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How May Covid-19 Be Changing the Governance Discourse?

September 9, 2020

The aim of this blog is to suggest ways in which the ‘governance discourse’ (what a grand term!) is changing – indeed has already changed - as a result of Covid-19.

I know that blogs are supposed to be discursive and informal. Recently our office was privileged to have a session with that master-blogger, Duncan Green, who shared all his tricks and techniques on the art of blogging. However, just this once I am going to ignore everything he said and make my case in two tables.

But first a quick explanation is in order. I perceive (I may be wrong here) that Covid-19 has changed both the focus and the urgency of the governance discourse more in the last six months than anything else has done over the last decade. I am aware I am (possibly hugely) exaggerating here, and I am so doing to make the point.  It does seem to me that governance practitioners are now being challenged to transition from a general way of interpreting the world (a view that has clear relevance at every level and in every context), to a much more specific and focused set of questions regarding the immediate here and now Covid-19 implications of that way of interpreting the world. Questions that were rather peripheral in donor-led development circles (the ones with which I am most familiar) now seem to be central:

  • What determines the effectiveness of state responses to Covid-19?
  • What is happening to state accountability as elections are postponed and due process in procurements are side-stepped?
  • What is happening to state authority as inequalities are increasingly laid bare?
  • What is happening to the legitimacy of states as citizens lose faith in the fairness and competence of governments?

These are all real and pressing issues, and they are issues on which governance practitioners must have something to say. There have been many articles and papers published to date – each one looking at a particular aspect. This blog merely tries to present an overview.

So Table 1 summarises what - I suggest ­- were the five dominant pre-Covid-19 ‘overarching’ governance questions. Table 2 presents my initial judgment of what the five post-Covid-19 governance questions may be. A short conclusion brings the blog to an end. Thankfully.

Table 1:  My governance life pre-Covid-19

Table 2: What may become my governance life post-Covid


It is not that any of the five ‘pre-Covid-19’ questions have been answered or have gone away. Far from it – we know they haven’t. But it does seem that Covid-19 has upended the contemporary governance discourse and inserted a bunch of much more urgent, shorter-term, and more politically pertinent questions. If we are thinking and working politically, then maybe Covid-19 offers an opportunity for governance practitioners to play a key role in identifying ‘post-Covid-19’ recovery strategies and addressing some of the issues identified in Table 2.

This blog also appears on the Governance and Development Soapbox.

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