What is it? Governance is about how your organisation is run – the structures, systems and understandings that enable you to make the right decisions and set the right course.
There's no one perfect organisational solution to governing. An Indigenous organisation can do very well under a number of possible structures of governance. What you're looking for is a structure that best suits your community or communities.
In a presentation to the first national Indigenous Governance Conference, convened by Reconciliation Australia in Canberra, Neil Sterritt (2001, 2002), a Gitxsan leader from Canada, characterised strong Indigenous governance as having four main attributes or dimensions:
Legitimacy – the way structures of governance are created and leaders chosen, and the extent of constituents’ confidence and support of them
Power – the extent of acknowledged legal, jurisdictional and cultural authority and capacity to make and exercise laws, resolve disputes and carry on public administration
Resources – the economic, cultural, human, technological and natural resources needed for the establishment and implementation of governance structures
Accountability – the extent to which those in power must justify, substantiate and make known their actions and decisions
Principles of good governance
There are a number of commonly accepted principles of good governance that are described in a variety of sources. Principles of good governance for Indigenous organisations include but are not limited to:
Transparency - members and the community at large can follow and understand the decision-making process and reasons why a particular decision is made
Accountability - funded Indigenous organisations must be accountable to both their community, by ensuring that all decisions are taken with community interest in mind, and their funding bodies (usually government), by ensuring that funds are expended for the purpose for which they are provided
Responsiveness - funded Indigenous organisations must be responsive to community and individual needs, by ensuring for example, that the community and the organisation work together to develop a shared strategic vision for the future, then revisit both the vision and the delivery of services regularly
Representation - good governance structures and recruitment and selection processes. For example, management committees, the organisation’s strategic vision, day-to-day activities and staffing must reflect the perspectives of the broad community
Engagement and participation - a governing body must engage actively with its membership and the community to ensure that the community’s views and aspiration are heard, that the community is kept informed through good communication processes, and that services are delivered equitably across the funded target groups.
Challenges to strengthening governance
Particular additional challenges arise for strengthening governance for Indigenous organisations. These additional factors which contribute to the complexity of good governance for Indigenous organisations include:
structures and processes are respectful of Aboriginal tradition or Island custom
tension between western and traditional processes of choosing leadership
respect of traditional values and respect for elders
the power that certain members of the community have by virtue of their standing in the community
traditional law and government legislation/regulations
Indigenous organisations need to ensure they utilise legislative powers and relevant rules/ constitution that can be modified. In consultation with their membership, organisations can tailor those clauses to ensure that the document meets the needs of the community and at the same time meets government accountability requirements.
There is often an expectation that Indigenous managed organisations represent the needs and aspirations of the entire Indigenous community in their locality, as opposed to just their registered members and target groups. This creates an additional layer of complexity and responsibility for governance structures and notions of representation. The success or failure in meeting the challenges of this complexity impact on an organisation’s legitimacy in the community and its capacity to deliver on its intended outcomes.
In order to achieve this legitimacy, Indigenous managed organisations may have to take a more proactive and admittedly more intensive process to ensure genuine representation. If an organisation states in its rules that it represents the Indigenous community of a given region, then this may involve actively recruiting membership and service clients rather than expecting prospective members and clients to make a first approach. This recognises that the usual methods of attracting members and clients may not always reach an intended target group due to various factors such as literacy, remoteness and clan groups. Failure to take proactive steps leaves the organisation vulnerable to accusations that it does not meet its stated objects.
It is therefore imperative that Indigenous managed organisations develop structures and ways of operating that are able to withstand such scrutiny. They must be institutions which are not only open and transparent, but also accessible and accountable.
At the same time, it should be recognised that this extra responsibility often adds pressure to staff and committee members. No organisation is perfect and the community needs to be tolerant of governance processes in which staff and management committee member “are doing their best”.
The Management Committee is at the helm of the organisation's structure of governance. Final decisions on important issues must always pass by the Management Committee. It is up to the Management Committee to create the other organisational structures that will make it possible to carry out the mission.
Why should the Management Committee become more accountable, transparent and consultative?
There are a number of reasons why your Management Committee should strive to achieve greater levels of accountability, transparency and consultation.
Effectiveness - It will help to make your organisation more responsive to your stakeholders and this is crucial if you are to become a more effective and successful organisation. The Management Committee is also likely to benefit from the new perspectives and ideas that arise from being more in tune with the needs and views of your stakeholders.
Respect – Only some good governance processes for not-for-profit organisations are mandated by law or regulation. There are, however, very real rewards for those groups that put them in place anyway. Significantly, having accountability, transparency and consultation processes in place will also gain the trust and respect of those who take good governance seriously – in particular, governments and businesses.
Trust - Community support is imperative for the continued existence and success of any community organisation. Those who take their responsibility for good governance seriously are far more likely to receive the support of the public.
Standards – New standards for governance are being introduced in Queensland over the next three years. Laying the ground work for better governance procedures now will help your organisation to easily adjust to any future governance requirements that may arise.
How can the Management Committee become more accountable?
There are several practical measures that the Management Committee can put in place to ensure your organisation becomes more accountable:
Prepare an annual budget and monitor financial performance through a quarterly reporting system, taking action where negative variances exist.
Avoid conflicts of interest and deal with them promptly and properly when they do arise.
Ensure all Management Committee members receive induction and ongoing training to fully understand their roles and responsibilities and carry them out to the best of their abilities.
All Management Committee members understand state and federal regulations and laws that affect your organisation and the Management Committee.
Keep accurate records of all financial transactions, as well as accurate minutes of Management Committee decisions and actions.
Put in place an external and internal complaints procedure to give interested parties the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have.
Ensure your organisation has procedures in place to deal with media inquiries.
Regularly send funding bodies (and other relevant organisations or individuals) updates on funded projects. Identify “good news” stories for the local media and elected members of parliament
Closely monitor grants money, funding and other donations that are being spent.
Ensure service agreement requirements and performance targets are monitored on a quarterly basis
Make sure your Management Committee has in place clear policies and procedures and decisions/actions are recorded in a manner consistent with procedures.
How can the management committee become more transparent?
There are several practical measures that the Management Committee can put in place to promote transparency:
Publish a regular newsletter to provide updates about the organisation.
Compile and publish an annual report, including details of the activities your organisation has undertaken in the past year and audited financial statements.
Send the annual report to interested parties (members, donors, funding bodies, service users, etc.) and ensure it is available to others on request.
Use your website to publish information about your organisation and your Management Committee – but provide it in hard copy as well (as not everyone has access to the internet).
Put in place an "interest register" that details all of the personal and business interests of current Management Committee members – particularly those that could lead to a potential, real or perceived or real conflict of interest.
Make information contained in the register available to anyone who asks.
Ensure your organisation is responsive accurate, courteous and timely to requests for information.
Invite non-members from the community to attend Management Committee meetings to ensure policies and decisions are transparent and open to scrutiny.
Set aside time for questions and answers from the floor under a standing “General Business” agenda item.
Have readily available for the general community and clients, information about your organisation and your Management Committee including:
annual reports, including Auditors’ Report and audited financial statements.
How can the management committee become more consultative?
There are several practical measures that the Management Committee can put in place to ensure the organisation becomes more consultative:
Establish a communications strategy to ensure that Management Committee decisions are explained and widely known. This can be as simple as setting aside a corner of your organisation's newsletter to provide a "Management Committee Update".
Seek input from stakeholders when key decisions are being contemplated or a change in direction is being considered. This may include holding public meetings or stakeholder meetings to allow the Management Committee to explain its current thinking.
Many management committees set up sub-committees to help streamline their decision-making process.
Not all Management Committees have sub-committees and not all Management Committees have the same sub-committees. However, there are some common ones. The Management Committee needs to decide whether sub-committees will assist or hinder the operation of the organisation’s governance structure. Some things that the Management Committee should consider include:
Sub-committees can make better use of Management Committee members' time, allowing certain tasks, issues or investigations to be delegated away from the full Management Committee to leave it free to concentrate on the "big picture".
Delegation to sub-committees can also reduce the length of full Board meetings because the issues they deal with have been discussed and resolved to everyone's satisfaction beforehand.
Sub-committees can make better use of Management Committee members' expertise by allowing those with particular knowledge, interests or skills to concentrate on those areas.
Sub-committees can help broaden the knowledge and skills of Management Committee members, particularly if members are rotated around the different sub-committees during their term.
Sub-committees can help build leadership within the Management Committee, allowing leaders to emerge and build their skills in this area.
Sub-committees can help to share the load, ensuring that all Management Committee members can remain engaged and have an active role.
Sub-committees can promote participation and help to build a better sense of camaraderie because often they will operate less formally than the full Management Committee.
While sub-committees are often good time savers, too many sub-committees can have the opposite effect. Members who are required to sit on several sub-committees may quickly start to feel time deprived.
Sub-committees meetings can suffer from the same problems as other Management Committee meetings. If not managed correctly, they can be ill-structured, ineffective and just plain boring.
Having sub-committees creates a requirement for more administrative support.
Again, the time and resources saved by having the sub-committee needs to be weighed up against that required to make them work.
Sometimes, a sub-committee will outlive its usefulness. For example, a Management Committee may decide to set up a sub-committee to oversee the group's major events and continue to meet – and swallow resources – even when the group has scaled back and there are only one or two minor events to organise.
Some other useful resources that may be of assistance to strengthening and organisations governance include but are not limited to:
http://www.ourcommunity.com.au Related Documents
Community Engagement Topic Guide
Conflict of Interest Record
Governance and Accountability - Organisational Governance – Strengthening Governance Topic Guide Page of