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Governance for sustainable human development
A UNDP policy document
Glossary of key terms


    The requirement that officials answer to stakeholders on the disposal of their powers and duties, act on criticisms or requirements made of them and accept (some) responsibility for failure, incompetence or deceit.

    Mechanisms for holding officials accountable can be interorganisational, as between branches of government; intraorganisational, as between supervisors and subordinates; and extraorganisational, as when an organisation and its functionaries answer directly to customers or stakeholders. Accountability mechanisms can address the issues of both who holds office and the nature of decisions by those in office.

    Accountability requires freedom of information, stakeholders who are able to organise and the rule of law.

Aid coordination and aid management

    Aid coordination - the process by which a recipient government integrates and plans international assistance in support of national goals, priorities and strategies.

    Aid management - the process by which a recipient government integrates external and internal resources in the implementation of its development programmes and activities.

Capacity, capacity development, capacity building

    Capacity - the skills, knowledge and resources needed to perform a function.

    Capacity development - the process by which individuals, groups, organisations, institutions and countries develop their abilities, individually and collectively, to perform functions, solve problems and achieve objectives.

    Capacity building differs from capacity development in that the latter builds on a pre-existing capacity base.

    The aim of capacity development and capacity building is to help governments, organisations and people attain a level of self-sufficiency that enables them to effectively manage their own affairs.

Civil society and civil society organisations

    Civil society - individuals and groups, organised or unorganised, who interact in the social, political and economic domains and who are regulated by formal and informal rules and laws. Civil society offers a dynamic, multilayered wealth of perspectives and values, seeking expression in the public sphere.

    Civil society organisations - the multitude of associations around which society voluntarily organises itself and which can represent a wide range of interests and ties, from ethnicity and religion, through shared professional, developmental and leisure pursuits, to issues such as environmental protection or human rights.

Country cooperation framework

    A document that outlines the intended nature, focus and financial scope of our cooperation in a country. The framework identifies key goals and opportunities for our support to national programmes and priorities that are consistent with the poverty elimination priority and sustainable human development goals endorsed by the Executive Board. It reflects the main elements of the intended strategies and thematic areas without elaborating the details of the programmes.


    The general term for a transfer of authority and/or responsibility for performing a function from the top management of an organisation or the central governance level of an institution to lower level units or the private sector.

    The literature on decentralisation frequently distinguishes between degrees of authority effectively transferred away from central government:

      Deconcentration - involves shifting the workload from a central government ministry or agency headquarters to field staff; creating a system of field administration through which some decision-making discretion is transferred to field staff within the guidelines set by the centre; and developing local administration, where all subordinate levels of government within the country are agents of the central authority.

      Delegation - involves deciding which functions to shift from the central government to semiautonomous or parastatal organisations, which implies the transfer or creation of a broad authority to plan and implement decisions concerning specifically defined activities.

      Devolution - implies granting authority (decision-making power) to local governments that have clear and geographically recognised boundaries, and have the power to secure resources to perform their functions.

    Some of the possible benefits of decentralisation, especially devolution, are enhanced participation and empowerment, especially of disadvantaged groups; greater accountability and transparency of government; increased responsiveness; and tailoring of development activities of government to local needs.


    The capacity to realise organisational or individual objectives. Effectiveness requires competence; sensitivity and responsiveness to specific, concrete, human concerns; and the ability to articulate these concerns, formulate goals to address them and develop and implement strategies to realise these goals.


    The expansion of people=s capacities and choices; the ability to exercise choice based on freedom from hunger, want and deprivation; and the opportunity to participate in, or endorse, decision-making that affects their lives.

Enabling environment

    Conditions surrounding an activity or system that facilitate the fulfillment of the potential of that activity or system. This policy document is concerned with the preconditions for sustainable human development, including supportive laws and regulations, adequate resources and skills, broad understanding and acceptance of the differing roles of the state, private sector and civil society in sustainable human development, a common purpose and trust. The relationships between these conditions and the global environment are also important.


    Impartial or just treatment, requiring that similar cases be treated in similar ways.

Governance and good governance

    Governance - the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country=s affairs at all levels. Governance is a neutral concept comprising the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences.

    Good governance - addresses the allocation and management of resources to respond to collective problems; it is characterised by participation, transparency, accountability, rule of law, effectiveness and equity.

Institution and institution building

    Institution - an organisation or group of related organisations created to serve a specific purpose.

    Institution building - the creation, development and linking of certain functions to accomplish specific tasks within institutions.


    The degree to which a government=s procedures for making and enforcing laws are acceptable to the people. A legitimate system is legal, but more important, citizens believe in its appropriateness and adhere to its rules. Legitimacy is closely tied to governance: voluntary compliance with laws and regulations results in greater effectiveness than reliance on coercion and personal loyalties.

National execution

    Overall management, by national government authorities, of UNDP-funded development programmes and projects, along with the assumption of responsibility and accountability for the use of UNDP resources and for the production of outputs and the achievement of programme or project objectives.


    A social group with a structure designed to achieve collective goals. Organisations provide the basis for purposeful collective action.


    Literally, taking part. The question for people concerned with governance issues is whether participation is effective. Effective participation occurs when group members have an adequate and equal opportunity to place questions on the agenda and to express their preferences about the final outcome during decision-making. Participation can occur directly or through legitimate representatives.

Private sector

    In a mixed economy, the part of the economy not under government control and that functions within the market; private enterprise.

Process consultancy

    A distinctive form of management consultation in which the consultant helps the client management group initiate and sustain a process of change and continuous learning for systemic improvement. The role of the consultant is not that of a typical technical expert who analyses the client=s situation and recommends a course of action. Rather, process consultancy engages the participation of the client management group to clarify the purpose of the change process, to redefine the group=s roles and responsibilities and to redesign the procedures through which the members= respective functions will be integrated to sustain improved systemwide results.

Programme approach

    A method for governments and their partners to address, in a coherent and integrated manner, a set of development problems that in turn form a major national objective or set of objectives. The articulation of these problems, the strategies for their resolution and the resulting national goals and targets are contained in a national programme framework document.

Public sector

    The part of the economy that is not privately owned, either because it is owned by the state or because it is subject to common ownership. Includes the national government, local authorities, national industries and public corporations.

    Public sector reform involves rationalising the size of the public sector and building its capacity to contribute to sustainable human development. The principles of good governance apply to public sector management.

Rule of law

    Equal protection (of human as well as property and other economic rights) and punishment under the law. The rule of law reigns over government, protecting citizens against arbitrary state action, and over society generally, governing relations among private interests. It ensures that all citizens are treated equally and are subject to the law rather than to the whims of the powerful. The rule of law is an essential precondition for accountability and predictability in both the public and private sectors.

    The establishment and persistence of the rule of law depend on clear communication of the rules, indiscriminate application, effective enforcement, predictable and legally enforceable methods for changing the content of laws and a citizenry that perceives the set of rules as fair, just or legitimate, and that is willing to follow it.

Social capital

    Features of social organisation - such as networks and values, including tolerance, inclusion, reciprocity, participation and trust - that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital inheres in the relations between and among actors.


    The set of political institutions whose specific concern is with the social and political organisation and management, in the name of the common interest, within a determined territory.


    Sustainable processes and institutions meet certain criteria: they do not exhaust resources for the future generations; the capacity of people and institutions is permanently enhanced; and responsibilities and benefits are broadly shared.


    Takes into account the interdependence of people and events, actions and conditions and institutions and organisations. A systems approach takes into consideration various "production lines" of related tasks and procedures (operating system, decision-making system, financial system, administrative system) to perform certain functions.


    Sharing information and acting in an open manner. Transparency allows stakeholders to gather information that may be critical to uncovering abuses and defending their interests. Transparent systems have clear procedures for public decision-making and open channels of communication between stakeholders and officials, and make a wide range of information accessible.

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