The Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) is an inter-Faculty, inter-University research centre founded at the University of Pretoria in 2012. Cirad, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) formalised their partnership with GovInn in 2015 and 2018, respectively. The Centre is currently housed in the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) on the Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria, and has an office at the School of Government on the UWC campus in Cape Town.
GovInn is the first research institution in Africa dedicated, to inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary research in innovative governance. Its current research focus is on ‘emancipatory governance’. GovInn’s seventeen research staff work across the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural and Agricultural Sciences to respond to today’s wicked problems that cut across both disciplinary boundaries and the science-policy-practice interface.
Researchers at GovInn work with members of local communities, the general public and policymakers to respond to governance challenges locally, continentally and globally. The researchers address governance in critical areas such as land, water, mining, migration, cross-border trade, rural and regional development, food security, justice and conflict resolution, with a constant vision of the future of governance and governance of the future.
An important dimension of GovInn’s research strategy is the inclusion of postgraduate students in its research projects as a means of mentoring and guiding them into meaningful, impactful research oriented careers. GovInn undertakes research that influences and shapes policy and governance.
To this end, it investigates the intersection of local, national and international governance systems, initiates knowledge brokerage platforms and advises policymakers. GovInners sit on advisory boards with key stakeholders (international and regional organisations, government departments, embassies, think tanks, civil society organisations).
Vision and Mission
The vision of the Centre is that of a world class, multi- and transdisciplinary, collaborative, academic institution, focusing on governance innovation in Africa and globally. For the next three years this vision is specifically applied to ‘emancipatory governance’ as a means of exploring ‘innovative’ governance.
The mission of GovInn is i) to foster awareness and understanding of governance innovation, and ii) to contribute to such innovation through its national and international engagements. The mission of GovInn is achieved at the theoretical and practical level, through research and expertise, capacity building and training, community engagement and the dissemination of information.
GovInners see governance innovation as a “wicked problem”. Its “wickedness” stems from the architecture of governance, which crosses horizontal, vertical and transversal, individual and collective decision-making structures in nested ways. GovInn’s purposes in addressing governance from an innovative perspective is, therefore, to provide new insights by mobilizing theoretical and conceptual approaches as well as practical and concrete actions.
The concept of ‘emancipatory governance’ and innovative approaches to make governance more emancipatory are at the core of all research at GovInn. Innovation not only includes novelty, but also “weak signals”, signs of emerging practices which contribute to making governance more emancipatory. Emancipation is about legitimizing the inclusion of a diversity of stakeholders as real contributors to decision making. Emancipation is also the action of becoming free from prejudice, dominance, and asymmetries in relationships of power. Further, emancipation implies the provision of skills and tools of empowerment to the actors involved in the processes of governance. Therefore, it differs significantly from conventional approaches to governance, as its focus is not only on the final state of a decision-making process, but also, and mainly, on principles and on how they translate into different states according to different conditions, evolving also over time. The “innovative” dimension is a dynamic one, making it possible for forms of governance to be continuously adapting, in more emancipatory ways, in which there is more opportunity for different voices to contribute to decision making.
The fundamental questions the Centre addresses are: What innovative approaches are making governance more emancipatory? What is the impact of these approaches? How does emancipatory governance change the ways public goods are delivered within a society? Answering these questions simultaneously implies the assessment of existing governance practices and the way in which innovative approaches make governance more emancipatory. Though based in Africa, the activities of GovInn regarding governance innovation do not focus on African governance alone. However, GovInn prioritises Africa in its activities. Documenting African perspectives and practices on emancipatory governance is necessary if Africa is to innovate and find new ways towards economic and social progress and emancipation. As such, the continent could play a major role and lead the way for change for the rest of the world.
How We Organise Ourselves
Being constitutionally based in the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Pretoria, linked with the University’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, CIRAD and UWC, the Centre is a transdisciplinary research organisation that spans departments, faculties, centres and institutions through its existing partnerships. The Centre is managed by a Director and Executive Committee reporting to the Steering Committee but internally operates according to a flat, non-hierarchical, inclusive, participatory governance structure, which can be described as a ‘sociocracy’. The Executive Committee and all other contracted staff of the Centre share in decision-making responsibilities through consent. The main attribute of this system is a focus on deliverables and outputs rather than on the individuals themselves.
A sociocracy is characterised by i) circles of engagements, with people grouped around common interests and common topical research problems, ii) double links across circles (people who connect the circles), and between the Centre and its partners in different areas, iii) decision by consent, and iv) election without candidates, based on co-optation and consent. This organization makes all GovInn members equal and have equal voices in decisions within the Centre and as regards external impacts on the Centre. A sociocratic organisation was opted for as it helps address several challenges that characterise a Centre like GovInn: complexity of tasks, heterogeneity of staff and member institutions, attitudes regarding how decision are made, and need to include individuality into collective action.