Published date01 September 2016
Date01 September 2016
Bengt Jacobsson, Jon Pierre and Göran Sundström
Oxford University Press, 2015, 165 pp., ISBN: 978-0-19-968416-8
The main message in Governing the Embedded State: The Organizational Dimension of Gover-
nance is that it is possible to govern modern states, even though political executives are
challenged by the ever-present Scylla of overload and Charybdis of loss of legitimacy.
These sea monsters are increasingly difcult to beat due to rising societal involvement
(embeddedness) as well as constraints caused by globalization, Europeanization and
transnationalization. Yet actors still have a considerable box of governing tools at their
disposal. But they need to know how to work these tools. Unfortunately, New Public
Management (NPM) has succeeded in limiting access to important tools in the toolbox.
Drawing on their respective theoretical backgrounds in organizational theory and polit-
ical science as well as the extensive work of a team of 10+researchers, the Swedish author
trio presents a rather parsimonious two-layer governance model: governing from the
perspective of the state is primarily about designing institutional structures and settings
(called metagovernance) which are supplemented at the agency level with techniques
about how to structure and organize the relationship between the political level and
the civil servants (called microsteering). The remarkable merit of Bengt Jacobsson, Jon
Pierre and Göran Sundström is that they convincingly show how the two levels relate to
one another. They do this by a thorough operationalization of their key concepts and by
presenting an extraordinary richness of empirical illustrations of their arguments.
Based on their research group’s extensive empirical work, the authors construct ve
analytically distinct (yet in practice interlinked) strategies that governors may draw upon
when ‘governing by organizing’ (metagoverning): (1) creating formal organizations and
deciding on their mandate, goals and resources; (2) positioning the institutions; (3) fos-
tering competition (or not) between institutions; (4) deciding upon level of institutional
autonomy (distancing); and (5) engaging in storytelling. Although they warn that these
categories are not available for governors to pick and choose at their liking, the authors
‘believe that the governing capacity of the state has been signicantly understated in many
governance studies’ (p. 1).
The state’s, governors’ or politicians’ the trio is not all that consistent in their use
of these concepts – governing capacity is strengthened if and when the metagoverning
strategies are supplemented with microsteering. The premise is that because of regulardel-
egation, steering ordinarily takes place at arm’s length. However, at times unpredictable
events occur which require strategies that enable steering within arm’s length also. Jacob-
sson, Pierre and Sundström depict four strategies for microsteering each of which may
be pursued within the institutional structures and settings, themselves in place through
metagovernance: one for ‘normal’ times and three for more ‘extraordinary’ situations.
The rst strategy – anticipation may be thought of as a ‘baseline’ strategy that aims
to shield the politician from overload while still allowing civil servants to make compe-
tent guesses about which political direction the political superior wants to pursue on a
given matter without having to ask rst. Civil servants may acquire such competencies
through experience or through looking for cues in statements, speeches, and government
Public Administration Vol.94, No. 3, 2016 (854–861)
© 2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

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