The British Council, Governance and law

Council publications in governance

Governance sector policy


The governance sector covers more than the formal branches of 'government' (the judiciary, legislature and executive). It includes electoral reform and the introduction of democratic institutions and procedures; public sector and civil service reform; public sector institutional strengthening, including local government development, its links with civil society institutions, and decentralization; the media's role in promoting freedom of speech, civil awareness, accountability and transparency of executive action; citizenship and redress of grievances; conflict resolution, promotion of civil society institutions, and governance aspects of natural resources management.

This policy paper is complemented by Council policy papers for its work in the law; management; gender; and economics and finance.

UK capability in the sector

There is world-wide interest in British governance history, tradition and institutions. Of particular note is the radical reform of central public service over the past seventeen years. Britain has one of the longest-established systems of local government in the world, and although the power and resources of local authorities have been reduced over recent years, they have innovated to meet the challenge of change.

Local government financial management and audit functions have great relevance to the decentralisation of public administration systems abroad. Britain's parliamentary conventions , institutions and systems also arouse considerable interest as one of the longest-established legislative machineries.

The number and strength of Britain's civil institutions and social organisations make up a rich, pluralistic society. In addition, Britain has a wide selection of independent academic and public policy research institutions active in the governance field which are themselves integral to a thriving democratic society. They have considerable international experience, and can assist counterparts overseas compare internationally the results of public policy measures.

Britain's media capabilities and training resources are renowned world-wide. Also, the incidence of civil conflict in Northern Ireland has generated a wide variety of resource centres in the field of conflict resolution and prevention which have relevance to zones of conflict elsewhere.

Sponsors' objectives

The policies and objectives of the Council's two main sponsors in governance are very similar:

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

The promotion of good government world-wide is an FCO priority as a means of ensuring a stable and peaceful international order. Accountability, conflict prevention and the protection of human rights are major concerns. Targeting is towards policy makers in the public service, senior members of the legal profession and judiciary, and parliamentarians. The FCO extends British influence and promotes the use of British resource institutions in addressing governance-related initiatives overseas.

Department for International Development (DFID)

Good government is one of the DFID's four priority aims in promoting sustainable economic and social development. Four aspects of good government are identified by the DFID: the legitimacy, accountability and competence of government; and respect for human rights and the rule of law. More recently, the DFID has begun to promote the development of civil society organisations as well as effective print and broadcasting media. These are seen as ways of enhancing the accountability of government executive branches through the development of an informed and aware citizenry.

The Council's work in the governance field seeks to complement and support the efforts made by sponsors:

The Council's role is to ensure that those seeking to enhance governance derive a representative picture of British experience from a wide variety of practitioners, academic researchers, technical specialists, pressure groups, regulators and users of public services.

The lessons of British experience are conveyed by the Council in a form that indicates the potential applications and prospective pitfalls of British approaches in other national contexts. In this way, the Council supports processes of change in the countries where it works. By a better understanding of governance practices amongst nations, trading and commercial links can be fostered.

British Council objectives

Marked differences in perception of the British governance situation result from the diversity of those working in this field who represent a bewildering array of British sources of information, experience and opinion. The British Council, on the other hand, is an independent organisation with extensive networks in the UK and overseas. As such, it is in a unique position to provide a balanced projection of British governance experience and capabilities.

Attempts to transfer 'blueprints', the direct application of models of governance or reform from one country context direct to another, are futile. The Council's extensive representation overseas and its familiarity with political, institutional and social realities in the countries where it is represented provide the resources which enable British and host country partners to relate British governance experience to overseas country situations, and between countries in the same region.

The Council has long-established expertise in 'cross-cutting' functions relevant to the 'new' governance agenda. These include: raising citizens' awareness of constitutional rights; and enhancing the accountability of formal administrative and political structures. The Council has always had an important role in the provision of information to a wide range of groups including established contacts in both broadcasting and print journalism.

British Council resources in Governance


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© The British Council 1997

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