Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Functional Aspects of a Governance System (e.g Housing, Education, Health)

Governments are expected to deliver a range of public services to their constituencies. These services range from managing the needs for housing to providing childhood education and from ensuring health care to protecting the environment. At the international level, there are parallel expectations of a governance system, albeit for much larger constituencies with widely different expectations for these services and extreme divergences in the current level of services provided to various social and geographic communities.

After WWII, a wide range of specialized agencies were established (e.g. FAO in 1945, UNESCO in 1945, WHO in 1948) to coordinate national departments and ministers dealing with these key functional units of government. These international organizations are also expected to provide a foundation for international support to developing nations providing them assistance in operating these state services within their own societies. Each of these international organizations is organized around a specific policy area (education, food, health) which are ‘natural’ extensions of existing national ministries and departments (Ministry of Education, Department of Agriculture, Ministre of Sante etc). And each of these specialized agencies has their own theme-specific mandates. The UN departments and the specialized agencies, which now number some 28, are the practical arms and legs of the international community. 

These international bodies are, however, structured in a variety of ways. Some of which are:

  1. Specialized agencies of the UN system (e.g FAO, WHO, UNESCO, ILO);
  2. Funds or programs of the UN (e.g. United Nations Development -UNDP, United Nations Environment Programme - UNEP);
  3. Functional commissions of ECOSOC and their secretariats (e.g. Commission on Population and Development, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice);
  4. Specialized cross organizational bodies (e.g. World Food Program, Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management- SAICM); and
  5. Conference of parties of independent conventions and agreements and their secretariats (e.g. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other multilateral environmental agreements [MEAs])

The de facto international governance system for a wide range of traditional government functions include:

  1. A large and diverse collection of sector-specific firms that allocate products, processes, and prices in their markets  (e.g. pharmaceutical firms, educational media companies, agribusiness);
  2. International business and professional associations associated with these sector-specific industries (e.g. International Chamber of Commerce - ICC,  European Chemical Industry Council – CEFIC);
  3. A collection of semi-private, semi-public standard setting bodies (e.g. International Organization for Standardization-ISO; Forest Stewardship Council);
  4. Global media industry that offers its interpretation of the expectations and goals in these areas; and
  5. Private foundations and corporate philanthropic bodies that select and fund projects in any given sector (e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations – GAVI).

The global component of civil society in this field is largely:

  1. A large collection of international non-governmental organizations which work to focus global attention and the expectations that these functions should be universally available, particularly in the developing world;
  2. A larger collection of national and international non-governmental organizations which deliver social services in developing world;
  3. A diverse community of international worker associations and unions;
  4. Professional and academic bodies providing policy and research directions in specific areas; and
  5. Media groups that produce and distribute educational/scientific material related to specific sectors


Related ideas: Dual-Oversight Agency; Fisheries; Health Issues; Education; Water Stress

This section continues with Options for the Future.

The Readers' Guide welcomes commentary – critical or otherwise – of the categorization and descriptions above as well as the identification of related issues and case studies.

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