Over the years many new approaches and concepts have been conceived about public administration. Some of them have obtained the position of a dominant paradigm as many countries have adopted and tried to implement them in managing the public sector and developing the state. Client-centricity, deregulation, delegation, transparency, openness, efficiency and effectiveness are key words that today shape public administration. They originate from the popular approaches ‘governance’ and ‘good governance’ that shaped Estonia during the 1990s.
Although, the concepts of ‘governance’ and ‘good governance’ have been very influential in Estonia’s post-Soviet development, the meaning and implications of these ideas have been only cursorily known, which has resulted in their impetuous and often inappropriate implementation. Praxis organised the conference ‘Governance and Good Governance’ to introduce and explain the essence of these concepts in the context of the experience of other countries. In addition to theoretical knowledge, Estonia’s post-Soviet development was analysed and it was discussed how to improve public administration.
”Governance’ and ‘good governance’ are comprehensive concepts including ideas such as involving the civil society as well as delegating public services.’ — Eveli Illing
Academic articles informing and inspiring the presentations can be found in the conference’s compilation, which begins with Prof Knill‘s proposition that ‘governance’ involves themes form classical philosophy, such as the questions to what extent can private and public interests cooperate and how should this relationship be formalised. Knill claims that it is not justified to diminish the state’s role rather he argues that the diversity of different governance models signifies that the state will remain a key institution in a polity.
Prof. Doornbos claims that ‘governance’ became especially popular after the end of the Cold War as the international financial institutions distributed aid for developing countries on the precondition that they would implement the reforms necessary for ‘governance’. These approaches to ‘governance’ as a panacea were eventually substituted for a view for greater country-centricity in choosing policies, yet Doornbos clearly shows how the country-centred approach and flexibility of governance were only euphemisms to distort the actual essence of this concept and reinforce its false yet widespread understanding.
Prof Drechsler is also very critical in his evaluation of ‘governance’ and its implementation in Estonia. Drechsler explains how ‘governance’ was incorrectly understood by the Estonian elite as merely a new public administration approach, inspiring them to reconstruct the state according to free market principles. But not only was this approach out of date by the mid-1990s, it also hindered Estonia’s administrative capacity and integration with Europe on a wider level as well as in specific areas, such as the Lisbon strategy for increasing employment and participation in the labour force.
Prof Kattel argues more elaborately that the excessively simplified understanding of governance prevailing in Estonia has undermined the state’s innovation capacity, as promising new enterprises have to compete in free market conditions that could be substituted for a more mutually supportive partnership between the state and the private sector. Furthermore, this example shows how contemporary governance requires carefully considered efforts to achieve multilevelled results.
The articles of Knill, Drechsler and Kattel clearly demonstrate that even if the state’s role is diminished, it requires better governance and government.