Beyond Oversight and Towards Impact: Values Based Governance

Board: Effective Governance
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by | Apr 17, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

Serving on a board should be fun and engaging. At Vantage Point we’re passionate advocates for governance that goes beyond oversight. With a focus on impact, there are some great practices organizations can use to support meaningful governance In our work we often come across organizations that have developed or adopted unique governance practices that are aligned with their values.

Many of these practices also foster a board dynamic that is engaging, fun and grounded in community impact. Two great examples are Exchange Innercity and HUB Cycling.

Here are some of the practices these two organizations have in place to make their governance awesome!

1. Make information accessible before the meeting

Exchange Innercity is a community economic development organization comprised of individuals and community groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The organization prides itself on taking direction and leadership from the membership as a whole. All members are invited to attend committee meetings. However, with a diverse and broad membership, ensuring meeting attendees have sufficient information to participate effectively is no small task. In order to achieve this, the coordinator makes herself available for 3 hours per month (1.5 hours on the second and third Wednesday of every month) at a local community centre where she provides printed meeting packages. Participants who don’t have access to a computer or email can get the information they need prior to any of the meetings.

HUB Cycling, uses a consent agenda. This tool requires a reading package to be sent out at least one week in advance, so that key information items are not reviewed at the meeting itself. Board members arrive prepared to delve into discussion.

2. Define “consensus decision-making” and dedicate time to “discursive” items

HUB Cycling has identified that board meetings are most effective when they allow for discussion and dialogue (instead of using meeting time to share information). To ensure this happens, the meeting agendas include a standing ‘discursive’ topic section, where rotating board members bring forward innovative, generative and diverse topics for dialogue at the board level. These items are for discussion only – decisions are not typically required – which opens up the meetings to generative reflection, discussion, and engaging new ideas at board meetings.

When it does come to making decisions, some groups use a ‘consensus-based’ decision making model. However, trouble arises when this is not defined; consensus means very different things to different people. To mitigate this challenge, Exchange Innercity proactively created a governing document that defines precisely how they can achieve a decision and the procedures to follow in order to empower members to raise and deal with conflicting viewpoints.

3. Mission first

For both organizations, keeping mission top of mind is a key feature of how they’ve structured governance practices. At the beginning of HUB board meetings a rotating board member will outline the mission and priorities of the organization, as they understand them. This grounds the subsequent discussions in what the board is there to achieve.

At Exchange Innercity, a key part of their mission is empowering individuals and organizations in the Downtown Eastside. They’ve given much thought to meeting processes as well as clear definitions to the roles of the staff, the executive committee, and committee members to ensure members have ample opportunities to contribute in different ways – which is a critical part of their mission.

How do your governance practices reflect the values of your organization, or the mission? Are there governance practices unique to your organization?


Mark Friesen headshot


Mark Friesen

Mark Friesen is the Executive Director at Columbia College, Canada’s longest established International not-for-profit college. He currently facilitates a monthly peer network of leaders dedicated to reimagining governance in the non-profit sector, and currently serves as Interim Chair of the Our Place Inner City Assembly. Mark has served as a volunteer, association founder, and an executive director, and has led fundraising, strategic planning and program development efforts in the sector for over 20 years. During his time at Vantage Point, BC’s leading not-for-profit capacity builder, Mark shifted his focus to governance; working with groups to enhance or redefine organizational decision making. Working with the Crown Agency Board Resourcing Office of BC, Mark guided the province to shift the governance and training material of BC’s public sector organizations away from shareholder accountability and towards governance in the public interest.

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