The ‘so what’ of governance

2 minute read

In recent weeks the IOG has become increasingly outspoken on issues of governance in Canada. What is governance and why are we so vocal about it? In a nutshell, governance is the system of rules we give ourselves to make decisions that represent the will of our citizenry, reflect our collective ability to reinforce our societal values and to maintain social cohesion in Canada.

At the IOG, we are self-professed ‘geeks for governance.’ We spend our days examining how decisions are made, who makes them, how decision-makers are held accountable for their actions, and what avenues of recourse are available for those who aren’t in the decision-making circle.

As a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Ottawa, Canada, the IOG also brings a distinctly Canadian lens to our work. This lens is rooted in a recognition of the rule of law, and the recognition that we live in a free and democratic society.

Respecting the rule of law, freedom and democracy are the principles upon which Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is based. The Charter also outlines a series of freedoms that every Canadian is afforded by law. These include but are not limited to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; the right to vote; and the right to life, liberty and security of person.

At IOG we believe these rights and freedoms are worth defending and protecting.

How does the IOG distinguish between good governance and a governance system that aspires to be good? We apply the following five principles to governance challenges. Variations on these principles are found in much literature on the subject of governance. They can be in conflict at times, and so it is important to consider how the principles are applied in context, and how they inform the result as well as the process.

  • Legitimacy and voice– that all men and women have a means by which to make their voice heard (directly or indirectly), and that governance mediates differing interests to reach broad consensus which reflects the best interest of the group.
  • Direction– that leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, and a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded
  • Performance– that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders, and in so doing, produce results that make the best use of resources.
  • Accountability (and transparency)– that decision-makers in government, the private sector, and civil society organizations are accountable to the public and their institutional stakeholders. This accountability differs depending on the organizations and whether the decision is internal or external. Accountability requires transparency – the free flow of information – such that processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them.
  • Fairness – that men and women have equal opportunity to improve/maintain their well-being and that legal frameworks are fair and enforced impartially.

Do you have questions about governance? Write to us anytime, at

By Rhonda Moore

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

(613) 562-0090 or 0092