Monday, August 04, 2008

Governance: what is it?

On the Health Service Journal website there is an article on the role of NHS boards and their duty to the public. Paul Stanton argues:

There is significant confusion and muddle in the DH and the NHS about the nature of governance. It is not uncommon to hear senior figures talking about boards managing or leading their organisations. This implies a fundamental lack of clarity about the explicit separation that should exist between the task of a board, which is primarily legislative (making policy, setting strategic goals and holding the executive, and through them the organisation, to account) and the task of the executive (albeit some executives are also corporate directors within the legislative board), which is to lead and manage the organisation so that policies are implemented, strategic goals are achieved and the local community is served.

He credits the American non-profit governance guru John Carver whose model distinguishes governance and management. The board's role is primarily to set policies - essentially, the ends.

While Carver was influential in thinking about the governance of FE colleges soon after they were incorporated as autonomous bodies, his thinking does not get enough attention in the public and third sectors where many bodies drift and range far and wide rather than focusing on their core tasks.

An alternative take on governance was the recent comment that "[Good] governance is a little bit like porn" from Robert Daines, the co-director of Stanford University's Rock Center for Corporate Governance. (This was apparently referring to a Supreme Court judge's comment about recognizing obscenity. "I can spot it when I see it, but it is hard to say what it is.") Who ever said governance was boring.

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