What is governance anyway? Is it a bunch of committees working away and deciding upon matters in secret? Is it principles or values statements that are never really acted upon? Does anything ever change or does work seemingly go round and round without achieving anything concrete? Hmmm.... well, let’s proceed.
Okay ~ let’s look at this heronry. In the image, we see 5 nests with parents trying to answer the demands of the chicks. There is a defined set of principles to raising the chicks with the parents providing food, safety, support, attention, life lessons and skills and lastly independence. Further, the structure is very clear with one parent always being present to protect and comfort the chicks while the other brings food. The process is obvious as well. When one arrives to bring food they gather for a little while and then the other flies off to hunt and the incoming parent guards and feed the chicks. The process is very efficient and transparent. Communication is very clear as well with the chicks providing loud sounds to indicate hunger or the need for comfort and protection with the parents responding, as needed. Both parents delegate authority to the other to what is necessary to fed, protect, support and teach the chicks while the other is off hunting or resting. This approach to raising chicks has a clear and obvious result – their healthy and safe maturation into fully functioning and independent herons. How are these parent birds, both individually and collectively able to meet all these demands and at the same time ensure the health and wellbeing of both themselves and the chicks? Because all parties know what is expected of them and support the actions required to ensure the end result.
So, let’s try to apply this tale of the herons to Governance. Governance happens whenever people work together to achieve an organizational outcome whether it be in the public/private sector, in a not-for-profit or corporate organization, or in a project environment. Essentially, governance is about decision making – who participates, how decisions are made, whether the decisions are effective and how they are communicated and acted upon.
While governance is very different across many environments, with varying processes and practices, it has been our experience that there are five common elements across all contexts. These are:
Overall, governance can only be completely understood from multiple points of view; a philosophy, structure, a process, a management system and a communication mechanism in which committees and organizational units work cooperatively based on a defined, transparent and streamlined process to make effective decisions that promote the strategic direction of the organization. All decisions are supported by the most comprehensive current and developmental information. This approach ensures effective decision making within the organization by ensuring accountability, enabling proactive problem solving and by institutionalizing continuous improvement.
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