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Governance refers to actions, processes, traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised. It is most often associated with governmental bodies at the national level and with regional or global institutions such as the United Nations, but this need not always be the case. Private institutions, such as corporations and non-governmental organizations, also play an important role in governance. In all cases, developments that affect participation, accountability, transparency, corruption and civil strife have an important influence on the shape of the future.

Although the forms and effectiveness of governance differ markedly around the world, various tendencies can be identified. One tendency is towards greater individual autonomy and the devolution of authority. This shift is expressed at the personal level in terms of a growing emphasis on individual 'rights' - human rights, women's rights and the like. It is also noticeable in the devolution of governmental authority to smaller and more local units and in separatist movements. The private sector, too, has moved towards 'flatter' corporate structures and decentralized decision-making. A second and somewhat opposite tendency is towards forms of greater regional integration and global governance through such mechanisms as international trade and environmental agreements. Another tendency is towards greater integration and the growth of networks within and across private and public institutions. This is seen, in part, in the rise of global public policy networks and the emergence of civil society as an important voice in decision-making in many regions.

'In Policy First, continual movement towards greater coordination is assumed ... in pursuit of a broader agenda.'

In Markets First, present trends are assumed to continue but with heavier emphasis on ensuring the smooth functioning of markets. Efforts are focused on the development of international institutions which encourage free markets for resources, finance and products. In Policy First, greater coordination is assumed, particularly at the level of international governance. This includes the development of new institutions and more cooperation between the public and private sectors. Significantly, these changes are driven from the top, by governments, corporations or large non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In Sustainability First, the shifts in governance are assumed to be driven much more from the bottom up. Reflecting the changing values and making use of the trends towards greater participation in general, individuals and grass-roots organizations become more and more involved in setting the agenda, a lead that larger organizations then follow. Governments continue to govern but do so in a fashion that involves more power sharing.

As with much else in the Security First scenario, assumed trends regarding governance differ over time and across groups more than in the other scenarios. Corruption, ineffective governance and reactions against both, contribute to breakdown in parts of society. As societies regroup, governance among the 'haves' is assumed to become more centralized and autocratic, but largely effective. International coordination also bolsters the relative stability of these groups. Among the 'have-nots', the nature and effectiveness of governance is mixed.