Governance

Strengthening Governance

Achieving sustainable results in international development depends on efficient, effective and inclusive governance systems that reflect the will of the people. By improving governance mechanisms, processes and institutions that make governments accountable to citizens, and by supporting the ability of individuals and other members of civil society to participate in the governance and development of their own societies, there is an opportunity to increase the impact of other development initiatives, resolve conflicts peacefully and without violence, and advance democracy and respect for universal human rights. In developing countries, Canada uses different pathways to strengthen governance. Here are some examples of DFATD contributions to supporting governance systems in countries of focus.

For these key reasons, Canada has identified governance as a crosscutting theme in its international assistance.

Canada’s objectives for integrating a governance perspective into its international assistance programming are to:

  • enhance the accountability and transparency of partner countries’ institutions and processes;
  • support citizen participation to ensure ownership and sustainability in social and economic development processes; and
  • strengthen capacity for equitable service delivery.

The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act also specifies that for investments to be considered as Official Development Assistance, the Minister must be of the opinion that they contribute to poverty reduction, take into account the perspectives of the poor and are consistent with international human rights standards.The two latter criteria form part of integrating governance as a crosscutting theme.

Conducting a Governance Analysis

To integrate governance as a crosscutting theme, partners should undertake a governance analysis of any proposed initiative at the earliest possible time. The purpose of this analysis is to ensure that initiatives across sectors, strengthen governance systems and processes as part of their development results, and also address governance risks.

The analysis of the governance landscape should take into account the following considerations:

  • Capacity and Responsiveness: Capacity means that there are processes in place through which individuals (men, women, girls, and boys), organizations (institutions, governments, etc.) and societies can obtain, strengthen and maintain resources and competencies to set and achieve their own development objectives. Responsiveness involves the capacity of governments, institutions and public organizations to respond and serve the diverse needs, priorities and rights of people within a reasonable time frame.
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness: Efficiency refers to states having a well-functioning public sector with strong institutions, well-qualified employees and processes that include consultation with the public, including men, women, boys, and girls, reward merit, and sanction inefficiency and corruption. Effective states have the commitment and ability to build strong institutions with the administrative and professional capacities to support national development objectives, provide basic services (health, education, potable water, justice, etc.), ensure security, and protect legal and human rights equitably and inclusively.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Transparency ensures the public has access to timely and reliable information through reporting and feedback mechanisms, including clearly established processes and procedures. Accountability assumes that those entrusted with power use it legitimately, and that citizens are able to hold them to account for their decisions, policies, actions and use of funds. Transparency and accountability are key considerations for actors in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
  • Equity, Equality and Non-discrimination: Equity refers to fairness in the distribution of services or resources among individuals or groups. Equality involves ensuring that everyone has equal access to the resources, opportunities, power and responsibility they need to realize their full human rights and reach their full potential to contribute to development, and to benefit from development results. Non-discrimination means that all human beings are entitled to their human rights without distinction of any kind, such as gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, status, disability, language, religion, political opinion, ethnic, national or social origin, or any other status. Upholding these principles ensures that policies, programs and practices do not exclude people, discriminate, or reinforce social, political or economic inequalities or create new inequalities.
  • Participation and Inclusion: Participation means the involvement in formal and informal institutions and processes, through which the voices and interests of all people are represented at different levels. Inclusion means that public policy choices and decision making at all level of government incorporate the voice and interests of all people, including marginalized groups, regardless of their specific characteristics (such as gender, religion, age, gender identity, physical/mental disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political orientation, etc.)

Governance Integration into Priority Themes

Governance is an integral element in Canada’s five priority themes for international assistance. Below are some examples of how governance integration can be reflected in different thematic priorities.


Food Security – Transparency, accountability, and institutional capacity are key determinants in achieving food security objectives in many countries. For example, an effective and transparent legal system that enforces equitable land tenure rights is critical for enabling smallholder farmers, particularly women, to increase agricultural yields. Governance-related programming in this area could focus, for example, on strengthening the monitoring and evaluation capacity of a ministry of food and agriculture to increase information-based decision making.

Children and Youth – Effective governance capacity in education and health make these systems more responsive to the learning needs of children and youth and in delivering effective outcomes. Likewise, strong national protection frameworks and public sector capacity to protect children and youth from violence, exploitation, and abuse are critical to enabling children to meet their full potential. Governance-related programming in Children and Youth could focus, for example, on strengthening local government capacity to deliver health services at the local level to increase the survival rates and the health of children and mothers.

Sustainable Economic Growth – A strong capacity to manage public finances, respect legal contracts and deliver services, combined with transparency and accountability to citizens, are key factors to strengthen prospects for economic growth. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada’s Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy addresses governance-related barriers to growing businesses and investing in people by focusing on building legislative and regulatory frameworks that enable sustainable growth. This can include, for example, strengthening public financial-management systems to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in the use of tax revenues, leading to greater livelihood opportunities and poverty reduction.

Advancing Democracy – Efficient, effective and inclusive governance systems that reflect the will of the people are key to advancing democracy in a particular context. Without transparency, equality and participation, developing a stable democracy is unlikely. At the intersection between governance and advancing democracy, efforts could focus, for example, on strengthening the capacity of the public service to report to parliament/citizens on government spending and programs. Election observation contributes to advancing democracy, but when integrating governance adequately, electoral support can take the form of longer-term engagement to develop capacities of electoral institutions in developing countries.

Ensuring Security and Stability – Conflict and governance are closely intertwined. As stated in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, peacebuilding and statebuilding go hand in hand. Weak governance, unequal access to resources, lack of citizen participation, absence of the rule of law and corruption all contribute to fragility, insecurity and conflict. Three of the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States are directly linked to elements of governance: Legitimate Politics, Justice, and (accountable) Revenues and Services. Governance-related programming to ensure security and stability could focus, for example, on building the capacity of civil society organizations to engage in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes through human rights reporting and community outreach.

Governance efforts are harmonized with and closely related to the other crosscutting themes of advancing equality between women and men, and increasing environmental sustainability.