Multi-level Governance

Multi-level governance is defined as the vertical (multiple levels) and horizontal (multiple actors) dispersion of central government authority (Bache/Flinders 2004) and refers to both, political structures and decision making processes (Schäfer 2010). While governance refers to the “growing interdependence between governments and non-governmental actors at various territorial levels” (Bache/Flinders 2004, 3) the concept of multi-level governance adds the dimension of scale. Besides the interdependence of various actors an increasing interdependence between governments of different territorial levels can be witnessed (Bache/Flinders 2004). Regarding the diversification of levels, both supra-national and sub-national levels became more relevant (Kazepov, 2010). This processes were set in motion by the decentralization within states and increasing transnational cooperation between them, reflecting two dimensions of the transformation of the state (Schäfer 2010).

Multi-level governance is used both as an analytical model and as a normative concept (Bache/Flinders 2004). The model of multi-level governance was elaborated through analyzing the integration of the European Union (EU) and to understand EU policy making processes which contrasted the state-centric model (Hooghe/Marks 2001). Marks and Hooghe (2004) distinguish two different types of multi-level governance. Type I refers to general-purpose jurisdictions where jurisdictions of lower levels are nested into the jurisdictions of higher levels. Type II on the other hand focusses on specific policy problem and consists of jurisdictions with a special purpose. The main normative argument for multi-level policy is that political authorities are confronted with externalities that differ in territorial reach. These differences make it necessary that governance also operates at multiple scales (Marks/Hooghe 2004).

The dispersion of central state authority has various implications for policy processes and democracy. Bache and Flinders (2004) distinguish three developments that are a result of multi-level governance: (1) the increasing complexity and difficulty of decision making processes, (2) a transformation of the role of the state and in this changing context (3) a challenge of democratic accountability which has to be rethought.

For European educational systems it can be stated that decision layers have multiplied as institutions are given more autonomy and are encouraged to engage in new cooperation while traditional governance structures have not waned (Kazepov et al. 2015). Although educational institutions are confronted with similar problems, “[i]n providing different actors and different territorial levels with different powers and resources to address educational trajectories and transitions, European educational systems are counterintuitively differentiating and fragmenting themselves.” (Kazepov et al. 2015, 44; Parreira do Amaral et al. 2015).


Bache, I. & Flinders, M. (2004). Themes and Issues in Multi-level Governance, in Bache, I. & Flinders, M. (Eds.), Multi-level governance. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-11 & pp. 195-206.

Hooghe, L. & Marks, G. (2001). Multi-Level Governance in the European Union, in Hooghe, L., Marks, G. (Eds.), Multi-Level Governance and European Integration. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, pp. 1-32.

Kazepov, Y. (2010). Rescaling Social Policies towards Multilevel Governance. In Europe: Some Reflections on Processes at Stake and Actors Involved, in Kazepov, Y. (Ed.), Rescaling Social Policies: Towards Multilevel Governance in Europe. Ashgate, Farnham/Burlington, pp. 35-72.

Kazepov, Y., Robertson, S. & Rinne, R. (2015). Space, Scale and the Governance of Youth Trajectories and Transitions in Europe, in Parreira do Amaral, M. et al. (Eds.), Shaping the Futures of Young Europeans: Education Governance in Eight European Countries. Symposium Books, Oxford, pp. 43-65.

Marks, G. & Hooghe, L. (2004). Contrasting Visions on Multi-level Governance, in Bache, I. & Finders, M. (Eds.), Multi-level governance. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 15-30.

Parreira do Amaral, M., Dale, R. & Loncle, P. (Eds.). 2015. Shaping the Futures of Young Europeans: education governance in eight European countries. 1st. edn. Oxford: Symposium Books.

Schäfer, A. (2010). Multi-level governance, in Nohlen, D.; Schultze, Rainer-Olaf (Eds.), Lexikon der Politikwissenschaft: Theorie, Methoden, Begriffe. Band 1, A-M, München: C.H. Beck, pp. 631-632.

(Yuri Kazepov & Mirjam Pot)