What is Governance (Decision Making) Anyway

By BryanShane | #3PApproach

What-is-Governance- Heronry photo of nests

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:

  • A philosophy for making decisions at either the organizational level (horizontal decision making) or at the functional level (vertical decision making). In either case, while there can be a competitive stance among the players, the decisions made are based upon a set of principles that provide a code of conduct to ensure that decisions serve the interests of the organization as a whole and not the specific interests of individuals.
  • A structure, in which committees and operational units work together in a fully articulated, approved, accepted and supportive manner to make decisions that promote the strategic direction of the organization as a whole and not those of specific interests.
  • A defined and approved process, in which committees and organizational units work together to make decisions in a transparent, streamlined and disciplined manner on current and potential initiatives. This is a continuous and ongoing process.
  • A management system that ensures that decisions are based upon comprehensive performance information that promotes the delegation of authority and accountability while supporting the organization-wide strategic direction. This approach ensures effective decision making within the organization by enabling proactive problem solving and by institutionalizing continuous improvement.
  • A communication system that creates a common understanding of beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours needed to support effective decision making as an essential component of organizational effectiveness.
definition-governance-diagram

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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