The objective of this glossary is to provide an online resource, which facilitates interdisciplinary communication about governance issues.

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    The theory or practice of absolute government, typically based on a claim to an unlimited right to rule. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Answerability; having a duty to explain one’s conduct and being subject to monitoring and evaluation by a higher authority. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    - Bureaucratic arm of the government, such as an Irrigation Department, Forestry Service etc.
    - New Institutional Economics - Agency relationship: when a principal delegates some rights - for example user rights over a resource - to an agent who is bound by a (formal or informal) contract to represent the principal's interests in return for payment of some kind (Eggertsson 1990).
    - Sociology - Purposeful action. This term implies that actors have the freedom to create, change and influence events (Bilton et al. 1996: 654).
    The principle of acting without selfish concern, in the interests of others (Bilton et al. 1996: 654).
    A group formed by voluntary action, reflecting recognition of shared interests or common concerns. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The belief in or practice of government ‘from above’; the exercise of authority regardless of the consent of the governed. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The right to influence the behaviour of others on the basis of an acknowledged duty to obey; authority may be traditional, charismatic or legal-rational. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    A political system governed by a single individual; a political theory favoring unlimited authority by a single individual. (Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University)
    Literally, self-rule; an autonomous person is rationally self-willed by virtue of his or her independence of external authority. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    Capacity building is the development of an organization’s core skills and capabilities, such as leadership, management, finance and fundraising, programs and evaluation, in order to build the organization’s effectiveness and sustainability. It is the process of assisting an individual or group to identify and address issues and gain the insights, knowledge and experience needed to solve problems and implement change. Capacity building is facilitated through the provision of technical support activities, including coaching, training, specific technical assistance and resource networking. (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    A system of generalized commodity production in which wealth is owned privately and economic life is organized according to market principles. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Community-based natural resource management, in which the government plays a relatively minor role.
    The concentration of political power or government authority at the national level. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Internal tensions within the governmental system that result from institutional fragmentation. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The realm of autonomous groups and associations; a private sphere independent from public authority. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    - "Action taken by a group (either directly or on its behalf through an organization) in pursuit of members' perceived shared interests" (Marshall 1998)
    - Coordinated behavior of groups toward a common interest or purpose (Vermillion in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio ed. 2000).
    The expectation that a policy or agreement made with legal standing will be fulfilled. A low credibility that an actor is committed alters the action of others, such as withholding investments or refraining from crime.
    A small-scale collective organization based on the sharing of wealth and power, possibly also extending to personal and domestic arrangements. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    (a) a group of people living in the same locality and sharing some common characteristics; (b) a group of people having ethnic or cultural or religious characteristics in common; (c) groups of people who share a common interest and communicate with each other about that interest (including via the internet) (d) a group of nations having common interests (e.g., Southern African Development Community SADC) (adapted from, accessed 01/06/05)
    Fulfilling an agreement, formal or informal based on accepted standards, norms or rules
    Competition between opposing forces, reflecting a diversity of opinions, preferences, needs or interests that has a rising probability of violence compared to say market competition. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Conflict resolution, or alternative dispute resolution, is the term used to describe the act of settling any dispute or disagreement between two or more individuals without entering the courts or resorting to violence. Conflict resolution came to prominence in the 1980s, building upon the fields of social psychology, sociology, government, history, law, management, and others. (Source:, accessed 01/06/05).
    A formal and authoritative set of rules that establish the duties, powers and functions of the institutions of government. Often these contain basic rights and bases for judical actions that, among others define the relationship between the state, corporate persons and real individuals. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain; use of public office for personal gain (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    A people’s attitude, beliefs, symbols and values; broadly, that which is acquired through learning, rather than inheritance. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    - Transfer of both decision-making authority and payment responsibility to lower levels of government
    - "Systematic and rational dispersal of power, authority and responsibility from the central government to lower or local level institutions" (Pomeroy in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio ed. 2000)
    - Movement of management roles from higher or central levels to lower or local units within the same agency or ministry (Vermillion in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio, 2000)
    - "The shifting of workload from central government ministry headquarters to staff located in offices outside of the national capital." (Rondinelli et al. 1989)
    - Transfer of authority and responsibility from the national government departments and agencies to regional, district and field offices of national government offices. Also referred to as administrative decentralization.
    - "Passing of some authority and decision-making powers to local officials. The central government retains the right to overturn local decisions and can, at any time, take these powers back." (Pomeroy in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio 2000)
    - "Transfers of authority to public corporations or special authorities outside the regular bureaucratic structure." (Ostrom et al. 1993).
    Rule by the people; democracy implies both popular participation and government in the public interest, and can take a wide variety of forms. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    The advance of liberal-democratic reform, implying in particular, the granting of basic freedoms and the widening of popular participation and electoral choice. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Involves the dismantling of price controls, quotas, and barriers to entry so that market forces determine savings, investment, and consumption decisions of economic actors (Dahal 1996).
    - "Transfer of power and responsibility for the performance of specified functions from the national to the local governments without reference back to central government. The nature of transfer is political (by legislation), in contrast to deconcentration's administrative; and the approach is territorial or geographical, in contrast to sectoral" (Ngaido and Kirk in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio 2000).
    - The term devolution is also used to refer to the transfer of authority to user groups outside the public sector, especially in natural resource management.
    Rule by a single individual; the arbitrary and unchecked exercise of power. Usually illegimate use of power based on monopoly control of the means for violence (Source: Heywood 1997).
    Multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives; process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important. (Page and Zuba, 1999)
    The condition or quality of being equal; equality may be applied to rights, opportunities or outcomes. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The state or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair. The term is often used synonymous with equality
    A social group that has a common cultural tradition, common history, and common sense of identity and exists as a subgroup in a larger society. The members of an ethnic group differ with regard to certain cultural characteristics from the other members of their society. (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    An ideology characterized by a belief in anti-rationalism, struggle, charismatic leadership, elitism, and extreme nationalism; Fascism refers specifically to the Mussolini regime in Italy. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    A territorial distribution of power based on the sharing of sovereignty between central (usually national) bodies and peripheral ones.
    - "refers to the increasing economic integration and interdependence of countries. Economic globalization in this century has proceeded along two main lines: trade liberalization (the increased circulation of goods) and financial liberalization (the expanded circulation of capital)." (Source:, accessed 01/11/05)
    While this definition focuses on economic globalization, wider definitions, such as the following, include political globalization:
    - "Globalization can be conceived as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power" (see Held et al, 1999).
    - "... the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations, and mediate their differences." (UNDP, 1997)
    - " ...the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised for the common good. This includes the process by which those in authority are selected, monitored and replaced, the capacity of the government to effectively manage its resources and implement sound policies, and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them." (World Bank,, accessed 01/06/05)
    The mechanism through which ordered rule is maintained; the machinery for making and enforcing collective decisions in society and elsewhere. The core functions of government are to make law (legislation), implement law (execution) and interpret law (adjudication). However, the term government is also used to refer to the political executive alone, making it equivalent to the use of the term "the Administration" in presidential systems (Source: Heywood, 1997).
    Rights to which people are entitled by virtue of being human; universal and fundamental rights defined in Universal Declaration adopted by UN in 1948, supplemented by 1960s Covenants on social, economic, political, and civil rights. Variously interpreted by states, hence subject of global debate (Source,, accessed 01/06/05)
    - "The rules of the game in a society or, more formally, the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction" (North, 1990)
    - Institutions are not organizations - although they embrace them - but are best understood as a set of formal and informal rules, which are administered by organizations (North 1990)
    - Groups characterized by the will to influence political decision-making, in order to successfully implement certain political goals or values. They tend to be integrated into the political process, although groups may at times employ destructive methods in order to accomplish their goals (University of Virginia, accessed 2002).
    - A group of people who share common traits, attitudes, beliefs, and/or objectives who have formed a formal organization to serve specific common interests of the membership. (Source: Accessed 5/6/02.)
    Rightfulness; the property of decision makers that improves voluntary compliance, usually based on conformity of these expectations about rule. This confers on a command or law an authoritative or binding character, implying a duty to obey. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    The multiple, often overlapping, and even contradictory bases for claims on a resource (e.g. state law, customary law, religious laws, project regulations, and local norms)
    Dominant local interpretations of customary law, religious law, and other relevant normative and legal frameworks (Benda-Beckmann, Benda-Beckmann, and Spiertz 1996)
  • NGOs
    Non-governmental organizations, usually referring to voluntary and non-profit organizations which pursue public interests. Sometimes, NGOs are distinguished from community-based organizations (CBOs).
    Rules of conduct which specify appropriate behaviour in a given range of social contexts. A norm either prescribes a given type of behaviour, or forbids it. All human groups follow definite types of norm, which are always backed by sanctions of one kind or another - varying from informal disapproval to physical punishment or execution (Giddens, 1997:583).
    A team of individuals who seek some agreed upon collective goals within the framework of collective choice rules.
    "One or more processes in which an individual (or group) takes part in specific decision-making and action, and over which s/he may exercise specific controls. It is often used to refer specifically to processes in which primary stakeholders take an active part in planning and decision-making, implementation, learning and evaluation. This often has the intention of sharing control over the resources generated and responsibility for their future use." (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    System in which numerous groups or actors exhibit autonomy of action within the state, which influences the character of governance (Dahl 1982) The term is also used more generally to describe a belief in, or a commitment to, diversity and multiplicity (Heywood, 1997).
    Instruments, rules, regulations on various levels, especially by government. Policies typically define a course of action to reach certain objectives.
    The activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The political system; the set of power relationships of a society—e.g a democratic polity, a monarchical politics, etc. Those aspects of society by which occurs the exercise of political authority. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    The ability of individuals, or the members of a group, to achieve aims or further the interests they hold. Power is a pervasive aspect of all human relationships. Many conflicts in society are struggles over power, because how much power an individual or group is able to achieve governs how far they are able to put their wishes into practice at the expense of those of others. (Giddens 1997:584).
    - Transfer of rights and responsibilities from the public sector to private groups or individuals. This can include non-profit service organizations (grassroots or external NGOs) and for-profit firms (Uphoff 1998).
    - "Denotes transfers of responsibility for public functions to voluntary organizations or private enterprises." (Rondinelli and Nellis 1986, cited in Ostrom et al. 1993)
    - Transfer of responsibility for certain governmental functions to non-governmental organizations, voluntary organizations, community associations and private enterprises.
    - Selling to the public or to workers of government-owned assets or enterprises meant for the production of goods or services, also referred to as denationalization (Dahal 1996).
    - "The capacity to call upon the collective to stand behind one's claim to a benefit stream" (Bromley 1991:15, emphasis in original)
    - "An enforceable authority to undertake particular actions in a specific domain" (Commons 1968)
    - "Actions that one individual can take in relation to other individuals regarding some "things" "(Agrawal and Ostrom in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio 2000).
    - The claims, entitlements and related obligations among people regarding the use and disposition of a scarce resource (Furubotn and Pejovich 1972) (Vermillion in Meinzen-Dick, Knox, Di Gregorio 2000)
    - System of property rights
    - A method of assigning to particular individuals, 'authority' to select, for specific goods, any use from an unprohibited class of uses (Alchian 1965)
    Goods that are nonrival - consumption by one person does not reduce the supply available for others - and nonexcludable - people cannot be prevented from consuming them. Public goods can be local, national or international. (Soubbotina et al. 2000).
    Legal or moral entitlements to act or be treated in a particular way; civil rights differ from human rights. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    The principle that law should “rule” in the sense that it establishes a framework within which all conduct or behavior takes place. (Source: Heywood 1997).
    The principle that legislative, executive and judicial power should be separated through the construction of three independent branches of government. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    - The shared knowledge, understandings, norms, rules, and expectations about patterns of interactions that groups of individuals bring to a recurrent activity (Ostrom 1999)
    - Features of social organisation - such as networks and values, including tolerance, inclusion, reciprocity, participation and trust - that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital inheres in the relations between and among actors. (UNDP 1997).
    - The social resources (networks, membership of groups, relationship of trust, access to wider institutions of society) upon which people draw in pursuit of livelihoods (Carney 1998:7)
    "A multi-dimensional concept, involving economic, social, political, cultural, and special aspects of disadvantage and deprivation, often described as the process by which individuals and groups are wholly or partly excluded from participation in their society, as a consequence of low income and constricted access to employment, social benefits and services, and to various aspects of cultural and community life. A key component is the framing of the issue as social and community exclusion, rather than individual and personal responsibility." (
    Collections of individuals who interact in systematic ways with one another. Groups may range from very small associations to large-scale organizations or societies. Whatever their size, it is a defining feature of a group that its members have an awareness of a common identity. Most of our lives are spent in group contact; in modern societies, most people belong to groups of many different types (Giddens 1997:585).
    ".. policy that ensures a minimum income, consumption, or wage level for everyone in a society or sub-group. It may also provide people (or businesses) with protection against risks, such as lost income, limited access to credit, or devastation from natural disasters." (Gunderson et al., 2000)
    Patterns of interaction between individuals or groups. Social life does not happen in a random fashion. Most of our activities are structured: they are organized in a regular and repetitive way. Although the comparison can be misleading, it is handy to think of the social structure of a society as rather like the girders which underpin a building and hold it (Giddens 1997).
    An ideology characterized by a belief in community, cooperation, equality and common ownership; socialist theories range from communism to social democracy. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    The concept that a nation has complete autonomy to determine its own policies. It implies that there is no higher authority that dictates the decisions of a nation-state.
    (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    The organization that has jurisdiction over all property and persons in the modern world. "States" are the institutional underpinning of modern governments, and have legal and practical acceptance as the political association that holds "sovereign" jurisdiction within defined territorial borders, characterized by its monopoly of legitimate violence. (Source: Heywood 1997)
    Creation of new government institutions and the strengthening of existing ones.
    Law of the state; official government law.
    The principle that a higher level of government -- or organization -- should not perform any function or duty that can be handled more effectively at a lower level. The principle is widely considered as a rationale for decentralization. It is an important principle in the European Union and one of the key principles of catholic social thought.
    - Originally a concept developed in forestry and then more widely applied in environmental management, referring to the ability of an ecosystem to maintain a defined/desired state of ecological integrity over time.
    - Drawing on this idea, the Brundtland report defined sustainable development as a form of development "that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs" (WCED, 1987: 43). Sustainable Development was made an international commitment at the Earth Summit in Rio 1992, and reaffirmed at the Johannesburg Summit in 2002.
    "Form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to the tradition. ... In sociology, the concept of traditional authority (domination) comes from Max Weber's tripartite classification of authority, the other two forms being charismatic authority and rational-legal authority. All of those three domination types represent an example of his ideal type concept. Weber noted that it in history those ideal types of domination are always found in combinations." (Source:, accessed 01/06/05).
    "Transparency or openness means the ready, unobstructed access to, and availability of data and information from public as well as private sources that is accurate, timely, relevant and comprehensive." (Source:, accessed 01/06/05)
    Costs incurred for using the price mechanism for coordinating economic activity (Coase 1960).
    In most definitions, transaction costs include the costs of searching for information, the costs of bargaining and making contracts, and the costs of monitoring and enforcing contracts. They also include the costs of defining and enforcing property rights.
    Ideas held by human individuals or groups about what is desirable, proper, good or bad. Differing values represent key aspects of variations in human culture. (Giddens 1997:586).

References used to compile the glossary60.92 KB