Multi-level governance

Jack Kruf

Multi-level governance is an essential part of the navigation within the public domain. Like in nature there are influences going upwards and downwards between the layers of the ecosystem. As city manager I experienced the coming and going for example of national policy plans, rules and legislation downwards and financial and political influences upwards as well as the cooperation between different layers of government on complex projects or programmes. But what exactly is multi-level governance? Where does the term comes from? How is it used? A short study.

It is an approach in political science and public administration theory that originated from studies on European integration. According to Piattoni (2001), the political scientists Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks actually developed the concept of multi-level governance in the early 1990s.

It has become one of the key processes for good public governance in the international context. In fact, always was, but never defined or considered as such. The link between all levels of governance in every ecosystem is essential to be effective and efficient in its functioning.

The layering of governance seems in general to follow the principles of the ecological pyramid in natural ecosystems, so some logic can be derived. It must be said though, that from the perspective of city management, there is a wide range of opinions, feelings, views and thoughts around it. It exists but is not generally accepted as the best way forward. What is multi-level governance?

Multi-level (or multilevel) governance is a term used to describe the way power is spread vertically between many levels of government and horizontally across multiple quasi-government and non-governmental organizations and actors. – Cairney et al. (2019)

This situation develops because many countries have multiple levels of government including local, regional, state, national or federal, and many other organisations with interests in policy decisions and outcomes. International governance also operates based on multi-level governance principles.Wikipedia

In 1996 Hooghe edited a sustained study of cohesion policy in the European Union. The central question was how policymakers can develop a common European policy, and yet give attention to the variation in practice, institutions, and players in the member states.

Later in 2001 Hooghe et al. (2001) explain why multi-level governance has taken place and how it shapes conflict in national and European political arenas and goes into the dual process of centralization and decentralization. At the same time, that authority in many policy areas has shifted to the supranational level of the European Union, so national governments have given subnational regions within countries more say over the lives of their citizens.

At the forefront of scholars who characterize this dual process as multi-level governance, Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks argue that its emergence in the second half of the twentieth century is a watershed in the political development of Europe. According to the authors, it gives expression to the idea that there are many interacting authority structures at work in the emergent global political economy:

“… illuminates the intimate entanglement between the domestic and international levels of authority”.


Cairney, P., Heikkila, T. and Wood, M. (2019) Making Policy in a Complex World (1 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hooghe, L. (ed.) (1996) Cohesion Policy and European Integration: Building Multi-level Governance. Wotton-under-Edge: Clarendon Press Oxford.

Hooghe, L. and Marks, G. (2001) Multi-Level Governance and European Integration. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Piattoni, S. (2009) Multi-level Governance: a Historical and Conceptual Analysis. European Integration. 31. 2: 163–180.

Wikipedia (2020) Multi-level governance, consulted in September 2020