Health Policy and Planning
Volume 32, Issue 5 June 2017
Frameworks to assess health systems governance: a systematic review
Thidar Pyone; Helen Smith; Nynke van den Broek
Governance of the health system is a relatively new concept and there are gaps in understanding what health system governance is and how it could be assessed. We conducted a systematic review of the literature to describe the concept of governance and the theories underpinning as applied to health systems; and to identify which frameworks are available and have been applied to assess health systems governance. Frameworks were reviewed to understand how the principles of governance might be operationalized at different levels of a health system. Electronic databases and web portals of international institutions concerned with governance were searched for publications in English for the period January 1994 to February 2016. Sixteen frameworks developed to assess governance in the health system were identified and are described. Of these, six frameworks were developed based on theories from new institutional economics; three are primarily informed by political science and public management disciplines; three arise from the development literature and four use multidisciplinary approaches. Only five of the identified frameworks have been applied. These used the principal–agent theory, theory of common pool resources, North’s institutional analysis and the cybernetics theory. Governance is a practice, dependent on arrangements set at political or national level, but which needs to be operationalized by individuals at lower levels in the health system; multi-level frameworks acknowledge this. Three frameworks were used to assess governance at all levels of the health system. Health system governance is complex and difficult to assess; the concept of governance originates from different disciplines and is multidimensional. There is a need to validate and apply existing frameworks and share lessons learnt regarding which frameworks work well in which settings. A comprehensive assessment of governance could enable policy makers to prioritize solutions for problems identified as well as replicate and scale-up examples of good practice.