Governance -- Alone On the Sidelines

We're in the midst of change at every level of our civilization -- from how and what we use and consume, to how we purchase things, to the infrastructure we rely upon, to our culture, and even nature itself.* The only constant is change. Except for governance.

Streaming music, digital publications, smartphones, streaming movies and television, online banking -- these and other changes represent the fashion of ways to get things done.

Online, cellular, https, encryption, passwords, rooftop solar, GPS -- these and other changes represent how our infrastructure has changed.

Amazon, Netflix, TurboTax, Spotify, PayPal, Square -- these and other changes represent how commerce has changed.

Gay marriage, legalized marijuana, income inequality, terrorism -- these and other changes represent how our culture has changed.

Global warming, Zika virus, MRSA, pythons in the Everglades -- these and other changes represent how nature has changed.

But finding examples of how governance has changed is more difficult, especially when it comes to academic and non-profit governance. Based on many observations both at the national level and across academia and society publishing, it seems governance is sitting out this 20-year period in which everything else is changing and adapting.

At the societal level, governance has withdrawn, especially in the US at the federal and state levels. From government shutdowns to budgetary stalemates to funding cuts for important long-term spending initiatives (infrastructure, research and development), the crisis in government/governance is palpable. The current election cycle in the US is another troubling indication.

But the US is not alone, as austerity politics, threats to depart the EU by the UK, lax security in Belgium, scandals in Greece, a crumbling Autobahn in Germany, and other abdications of responsible governance exist in many places you expect to do this better.

At the level of universities and non-profits, governance bodies seem disconnected or lost. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that many of those involved in governance are highly insulated from the effects of their decisions, the honorary/ceremonial nature of governance and its service, and no sense of urgency or importance around their role.

It was only when I was recently giving a talk about change that this hit me squarely. Of all the layers of civilization in this model,* the only one I could not pin to direct and active change was governance. It's like governance is sitting out this decade or two.

The consequences of this are readily seen -- inadequate funding of people and projects; large stores of retained earnings without expenditure plans; self-protective and self-perpetuating organizations rather than transformative, responsive entities; and downstream negative effects on professionals and citizens, with inordinate negative effects on the youngest members of both groups.

There are efforts to wake governance up -- the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the push for the $15 minimum wage, efforts to control global warming, and initiatives to increase civil liberties and reduce civic dangers. But governance and government, both of which seem to have their eyes and ears covered, remain ineffectual and out of touch.

Until governance wakes up and actively engages with a rapidly changing world and civilization, we can expect more problems and more inadequacies. It is the layer of a changing world that is stuck in place, and one that needs a real push to get going again.

* This model is drawn from Stuart Brand's "The Clock of the Long Now" and its model of the moderating forces affecting civilizations.