Government as a toolkit

Exploring the government toolshed

What government does?

One possible answer is to describe the “tools” that the government uses for trying to shape our lives because those administrative tools are the way the government comes in ”contact “with us.

”Applying the tools of the government makes the link between wish and fulfillment” Christopher C. Hood.

The reason to look at the government as a toolkit is because it helps us to make sense of what at first sight might seem a little bit overwhelming then this approach also helps us to pick the correct tool for the job and not just for picking the tool but also the tools ”for the times” such as digital technologies.

Government as a toolkit

There are two types of tools or control mechanisms the detectors and the effectors; the detectors are all the instruments for taking in information and the effectors are all the tools the government uses to impact the context of individuals.

These capabilities are basic to its existence and to its effectiveness as it’s not simply enough to know what’s going on but its necessary to take action.

The effectors can work in a particular (to named individuals or specific organizations) or in a general way (prohibitions or orders for example) in the case of detectors it makes less sense to distinguish between particular and general applications instead here the emphasis is laid on the distinction between active and passive modes of government information gathering.

There are 4 basic resources the government has for taking action (NATO) and those resources have their limitations:

1. Nodality (denotes the property of being in the middle of an information or social network, a node is a junction of information channels)

The limiting factor is credibility on the government

2. Authority (denotes the possession of legal or official power for demand, forbid, guarantee adjudicate)

The limit is legal standing

3. Treasure (denotes the possession of anything that has the money like property of fungibility like money coins banknotes etc.)

The limit is solvency

4. Organization (denotes the possession of a stock of people like soldiers, bureaucrats etc.)

The limiting factor is capacity

This explained in simple terms it could be said that Nodality works on your knowledge and attitudes, authority on your rights, status and duties, treasure on your bank balance and organization on your physical environment or even in your person.

By combining the 2 control mechanisms and the 4 resources we get the 8 basic kinds of tools the government has but as resourceful that looking at the government as a toolkit it may there will happen some distortion because we see the government as a whole, functioning, no error and simple collection of tools which is not so its important to say that there 4 points that need to be stressed to prevent confusion or false expectations.

1. Focusing on the government society interface

This is the point where government meets us but there is nothing written about the tools that are used within government to control and coordinate its own very varied activities and agencies

2. Treating government as a totality

This is a simplification of what is usually very complicated in reality as it consist in host of different cells or agencies often squabbling and at cross purposes with one another

3. Unlearning conventional descriptions of government activity

Because government tends to describe their activities or interest officially in terms of purposes or fields of concerns and not tools or instruments has we are doing.

4. Citizens, partial citizens, non-citizens, would-be citizens

We start treating the society as a totality but in the real life that is not possible because it subdivides.


  • Hood, C. and Margetts, H. (2007) The Tools of Government in the Digital Age. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (Chapter 1).

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