Agile Global Governance
6 min read

Agile Global Governance

The world is changing, but global institutions stay the same. However, the stillness is no longer justified as rapid technological developments make current global decision-making processes obsolete and create a need for more adaptive and comprehensive system.

This essay is a thinking enterprise, on the current state and possible future of global governance.  I aim to present the idea of agile global governance, a new level of global decision-making with the focus on multi-dimensionality, multi-stakeholderism (is there even term like this?) and adaptiveness. The essay is at drafting stage, and I hope my ideas will become clearer over time.

The essay proceeds as follows. Firstly, I explain how technological advancement makes current global decision-making practices inadequate. Secondly, I introduce the Theory of Levels of Governance and explain, why there is a need to open up a new level of global governance. Lastly, I outline Agile Global Governance and explain, how it is different from other levels.

Technological disruption

Technology disrupts governance. There are four dynamics that illustrate how.

Firstly, regulation lags behind technological advancement. Policy-making is too political, bureaucratic and centralized. Issues are addressed only when there is a political opportunity to do so, not when there is urgency in doing so. Regulatory agencies are constantly over-burdened by bureaucratic requirements and they focus more on complying with procedures and check-lists rather than finding innovative solutions. The whole process is overly centralized and nested in hierarchical structure, and regulators need to go from the bottom all the way up to take a decision. This slows things down.

Secondly, tech affects several sectors at the same time. The multi-sectoral effect of technology cannot be effectively regulated only within one industry or sector. Regulators from different spheres has to joint the effort, but each comes with own set of procedures, rules and interests, which make it difficult to find common ground. Again, this slows things down.

Thirdly, tech is already part of our everyday lives. More tech becomes personalized for users, more integrated it becomes into our daily personal life. Regulation, which by this point already lags behind any tech innovations, comes too late and tries to regulate something post-factum. It is challenging to regulate something that is already part of people’s lives. People may not understand or may not comply, because rules came too late.

Fourthly, tech is political as well. It is not an empty shell filled with functions and automations. They represent the values, culture, beliefs and assumptions of those who created them and their environment. By regulating tech, which already integrated into our social life, policy-makers de-facto touch upon other spheres of our environment that shape beliefs and assumptions behind any tech.

Lastly, tech is uncertain. We never know how it will develop and change our lives. Everybody was amazed by social networking, instant messaging and personalized gadgets at first in 2004, but fast forward to 2019, everybody was scared of trackers and algoritms that know about our habits, interests and movements more than we ourselves do.

Regulating and shaping the evolution of tech requires a global multi-dimensional approach. No single department, government, regional or international organization is able to do it alone. Tech does not recognize borders, nationalities or jurisdictions. It requires global, fast and adaptive regulatory thinking that barely exist today.

Global governance levels

Governance of the world evolved over several levels in order to create the system we have today. I theorize that we can differentiate between 4 major governance levels that characterize, in various shape, the past and present management of the world.

First is national level, where each nation-state governs over its own territory, establishes bilateral relations with other nation-states. Second is regional and international level, where states create and join regional or sector-focused international organizations and achieve economic and sometimes political integration. Third is multi-lateral and global level, where global multi-lateral organizations with almost universal memberships are aimed at solving global problems. These global organizations are the main administers of global processes, responsible for global economy and peace.

As such, bilateral trade agreements will take place on the national level. Regional economic integration initiatives such as the European Union, Eurasian Union, ECOWAS and others take place on regional level. They neighbor with international clubs like OECD, FAO, ILO on the same level. Global giants such the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO occupy the last level, where they take care of global issues of peace and conflict, global economy, poverty and development and environment.

What unites all of these levels are the rules-based system of governance and the dominance of national governments as main actors. These organizations are based on inter-governmental treaties that codified principles of operations and legal boundaries of what they can and cannot do. These organizations are essentially focusing on administering global processes, rather than delivering global outcomes for global problems. They are drowning in bureaucratic hurdles and political limitations established by member-governments, they are slow to adapt and react to changes, they are constantly under-funded as budgets never seem to match evolving needs in constantly changing environment. They are outdated because they were designed after the World War II and still operate by the same rules. These rules were effective in laying the foundation for peaceful rules-based, rather than power-based global order during the turbulent times these organizations were established in.

Today - not so much.

Global transformations were not anticipated by rules creators and international organizations struggled to deal with them. They are unable to perform, because their plans never deliver in changing environment and they lack resources. Not less important, their hands are always tied by national interests of their member-governments. They are unable to reform and adjust, as doing so will require re-writing their founding treaties - and finding new compromises that will be legally binding for all member-states are almost impossible. States are not willing to be constrained by the new rules that may play against them in the future. Some of them already regret to be constrained by rules that were created even before they existed.

And so they stand still. The message here is clear: global organizations are waiting to transform into their next evolutionary form in order to tool-up for the changing world.

Agile global governance

It may or may not be surprising, but the global federation or the world government is not the next level in the evolution of governance. Considering political realities, it is hardly ever a viable option. Rather, the next level is global  partnerships of all relevant actors (not only of governments) that will create multi-stakeholder multi-dimensional governance architecture -  a concept, I will describe as agile global governance.

Global governance is a process of taking decisions and exercising authority on the global scale. Agility is concept that describe adaptiveness, nimbleness and flexibility. Agile global governance is

  • a multi-dimensional,
  • multi-stakeholder and
  • adaptive approach to global decision-making.

It is multi-dimensional because it has comprehensive systems-oriented approach to problem-solving, aiming at capturing complexity and interconnectedness of global patterns. It is multi-stakeholder because it invites all actors (not only governments) to come up with solutions and take decisions. It is adaptive because it acknowledges global changes and transformations as a default environment and constant adaption as as a default mode of operation.

Agile global governance values achieving outcomes, rather than following procedures and rules. It pushes to respond to changes and adapt rather than following pre-established plan. It opens up decision-making to all relevant stake-holders such as as experts, scientists, innovators, activists, NGOs, international organizations, private companies, governments and others in order to capture the complexity of issues and target them in comprehensive manner. It focuses on natural bottom-up building up, rather than artificial top-down imposing of structure and allows self-regulation rather hierarchical centralization.

Agile global governance follows patterns of the changing world. Plans never work and constantly require adjustments. Strict rules cannot predict needed behavior 10-years from now and need flexibility. People never know what to expect next. Rather than opposing uncertainty, agile global governance embraces it as the only constant in the changing world.

More importantly, Agile global governance builds on transformations that are already taking place:

Now, I does not want this to sound as my declaration of the end of rules-based system. This thinking piece is not advocating for anarchical world without rules, but it says that rules, as everything else, need to adjust and adapt. Rules are important, but they need to be updated and we need to face the reality that they should be updated constantly.

More importantly, this thinking piece puts accent on the inclusiveness of agile global governance towards other actors. In comparison to other levels, agile global governance specifically aims at incorporating non-state actors, both private and public, into global decision-making. In other levels, these actors are excluded and not provided with authority to shape global agenda. Usual citizens of Kazakhstan probably will never be able to pick who represents them in the UN, not talking about influencing other important global matters. Although international organizations try to compensate for this by providing access to civil society organizations and NGOs into their processes, these actors usually are not allowed to participate in the actual decision making.

Summing up, lets outline main points regarding Agile Global Governance:

Global decision-making should be based on global partnerships and multiple stakeholders, including all relevant public and private actors should be involved;

Global decision-making should be multi-dimensional: it should focus on system-level patterns and solutions, embracing complexity, rather than challenging it;

Global decision-making should be adaptive and adjustable, embracing change and uncertainty for the sake of achieving outcomes, rather than following rules.