South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Good Governance: it’s not just about the Governing Body

Over the last few years governance has become a more familiar term to those in the heritage sector. A well known online encyclopaedia includes the following in its definition of Governance: “…Governance is all of the processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, a market or a network, over a social system…”

The Good Governance Code website notes that “…good governance in charities is fundamental to their success. It enables and supports a charity’s compliance with the law and relevant regulations. It also promotes a culture where everything works towards fulfilling the charity’s vision.” This website is a great starting place for looking at governance.

I’d like to focus on those phrases “all of the processes” and “everything works towards fulfilling”.

Whilst the Governing Body have a big role to play in effective governance it is meaningless without the support, buy-in and involvement of all those who work (both paid and voluntary) for an organisation. The following is a series of questions that highlight how governance involves everyone within an organisation, with some examples/prompts of how these could be met.

Can you demonstrate a strong commitment to ethical values and respecting the rule of law?

Examples would include abiding by your policies and constitution and considering your induction process. There is also sector values and resources such as the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics (is it included at induction?). Then there’s the rule of law, this includes areas such as employment, GDPR, health & safety.

Do you ensure openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement?

Examples would include Forward Plan consultation, evaluation activities, and specific public consultation events. Do you encourage feedback and stakeholder engagement? Does your Board and those delivering the service take the same approach? Do you capture evaluation and use it?

Can you define outcomes of your organisation’s work?

A clear, well disseminated Forward Plan that was created with input across the organisation is a great place to start. Are the objectives measurable? What are the social benefits of your work? Examples could include inspiring learning (check out our upcoming conference on inspiring audiences), demonstrating community cohesion, health and wellbeing. Do you have an Access Policy? Is it regularly reviewed and implemented with the buy-in of those delivering the service? Can you draw on examples from user feedback?

Stroud Buzz Club explaining a bee hive in the Museum in the Park’s Walled Garden.

Are you able to monitor activity and respond to achieve intended outcomes?

Evaluation and monitoring key performance indicators, such as visitor figures are prime examples. Does the team delivering know what the targets are and how the organisation is progressing? Do they know how the data is used? Do you review your Forward Plan regularly, at least once a year? Do you have arrangements in place to monitor operational and financial plans? Is this shared, as appropriate, beyond the governing body?

Do you continually develop capacity and capability?

A succession plan that considers the skills and experience you require to support your forward plan is a good place to start. How do you develop the workforce to ensure your forward plan can be delivered? Is it helpful to look outside the organisation to develop capacity and capability? What is involved in your induction? When is this followed up? Have you considered what training opportunities might exist and where to look? Our sector is strong in this area.

Do you manage risk and performance?

In addition to health & safety risk assessments do you have a risk register attached to your forward plan or business plan? Is this regularly reviewed and as appropriate those delivering the activities briefed on what these are and how they might be mitigated? What are your financial planning and review mechanisms beyond just the annual accounts? How do you use your management accounts? This area also includes data governance – do you undertake quality checks or audits on your collections data and objects? How can you be certain that your procedures are being adhered to?

Is your organisation transparent and accountable?

When does your forward plan get reviewed and updated? How do you share your aims? What involvement does the wider team and community have in setting objectives? Is it clear who is responsible and who is accountable? What external assurances do you seek? Auditing accounts, Accreditation, Visit England’s Visitor Attraction Assurance Scheme etc… If corrective actions are recommended how are they acted upon and kept under review?

The above is not an exhaustive list, there’s a lot in this (and more!) but in short, governance is about everything that people in an organisation undertake – think holistically and involve everyone to ensure it is Good Governance.

This blog post was written by Kevin Ward. Kevin is Vice Chair of the South West Fed and Museum Development Manager of Museum in the Park.

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