The governing modes of European education seem to have multiplied. Obviously, the parliamentary chain of governance is still active and scaffolds the steering and administration of nation states. However, this hierarchical steering chain has been supplemented by network-based governance driving transnational reform processes. In recent years, incentive-based ‘soft’ governance has played a major role in governing education. The expansion of governing modes to include incentive-based soft governance is indicative of a new mode of governing shaped by a massive increase in the quantity and scope of comparisons and the production of educational standards.
Although governance is related to government, it does not share the same backing from formal authorities such as judicial and police power. Instead, governance is supported by shared goals. It is a system of rule that uses mobilizing techniques and agents other than those of the state capacitating ‘governing at a distance’. The research programme Policy Futures examines how this type of governance is based on the production of devices designed to compare, measure and monitor the implementation and progression of established goals. Policy futures explores the ways in which this mode of governance is constituted by an extensive incentive-based economy designed to enable voluntary co-option and make agents want what they have to do. The absence of the rule of law and of direct orders (such as in the case of the EU, which has no legal competence within the field of education) makes this mode of governance very different from the hierarchical parliamentary steering chain. It expands the nature of governance to include not only the force of law, but also the force of persuasion (such as the so-called Open Method of Coordination that is used as a mode of governance within the EU and the Bologna Process). By creating persuasive incentive structures, this mode of governance draws actors to work within and (re)produce it. Policy Futures investigates the political and democratic implications of the use of this type of governance.