Seven Principles of Good Governance

Updated April 17, 2017

"Good governance" is a term that refers to the degree to which a government ethically and transparently protects, represents and provides services to its citizens. Most institutions promoting good governance work by a set of seven principles known as the Nolan Principles which, if followed by all agencies and individuals, should lead to a responsive and honest government.


The Nolan Principles of Public Life were born out of the United Kingdom political corruption scandals of the early 1990s. Most notably was the Cash-for-Questions scandal where members of Parliament were accused of accepting money from lobbyist in exchange for proposing questions on the parliament floor. Though no MPs were proven to have taken any bribes, several were censured for not adequately disclosing campaign contributions and conflicting interests.

By 1994 the British Prime Minister created the Committee on Standards in Public Life to outline proper behaviour by public servants. In its first report the committee released the Nolan Principles, named after the committee's first chairman, Lord Michael Nolan.


As opposed to concrete rules which are limited in scope and can have loopholes, principles are meant to guide behaviour in variety of situations. The Nolan principles are meant as a rule of thumb for all decision-making concerning public affairs no matter what the public servant's agency of employment or level or responsibility.

The Principles

The seven Nolan Principles are selflessness, objectivity, integrity, honesty, accountability, openness and leadership. Public servants should be selfless in that their professional decisions should benefit the public, not themselves. They must also take care to stay objective and not favour one public or private group over another.

The principles of honesty and integrity are concerned not just telling the truth. In the context of public life, these principles demand that public servants ensure that they are not beholden to outside interests such as lobbyists, corporations or labour organisations who may try to improperly influence them. Though not all relationships to such organisations must necessarily be negative, the principle of honesty states that public servants should disclose relationships that have even the potential for a conflict of interests.

Since the most effective citizens are the most knowledgeable ones, it is important that they have access to information about who in the government is making decisions and the effects of those decisions. The principle of openness is the driving force behind government websites that publish statements on new legislation and department budgets. The principle of accountability states that public servants are accountable for their actions and those of their staff.


The principle of leadership calls for public servants to practice the above principles and enforce them amongst their staff. Also, they should forge a good relationship with their staff and create work environment that supports the mission of their agency.

Application in the International Development Sector

Though the Nolan Principles were created in response to national scandals in the U.K., they have found their way into the wider discourse of international aid development. When nongovernmental organisations like the United Nations and World Bank determine which countries are eligible for aid, one criteria is a history of good governance. The definition of good governance still varies but more and more aid organisation require practice of the Nolan Principles or similar principles as a prerequisite for assistance.

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About the Author

Liz Frazier has been producing Web content, instructional articles and trivia for websites such as and since 2008. Her writing interests lie primarily in the areas of politics (specifically public administration and elections), the military, education and forced migration. Frazier has a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from California State University, Northridge.