Opening the 'black box': what does observational research reveal about processes and practices of governing?



Watson C, Husband G & Ireland A (2021) Opening the 'black box': what does observational research reveal about processes and practices of governing?. Journal of Management and Governance, 25 (1), pp. 189-221.

Despite several decades of research on governance, very little is known about processes and practices of governing and, crucially, the links between governing and organisational performance. This has led to calls to penetrate the ‘black box’ of the boardroom by conducting research which draws on data gathered through direct observation. Such calls, however, have so far produced a rather sparse and inchoate literature which would benefit from review in order to give shape to the field and provide direction for future research. Here, we critically examine the findings of this research, in particular focusing on three emergent themes: (1) the extent to which empirical research supports the established theories in the field, particularly agency and stewardship theories; (2) what research says about ‘good’ and ‘effective’ governance and the relationship between them; and (3) the methodological and conceptual orientations which frame this research, in particular the claims made for ‘processual’ approaches. We conclude with an agenda for taking the field forward in order to extend knowledge and to contribute to theory around governing.

Control-collaboration paradox; effective governance; good governance; processual research; symbolic governance; strategising

Journal of Management and Governance: Volume 25, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2021
Publication date online21/02/2020
Date accepted by journal16/01/2020

People (2)


Dr Aileen Ireland

Dr Aileen Ireland

Lecturer Professional Educ & Leadership, Education

Professor Cate Watson

Professor Cate Watson

Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences