a very old term. It was used as early as the fourteenth century in a manner somewhat like it is presently to cover the acts of ruling, governing, commanding. That meaning of governance was, however, focused almost entirely on hierarchical governance through the state, while, today, the coverage of the term has been expanded to include the activities of other actors who also are able to exercise control and influence over others, and therefore to govern.

In this book, we will be conceptualizing governance most fundamentally as steering the economy and society toward collective goals (see Pierre and Peters, 2016). Unlike the original use of the term, this mode of thinking about governance does not privilege the state and official government actors, although they may certainly still be involved in governance. This definition leaves open the actors who may do the steering. It also leaves open the instruments that will be used to steer. Whereas the older conceptions of governance focused on the hierarchical authority of the state, steering objectives can also be achieved through the incentives, the use of voluntary standards, the production of norms and values, pluricentric coordination, delegation of authority, collaborative problem-solving, and so on.

And as old as the term is, the practice of governance is even older. The pharaohs of Egypt, the Chinese dynasties, and the rulers of the Mali Empire were all engaged in governance, although the term was unknown to them. Most governance historically was autocratic and hierarchical but did clearly involve attempts to steer toward some collective goals. Those goals may have been military conquest of others and increasing the wealth of the rulers, but they were still goals that involved the use of collective resources through some form of government or another (Finer, 1997).

The idea of collective goals that will motivate governance also may require some clarification. We are writing this book from the perspective of democratic governance, and assume that the goals of society should – everything else being equal – be selected through a democratic process that includes as much of the public as possible in open discussions about the form and content of societal goals. But governance does still occur in autocratic regimes in which the goals to be pursued are not selected by open and democratic means, and the instruments used to attain those goals may be more intrusive than might be acceptable in liberal, democratic regimes.”


Peters, G., Pierre, J., Sørensen, A. and  Torfing, J. (2022) A Research Agenda for Governance. Cheltenham, Glos, United Kingdom: Edward Elgar Publishing

* Guidance about the authors:

  • B. Guy Peters, Maurice Falk Professor of Government, Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, US.
  • Jon Pierre, Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Eva Sørensen, Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University, Denmark and Professor, Nord University, Norway.
  • Jacob Torfing, Professor of Politics and Institutions, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University, Denmark and Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University, Norway.

** Elgar Research Agendas outline the future of research in a given area. Leading scholars are given the space to explore their subject in provocative ways, and map out the potential directions of travel. They are relevant but also visionary.