The Guiding and Nurturing of Governance

July 24, 2012

A task force that the Berlin Civil Society Center has working on ‘new models’ for international NGOs has me thinking about governance reviews.  Having been involved with quite a number of governance reviews over the years, from national to international organizations, in small to large ones, I know that these reviews have a lot of ‘moving parts’, with larger organizations having even more moving parts and stakeholders to include.

What are some of the steps I have found most helpful to ensure that these efforts aren’t just ‘another exercise’ that does not use people’s limited time well?  Consider some of the following:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish? –  Just this week I sat in on yet another planning meeting which jumped right into ‘the steps’ without first clarifying what the process is trying to accomplish.  It may seem pretty elementary, but clarifying this at the beginning helps to give your process direction and give you clear language to share with your stakeholders.
  2. Communication strategy –  Having a communications strategy that starts at the very beginning of the process.  Who will be part of the decision-making, who needs to be consulted and who will just be informed (but with rationales for why you are doing what you are doing)?  Everyone does not need to play the same roles but understanding the roles they will play provides a greater comfort level to individuals, groups and hence the process.  Ensure that you have scheduled in time (and it does take significant amounts of time) for feedback and consultation loops at each key juncture in the process.  This time investment always pays off in  more implementable and sustainable  recommendations (see implementation below).
  3. Clarify process and steps –   As a sector, we have gotten better at clarifying the process and the steps at least among the Board, lead task force or a small group of decision-makers.  Communicating this to your full breadth of stakeholders, though (as noted above) is equally important in the long run as having the lead group clear on the process.
  4. Sample models and lessons – Look for sample models and lessons learned from other organizations.  This is also a step that I find is increasingly thought about and (although we still have a long way to go with sharing experiences) it has become easier to find these samples as more of this information becomes available online.  But if it is not part of your review or  process, you may want to make sure it is included.  We all too often still ‘recreate the wheel’.
  5. Implementation –  This is the area where I have most often seen governance reviews falter. Structures and guidelines are only as useful as the ways in which they are implemented, and after the reviews and recommendations are completed, many governance reviews fall down in the day to day implementation.  Involving your stakeholders in the process (as noted in the communication strategy above) can help to surface implementation issues that may be challenges during the review and planning process, and vest those who will be the implementers in the recommendations.   But it is not enough to put major time and effort into a review or planning process and not allocate sufficient time to implementation and reviews of how the implementation is going.  Especially if significant change is being made and behavior modification is needed, reinforcement of these changes is important to sustainable change.

What lessons have you learned about effective governance reviews?

More about the  Berlin Center’s process  and discussion forum

Colleague Linda Raftree of Plan International’s blog on the project

Additional Resources

Internal Communication:  Good practices & impacts of technology

From local participation to international organizational learning

Stepping up to Govern an International NGO

Lessons from work of INGOs