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{Excerpt} Direction and control are needed whenever people come together to realize societal and organizational goals. To govern is to do just that, to direct and control, by established laws or—preferably not—by arbitrary will. Its core underlying practices, where the former mode is used, are to specify expectations, delegate authority, and substantiate performance.

Complex systems cannot be reduced; however, where society or an organization is multipart or too large for simple management, it usually moves for the creation of entities tasked with guiding related processes and systems in their host’s co-evolving context of society, economy, environment, polity, and technology.

It follows that governance, the activity of governing, is a multifaceted phenomenon; definitions of it can be subtle, challenging, and powerful at once. With frequent overlap and resultant conflict, governance shapes affairs at global, national (including, for instance, state or provincial, municipal, and local), institutional, and community levels by means of the entities that occupy shifting (and frequently permeable) social and economic space there, such as government (including the military), civil society (including the voluntary or not-for-profit sector), and the private sector. (Public and private media play advocacy, entertainment, and advertising roles throughout.) All the same, most definitions of governance rest on three dimensions: (i) authority, (ii) decision making, and (iii) accountability for conformance (assurance) and performance (value creation and resource utilization). Hence, regimes of governance determine severally who has authority, who makes decisions (and how other stakeholders make their voice heard), and the manner in which account is rendered.


Suggested Citation

Serrat, O. (2010). A primer on corporate governance.Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.

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This article was first published by the Asian Development Bank (