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Multi-Level Governance, EU Public Policy and the Evasive Dependent Variable

Multi-Level Governance: The Missing Linkages

ISBN: 978-1-78441-874-8, eISBN: 978-1-78441-873-1

ISSN: 2045-7944

Publication date: 6 July 2015



This contribution argues that there is a fundamental problem for the multi-level governance (MLG) approach in that what the approach is trying to explain has never been fully agreed by the vast group of scholarship that references it. The chapter then examines and proposes that ideas and concepts from network governance, principal–agent (PA) and learning can provide the necessary micro foundations for the MLG approach.


The chapter examines and critiques the original MLG formulations and the later efforts at elaboration. It then reviews the literature and concepts for three public policy approaches that have been associated with European governance to see how core explanations can be elaborated upon in a multi-level context: network governance, principal–agent (PA) and learning.


This contribution suggests that co-ordination, and the resources that help maintain this co-ordination, is the key dependent variable that underpins the MLG approach. With multiple principals and multiple agents, operating at a number of levels of analysis, direct authority and control is harder to evoke. The key explanatory variable underpinning this MLG co-ordination is learning by the participants.

Research implications

Researchers need to concentrate both their theoretical and empirical efforts in understanding the conditions that support multi-level governance and that sustain its effort.

Practical implications

The contribution outlines some of the key practical questions that policy-makers must face. Can they manage resources and induce learning from all the relevant public and private stakeholders to engage in the MLG effort?

Social implications

Not only does an effective MLG process involve engaging a wide range of societal stakeholders, these stakeholders have to be persuaded to invest effort in learning about the nature of the governance system, the challenges of the policy problem and the implications of the efforts to resolve these problems.


This chapter isolates the fundamental lacuna at the heart of the MLG project and offers academics and practitioners a conceptual lens for building a clearer analytical structure for studying MLG.




I thank Edoardo Ongaro, Hussein Kassim and the other participants who commented on the earlier version of this chapter, presented at the High Level Seminar, ‘Multi-Level Governance: The Missing Linkages’, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, 17–18 October, 2013.


Zito, A.R. (2015), "Multi-Level Governance, EU Public Policy and the Evasive Dependent Variable", Multi-Level Governance: The Missing Linkages (Critical Perspectives on International Public Sector Management, Vol. 4), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 15-39.



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