The word governance derives from the Greek verb κυβερνάω [kubernáo] which means to steer and was used for the first time in a metaphorical sense by Plato. It then passed on to Latin and then on to many languages.
- b. Controlling, directing, or regulating influence; control, sway, mastery.
- c. in or under (a person's) governance : subject to his control. So to have, hold, take in governance .
- d. The state of being governed; good order; esp. in to set in governance .
- 2:a. The office, function, or power of governing; authority or permission to govern; †the command (of a body of men, a ship).
- 3:The manner in which something is governed or regulated; method of management, system of regulations, often: A rule of practice, a discipline.
- 4:a. Conduct of life or business; mode of living, behavior, demeanour. Also pl. proceedings, doings.
- b. Discreet or virtuous behavior; wise self-command.
Governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of management or leadership processes. These processes and systems are typically administered by a government.
In the case of a business or of a non-profit organization governance relates to consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility. For example, managing at a corporate level might involve evolving policies on privacy, on internal investment, and on the use of data.
To distinguish the term governance from government: "governance" is what a "government" does. It might be a geo-political government (nation-state), a corporate government (business entity), a socio-political government (tribe, family etc.), or any number of different kinds of government, but governance is the physical exercise of management power and policy, while government is the instrument (usually collective) that does it. The term government is also used more abstractly as a synonym for governance, as in the Canadian motto, "Peace, Order and Good Government".
As a process, governance may operate in an organization of any size: from a single human being to all of humanity; and it may function for any purpose, good or evil. A reasonable or rational purpose of governance might aim to assure, (sometimes on behalf of others) that an organization produces a worthwhile pattern of good results while avoiding an undesirable pattern of bad circumstances.
Perhaps the moral and natural purpose of governance consists of assuring, on behalf of those governed, a worthy pattern of good while avoiding an undesirable pattern of bad. The ideal purpose, obviously, would assure a perfect pattern of good with no bad. A government, comprises a set of inter-related positions that govern and that use or exercise power, particularly coercive power.
A good government, following this line of thought, could consist of a set of inter-related positions exercising coercive power that assures, on behalf of those governed, a worthwhile pattern of good results while avoiding an undesirable pattern of bad circumstances, by making decisions that define expectations, grant power, and verify performance.
Politics provides a means by which the governance process operates. For example, people may choose expectations by way of political activity; they may grant power through political action, and they may judge performance through political behavior.
Conceiving of governance in this way, one can apply the concept to states, to corporations, to non-profits, to NGOs, to partnerships and other associations, to project-teams, and to any number of humans engaged in some purposeful activity.