Terminological clarifications- “Values” and “governance”


Value Isobars’ working definition of “values”:

Values are reference points for evaluating something as positive or negative.

Values are rationally and emotionally binding and they give long-term orientation and motivation for action.



Further explication of the definition:

a) Connection to agents. Values are held by agents, both on the individual and collective level.

 b) Connection to value sets. Normally an agent does not only affirm a single value, but rather he or she affirms multiple values. Agents typically group these multiple values as specific  “value sets”. An agent may for example affirm a set of values comprising the values “autonomy”, “efficiency” and “welfare”. The same value, e.g. “autonomy”, can occur in different value sets and take on different priority and meaning when it is connected to various other values.

 c) Connection to identities and practices. Values and value sets are closely connected to the agent’s identity. By holding something as a value an agent imbues it with meaning and importance. At the same time roles and practices are centred around certain values and value sets. The sciences, for example, stress different values, and different prioritizations between values, from religious practices or family life. Thus we can talk about “scientific values”, “religious values”, “family values”, “political values”, etc. A person has several roles and value sets. Different contexts may trigger the importance of a particular value set for the person or the group.

 d) Contrast to preferences and attitudes. Although values, attitudes and preferences are often used synonymously, we see values as something connected to, but distinct from attitudes and preferences. Attitudes refer to a tendency to evaluate things in a particular way. To have a preference is to have a greater liking for one alternative over another. We attribute a higher importance and meaning to values than to preferences and we use values to evaluate both preferences and attitudes. Values have a prescriptive dimension which preferences lack. When we affirm something as a value we want others to see it as a value too.

 e) Contrast with norms. Values do not directly prescribe or proscribe actions, as norms do. Values give motivation and rationale for action without demanding a specific (course of) action.

 f) Connection to beliefs. Beliefs about what is the case in the world influence our value judgements. For example, whether one judges that biometric technologies are or are not in conflict with (some of) one’s values will be influenced by one’s belief about the likelihood of the misuse of biometric information.  

 g) Reflexive, rational and emotional dimensions of values. We assume that our values can withstand criticism and we are willing to give reasons for them. Thus they have a reflexive, rational and hermeneutic dimension. We are also emotionally attached to our values, this is particularly evident when our values are threatened.  As reference points of evaluation, values are relatively stable. However, we can be led to see that affirming certain values is wrong, or to see that our value sets are inconsistent and therefore modify them. Values are thus neither always fluctuating, nor given once and for all.

 h) Expressed values and revealed values. In the study of values it is sometimes useful to make a distinction between “revealed values” and “expressed values”. Expressed values are values that people explicitly affirm. Revealed values are inferred from actions and preferences.[1]



Value Isobars’ understanding of “governance”

The term “governance” is subject to many different understandings. The word governance derives from the Greek verb κυβερνάω [kubernáo] which means to steer. Governance is  taken to mean steering or regulation in a general sense. It can be understood as “the processes whereby actors formulate, implement, enforce and review rules to guide their common affairs” (Scholte 2005: 140), and as the process of selecting policy options among competing values and translating them into political programmes (Pahl-Wostl/Toonen 2009:8).

“Since governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made, and the formal and informal structures that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision” (UNESCAP 2011).


From state centric to polycentric governance

It has been argued that every society has distinctive modes of governance and that prevailing structures of governance can alter through history (Scholte 2005). It is common to read the development in the recent decades as involving a shift from a centric (solely state-based) towards a more polycentric or multilevel mode of regulation. In line with this, contemporary governance-approaches usually understand politics as a process in which state and non-state actors (NGOs, churches, labour unions, supra-state actors etc.) contribute on different levels, in different arenas and with different modes of interaction to policy formulation and implementation. From this point of view, the government will be one of the many actors in governance; thus being embedded in multi-scale and diffuse networks of regulation.  


Normative uses of the term “governance”

Some set up a dichotomy between governance and politics, where governance is seen as management or as the administrative and process-oriented elements of governing, whereas politics refer to political contest and the democratic and public deliberative aspects of working out laws and policies (Loughhead 2009).


More commonly the term “governance” is now used in a normative way as signalling a concern with “good governance”. The concept of “good governance” is loaded with multiple meanings, but most often it includes the ideas of i) “inclusive governance”, ii) “democratic governance” and iii) “public engagement”. The White Paper on European Governance, for example, explicitly affirms the concept of “good governance” by elaborating the five principles of: openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness, coherence, (EC Commission 2009: 8/9).



 EC Commission (2009): Global Governance of Science. Report of the Expert Group on Global Governance of Science to the Science, Economy and Society Directorate, Directorate-General for Research, European Commission Online: http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/global-governance-020609_en.pdf (24.8.2011)

Jain, R.B.: Public Administration, Bureaucracy and Development in the Third World: Emerging Paradigm of Good Governance at the Threshold of the 21st Century. In: Jain, R.B. (ed.): Governing development across cultures. Challenges and dilemmas of an emerging sub-discipline in political science. Opladen; Farmingtin Hills 2007, pp. 17-66.

Loughhead, S. (2009) “DFID’s Approach to goevrnance: Imporatnce of Accountability and Transparency”, Presentation to Governance and Transparency Fund workshop, 24th February.

Mayntz, Renate (2009a): Einleitung. In: Mayntz, Renate: Über Governance. Institutionen und Prozesse politischer Regelung. Frankfurt a.M.; New York, pp. 7-11.

Mayntz, Renate (2009b): Multi-level Governance of Economic Sectors (2007). In: Mayntz, Renate: Über Governance. Institutionen und Prozesse politischer Regelung. Frankfurt a.M.; New York, pp. 79-104.

Norris, Pippa (2008): Driving Democracy. Do Power-Sharing Institutions Work? Cambridge.

Ostrom, Elinor (2010): Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. In: American Economic Review 100(3), pp. 641–72.

Pahl-Wostl, Claudia; Toonen, Theo (2009): Global Water Governance – Quo Vadis? In: Global Water Governance 8, pp. 8-10.

Pahl-Wostl, Claudia; Gupta, Joyeeta; Petry, Daniel (2008) Governance and the Global Water System: A Theoretical Exploration. In: Global Governance 14, pp. 419-435.

Scholte, Jan Aart (2005): Globalization – a critical introduction. Second edition. Houndmills Basingstoke Hampshire.

Streeck, Wolfgang (2008): Von der steuernden Demokratie zum selbststeuernden Kapitalismus. Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung Working Paper 08/7. Online: http://www.mpifg.de/pu/workpap/wp08-7.pdf (28.7.2011).

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific [= UNESCAP] (2011): What is Good Governance?                             Online: http://www.unescap.org/pdd/prs/ProjectActivities/Ongoing/gg/governance.asp (24.8.2011)

Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen (2011): Welt im Wandel. Gesellschaftsvertrag für eine Große Transformation. Berlin.



[1] This definition does not address methodological questions of properly identifying and separating the two value types and the issue of whether values or preferences are at stake in social science surveys.



Value Isobars is an EU funded project under the seventh framework program.

The project has been coordinated by the Centre of the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen and lead by Prof. Matthias Kaiser.

Funding period:
June 2009- November 2011

Project number: 230557

EU-funding: 819971.00 Euro