Dialogue and (Good) Governance



By Aswathi Prakash

Ever wondered what makes a government truly effective? The term “Good Governance” gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? And how can we tell if a government is practising “Good Governance”? This blog post will explore the evolution of the concept of governance, delve into the key characteristics of good governance, and discuss the critical role that dialogue plays in achieving it.

Governance and Good Governance

The term ‘Governance’ is derived from Latin and ancient Greek, originally meaning control, guidance and manipulation. For the longest time, its meaning was used interchangeably with the word government and mainly referred to administrative and political activities related to public affairs1.

While not termed as such, Ali opines that the perception of governance has been in human civilization since the time that the people learned how to live in one community or society through the process of making decisions and implementations of certain laws, rules and policies in an attempt to bring order and harmony while living in one environment.2 On the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, the term governance took on a new meaning. It came to denote the reinventing of public administration, in particular in the developing countries, to make it more receptive to the needs of globalisation. 3

The Evolution of the term ‘Governance’

The term ‘Governance’ rose to prominence in the 1989 World Bank study Sub-Saharan Africa-from Crisis to Sustainable Growth. It was used to describe the need for institutional reform and a better and more efficient public sector in Sub-Saharan countries. It defined governance as “the exercise of political power to manage a nation’s affairs.” 

In the same study, former World Bank President Barber Conable (1986-1991) used the term ‘good governance’ in his foreword but it was not until almost a decade later, the term ‘good governance’ entered the development lexicon to never leave it. Since then, the word has implied much more than it did traditionally and has been starkly contrasted with what the word ‘government’ means.4

In 1998, the World Bank’s annual report Governance in Asia: From Crisis to Opportunity, presented a compelling idea of good governance, thus establishing the term and leading to its adoption by other international agencies and organisations. From then on, donors and international financial institutions have increasingly based their aid and loans to third world countries on the condition of reforms that ensure “good governance”,5 and that the recipient governments adhere to proper administrative processes in the handling of development assistance and put in place effective policy instruments for the same.6

Just like the term ‘governance’, ‘good governance’ is a multi-faceted and dynamic concept that has continued to evade a clearcut and unanimous definition. Therefore, for the purpose of this paper, I am adopting the characteristics of Good Governance laid out by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in 2009. UNESCAP lays down 8 major characteristics of Good governance. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.

I am going to go out on a limb and say this – the catalyst that transforms governance to good governance can be dialogue. Allow me to explain.

Dialogue as an aid/tool

Dialogue, as we continue to witness, is a powerful tool to drive change in any area and can be wielded towards a hoard of outcomes including, but not limited to, problem solving, consensus building and citizen/community mobilisation. It brings a plethora of possibilities of engaging the public to ensure that all stakeholders are heard, leading to policy decisions that are informed by the insights, needs, and concerns of those they impact. Open and inclusive conversations among diverse stakeholders will lead to more effective, equitable, and sustainable decision-making.7

Dialogue can be an effective way to bridge differences while fostering mutual understanding and co-creation of solutions to complex problems that stand in the way of good and efficient governance8. Dialogue becomes especially pertinent when the decisions impact a diverse pool of stakeholders at multiple levels, as their needs, issues and challenges are bound to differ and, in cases, conflict with one another. As Gergen posits, dialogue can serve as a medium through which diverse groups can co-construct shared understandings of issues, challenges, and solutions, moving beyond individual or factional perspectives to a more collective vision.9 This will not only help in building consensus but also establish legitimacy around, and more acceptance of, governance initiatives.

Adding to it, as a process that is an equaliser by its nature, dialogue can be a compelling and effective tool in the face of power imbalances. 

A Dialogue-based approach to Governance

More and more countries are recognizing the benefits of a dialogue based approach to governance, whether or not they explicitly admit so. It is no surprise that these countries continue to rank high on good governance indicators. Finland, one among the top 10 countries well known for its good governance initiatives, has been promoting an “Open Government” approach, actively seeking citizen input through online platforms and public consultations with the idea to reinforce dialogue in the society and to build trust, security and confidence in the future among citizens, among other objectives10. Finland is also one of the countries that has experimented with the Citizen Jury Model for complex issues. These juries gather diverse citizens and experts to deliberate and provide recommendations on governance issues and government policies.11 

Denmark has a remarkable culture of dialogue with and amongst the citizens demonstrated in “The Danish Model” of Social Partnership which involves regular dialogue and negotiations between government, employers’ organisations, and trade unions. It works to foster consensus-building on issues like social welfare and labour market reforms. It also has a long tradition of annual public meetings, referred to as “Folkemøder” (People’s Meetings), where citizens engage directly with politicians and discuss political issues. 

Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil is also a commendable example of dialogue being employed towards effective governance. After facing economic hardship and a disconnect between citizens and their local government in the 1980s, the city implemented participatory budgeting, where citizens directly participated in allocating a portion of the municipal budget. Through public assemblies and discussions, residents identified local needs and co-created solutions by prioritising spending on infrastructure, healthcare, and education. This process involved iterative discussions and adjustments where residents presented proposals, discussed their merits, and ultimately co-created a budget that reflected community priorities.


This is not to say that dialogue initiatives are the only way to good governance, or that it is immune to the risks or limitations of any process. However, the challenges can be mitigated by good design, effective facilitation, and by working through problems via the dialogue process itself. 

Poor governance provides more leeways for corruption, resulting in an undermined public’s trust in a nation’s government. It impacts the growth and development of the nation as a whole. Therefore dialogue is not simply an aid but a critical element of establishing good governance.

  1. Keping, Y. (2017) ‘Governance and Good Governance: A New Framework for Political Analysis ’, Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 11(2018), pp. 1–8. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40647-017-0197-4.
  2. Ali, M. (2015) ‘Governance and Good Governance: A Conceptual Perspective’, The Dialogue, 10(1), pp. 65–77. https://www.qurtuba.edu.pk/thedialogue/The%20Dialogue/10_1/Dialogue_January_March2015_65-77.pdf.
  3.  Tripathi, R. (2017) ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE: ORIGIN, IMPORTANCE AND DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA’, International Journal of Development Research, 11(7), pp. 16968–16970.
  4. Keping, Y. (2017) ‘Governance and Good Governance: A New Framework for Political Analysis ’, Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 11(2018), pp. 1–8. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40647-017-0197-4.
  5. (2009) What is good governance?. UNESCAP. https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12870/3794
  6.  Doornbos, M. (2003) ‘“Good Governance”: The Metamorphosis of a Policy Metaphor’, Journal of International Affairs, 57(1), pp. 3–17. https://ciaotest.cc.columbia.edu/olj/jia/jia_fall03/jia_fall03_capstone.pdf ↩︎
  7.  Gergen, K.J. (2023) ‘Dialogue and the Critical Challenge of Governance’, Jornal of Dialogue Studies, 11, pp. 15–24. http://www.dialoguestudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/kenneth-j-gergendialogue-and-the-critical-challenge-of-governance.pdf ↩︎
  8. Ibid. ↩︎
  9. Ibid. ↩︎
  10. (2021) Open government strategy 2030. Ministry of Finance, Finland. https://avoinhallinto.fi/assets/files/2021/03/Open_Government_Strategy2030.pdf
  11.  Citizens’ jury on Finnish democracy: Current status, problems and solutions (no date) Participedia. https://participedia.net/case/7316