- Governance Knowledge

A Learning “State”

Continuing the discussion on governance and some principles that it is informed by, the last post on consultation leads to a key attribute that should characterize effective governance.  We know that human society is diverse, that its dynamics are becoming increasingly complex and interdependent, and therefore, that structures and organizational models must evolve in order to serve the needs of humanity.  It is crucial, then, that governance be approached in a mode of learning.

Previous posts have already discussed a culture of learning, and it is extremely important in the context of government.  Collective decisions made by institutions are always limited by the best insights available at the moment and by the individuals involved.  The limited factors seem to be 1) number of individuals, and 2) insights of individuals.  In order to make better and better decisions, all the plans and policies need to be tested against reality, within a social context or the community.  This will involve a large portion of people and generate immense insights.  Over time, decisions are refined as knowledge is advanced.  It is helpful to, again, use the analogy of a path of learning – and to view decisions as points of this path.  Institutions, just like individuals, can periodically reflect on decisions in light of experience, consult on them, adjust, create new policies, and test them.  Without adopting a humble posture of learning, any structure of governance will become obsolete and useless as quickly as social change.  And how fast is society changing?

Relevant to a learning mode within the context of governance is the idea that unity facilitates learning.  Current structural models of opposition and protest sabotage learning efforts.  If interest groups or factions are constantly competing and fighting against each other’s decisions and policies, then any attempt to learn from action is undermined.  (Not to mention all the energy dissipated in power struggles that could be used towards learning from action).  To properly implement policy within a mode of learning – action, reflection, consultation, and revision – requires a degree of unity to then scientifically and reasonably analyze the results of any plan without being biased by efforts to undermine it.  Otherwise, nothing looks like it works – and no strength can be built upon.

How do we foster a spirit of unity to enable social structures to operate in a learning mode?  

What are other characteristics required for governance to adopt a culture of learning?  

Do you see examples of organizations which learn?


- Governance - Prevailing Conceptions

Assumptions Underlying Governance

As we can clearly see around us, governance stands in need of reconceptualization.  At this moment in history, when humankind is in a transition phase, and when changes are occurring at accelerated rates, the development of just and effective forms of government is imperative.  Democratic government, which has become the predominant form over the last century, has lost its legitimacy as a result of the corruption, hypocrisy, and elitism that has come to characterize its practice, rending it ineffective to address complex social challenges.  One main cause is its cooptation by lobbyists and interest groups – which, nominally may seem democratic, but in reality are just manipulations through selfish expressions of power.  These problems are not just confined to politics.  At the level of the market, corporate governance is viewed with distrust and suspicion – again, through the corruption and hypocrisy that characterize their economics, and through their pursuit of self-serving goals at the expense of broader concerns.  The result in this case has been outrageous ecological damage, a collapsed worldwide economy, and an ever-widening abyss between the rich and the poor.  Even governance of civil society and social organizations have been subject to the same problems of competing selfish factions, corruption, and viewing with otherness – rendering anarchy in the management of a school board or a hospital.  Considering the interdependence that characterizes all levels of governance, the interactions of these three levels leaves dismal expectations in one’s mind.

These are just the symptoms.  Any change must be at the level of principle – deeper still, at the level of assumption.  Some assumptions underlying these problems include:  1) Governance has to be divisive.  2) A single individual with good intentions can go into the system and change it.  3) Government is inherently ineffective, but necessary, so the more privatization, the better.  4) Governance is just an expression of power struggle.  5) There is no role for nurturing human potential.  6) Governance is largely a bureaucratic endeavor, and bureaucracy is cumbersome by nature.  7) To prevail, you have to undermine; to win, another has to lose.  Can you think of others?

The next series of posts will provide some insights into the concept of governance based on the assumptions provided throughout previous posts, rooted in a recognition of the spiritual dimension of human existence as well as drawn from the experience of governance within the Baha’i community.  What will be extremely helpful is your thoughts and contributions on the topic – to generate more and more insights; to understand issues, concerns, and needs; to raise questions for further exploration; and to identify challenges associated with profound changes both at the level of thought and at the level of structure.


- Governance - Prevailing Conceptions - Three Protagonists Power

Governance and Discipline

How does the conception of power from the last few posts shape thoughts regarding governance?  Currently, because our society’s structures and relationships are dominated by self-interested expressions of power, governance is viewed as a set of regulations and rules of conduct between competing parties, or an instrument of oppression by those in positions of privilege.  Government, viewed in this manner, disciplines the populous in two ways – through systems of overt reward and punishment to ensure order and the status quo; and through a version of “common sense” indoctrinated through government education and socialization to ensure the easy governability of the people.  What results is a perpetual struggle for power.  Little wonder the lack of trust in authority.

As demonstrated with the analogy of the relationship between the nervous system and the muscular system in the body’s release of power, the role of government instead, is to guide and coordinate collective capacity towards pursuit of collective goals, decided upon through consultation.  The highest purpose of institutions is nurturing human potential – releasing the creative powers of individuals and communities and harmonizing them together.  Discipline also takes on new meaning.  On the individual level, it is responsibly aligning creative capacity and action with collective endeavors, and consulting thoughtfully with institutions.  On the institutional level, it is putting aside their own interest, valuing the welfare of all, and consulting with humility, never considering themselves intrinsically superior.  On both levels, this discipline is not imposed by checks and balances, nor by fear or incentive.  It is ultimately a conscious, spiritual, internal process entailing self-sacrifice and alignment with a higher purpose.  And this process will lead to empowered individuals, empowered communities, and empowered institutions, utilizing power for the betterment of the world.

Do you have any relationships with authority that nurtures and releases your capacities and powers?  What are the dynamics?