Is Governance the Issue? Do We Care?

Our nation, according to media reports, is as divided as it has been since the Civil War. But it is hard to know what divides us. Are our agencies of government causing the problem? Or do we have conflicting understandings of what governance, the process of implementing our laws and policies, is? Do our country’s citizens not fully understand the role of government, our constitution, our laws, our enforcement systems, in ensuring their rights and privileges under the Constitution? Perhaps our governance process has gone too far to enhance the quality of life of our citizens, becoming too involved in programs to keep us safe and healthy? Or perhaps the governance efforts have not gone far enough to ensure an equitable distribution of the benefits of government?

Today in America leaders that lean toward “Democrat” warn about a split in the governing process so serious that there is destabilization of our civic society and our national structure. Leaders that lean toward “Republican” are aggressively ignoring the rupture that occurred over the established voting process that has been a staple of American civic life for over 200 years. Even more disconcerting, there seems to be a massive national amnesia regarding the role and benefits of govenment.

Government provides firefighters to help control damaging wildfires.
Government pays for fighting forest fires.

Our government is providing benefits to the people it serves, even if the benefits are not fully recognized. The nationwide federal government relief package is cutting the rate of child poverty in America by more than half. Local, state and national fire service agencies have put out millions of acres of wildfires this year.

When government does not work, people’s lives are seriously damaged. The people in Flint Michigan learned that through the bad mangagement of their water systems. The people of New Orleans learned that through the lack of preparation for a serious hurricane. Government makes a difference to our lives. People elect the individuals that determine the quality and effectiveness of government we will have. People need to pay continuous attention to their government , appreciating the benefits, mindful of the costs and the equitability of their distribution. Voters control the flow of beneficial governance and when the voters fail to pay attention, harm to the public can ensue.

Why don’t more people care about the quality and effectiveness of their governance? Evidence shows that perversions in the use of social media can corrupt the public’s understanding of governance, its benefits and its virtuous operation. Part of the reason may also be due to lack of transparency and effective ways to measure and communicate progress and shortcomings.

Recently OxFam convened an effort to examine the issue of governance and data. Their efforts, since June 2021, have narrowed to a list of ten questions necessary to answer “what are the most significant governance questions we must answer with data today”:

  1. What is the relationship between transparency of government performance and public trust in government institutions? Which factors have the most significant impact on increasing public trust in government? 
  2. Which populations/groups are and are not represented in data that is collected and used for formal government decision-making? Who is most at risk of being excluded from consideration or inclusion with the rise in data innovations? 
  3. If citizens have greater access to data and information, does that mobilize them to take action and engage politically? Under what circumstances does that happen?
  4. How are social media and digital communications platforms affecting the way people engage politically and the nature and quality of political debate? 
  5. What are the key factors contributing to effective civic engagement at national and local levels? Which skills or incentives do citizens need to participate in public decision-making? 
  6. Does open governance affect the accountability of those in power; facilitate public debate and participation; and lead to more inclusive, transparent and timely decision-making? 
  7. How can democracies achieve inclusion more effectively, in terms of both process (i.e., how decisions are made, whose voices count), and outcomes (i.e., how resources, prosperity and well-being are distributed)?
  8. How does the level of community monitoring/ transparency of government budget and expenditure at different administrative levels affect the quality of public service delivery? 
  9. Which factors play the biggest role in determining differences in institutional capacity and performance of government agencies? 
  10. How has democratic regression (i.e., erosion of democratic norms and standards) affected public service delivery? Does less democratic governance lead to less effective service delivery? 

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