Difference Between government and governance

government vs governance

Government and governance are two words that sound similar but are different  in meaning. Difference between government and governance is confusing for many people, and this article intends to clarify the meaning and definition of the two words so as to leave no scope for confusion. An analogy can be drawn between officer and official and also bureaucrat and bureaucracy if we wish to understand difference between government and governance.


This is a body that comprises a person or a group of persons who run the administration of a country. This is a means in which power is exercised. There are various forms of governments such as democracy or autocracy but this article will remain confined to the general term government which is commonly used in social sciences. In normal circumstances, a state is run by a government that has a mandate from the people to run the affairs of the country and also a term that may be of 4-6 years to serve the state. Thus there is a succession of governments in any country or the same government may be elected again for a successive term if people feel that it has done its job of running the country in a fair and close to ideal manner.


The word governance refers to the activities of a government. In layman’s terms, it is the rules and laws made by the government that are sought to be implemented through a chosen bureaucracy which is referred to as governance. The process of governing people or a state is called governance.

Difference between government and governance

To understand the differences between government and governance, one can take the example of a business which is handled by a person or group of persons (called partners or owners). The way they run the business with the help of employees applying their knowledge and experience is called management. In a similar manner, government is the elected body of representatives headed by a person. This body has the mandate to rule or govern people. And the manner in which they use the established system and principles to run the affairs of the country is called governance.

Governance can be good or bad depending upon the perception of the people and they may accordingly choose to retain or vote a particular government out of power.

In nutshell, governance is what a government does. It is the exercise of powers that are bestowed upon the government according to set rules and regulations using a system of bureaucracy that defines governance. Government is merely an instrument for the purpose of governance.

  • Avoided Cranium

    This is an overly simplistic distinction between government and governance. In fact it is extremely misleading.

    There is the noun “government”, used in the context “the Government of Great Britain” which refers to the institution of politicians and civil servants who have the power to control the affairs of the country. But this is not the only meaning as implied above.

    The word “government” can also refer to the act of governing, as in the ongoing admininstration and control of a state. This has a very similar meaning to “governance”.

    Broadly, ‘to govern’ means to guide, direct or steer society. The government of a country refers to ‘the formal and institutional processes which operate at the national level to maintain order and facilitate collective action’ .

    The use of the term government is characterised by the use of regulatory policy instruments, whereas governance is characterised by the appearance of new instruments which allow social actors to steer themselves (i.e. self-regulation), with central government playing a much less active role.

    In the last 20 years or so, there has been a tendency to supplant “government” (in the sense of the act or process of governing), with the word “governance”.
    My view is that this was partly spin and partly fashion as the term “government” was reminiscent of old colonial-style authoritarian mechanisms of directing society, whereas “governance” suggested a broader “steer” of society through framework-setting, communications (propaganda) and leadership-style. Clearly, politicians favour the latter as it appears to be more politically-correct in a post_modern society.