Policy Governance® in NZ

(Article from Board Leadership, Jan 09), download pdf version here

I am pleased to report that the number of organisations aware of or already implementing Policy Governance in New Zealand is growing. This becomes obvious as conversations around governance issues regularly move towards Policy Governance. It is also referred to or imbedded in many documents to support governance in New Zealand.

Here I share how Policy Governance made it to our shores and the influence it has, and continues to have, on many organisations within New Zealand. I also look at some of the challenges ahead.

New Zealand is a country of 4 million positioned in the southwestern corner of the Pacific Ocean. Its population is mainly of European descent, with indigenous Maori being the next largest group. New Zealand is founded on the Treaty of Waitangi, outlining rights and obligations for Maori and Pakeha (foreign settlers). It is a top-rated tourist destination and boasts spectacular scenery that has served as the backdrop for many films including The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Last Samurai. The local sauvignon blanc is exceptional, skiing and adventure sport are popular, and we have a genuine indigenous culture. We were first to split the atom, climb Mt Everest and give women the vote.

Around 15 years ago the first New Zealand-trained Policy Governance practitioners introduced this model to our organisations. As with many governance practitioners and boards, its comprehensiveness was what initially attracted us to the Policy Governance model. We were particularly taken with how it provided solutions to the major issues that boards globally struggle with; holism, definition of roles, and the purpose and value of boards. For many more people and organisations, it is also about gaining efficiency and effectiveness in the board room by doing the right things better rather than the wrong things more efficiently as can often happen.

So how does Policy Governance fit into New Zealand’s somewhat unique commercial and social sector environment?  While we have the same range of national agencies and global and national corporations as in many other countries, New Zealand has a huge number of small businesses combined with a very strong community delivery ethos and practice, and many of the nonprofit agencies have budgets well under US$1million. Therefore, many boards, trusts and societies are delivering a raft of services covering for example health, the social sector, sports, education, often with very small staff numbers (between one and five) and capacity issues.  This poses challenges for agencies seeking to work with Policy Governance.  In particular, these groups need to see the relevance  of the model, and not reject it as being only for the bigger agencies, or they often chose to use select parts therefore missing the full impact the integrated model offers. Smaller agencies working in the community sector struggle to acquire the support and resources needed to attend to their governance capacity issues.

New Zealand also has quite a unique constitutional foundation based on a treaty partnership with Maori. This relationship has enabled strong Maori organisations that are closely connected to the community, and deliver a wide range of commercial and social outcomes.  Similarly, New Zealand has a very strong Pacific Island community, and Policy Governance has impacted on these agencies. This wide applicability would be expected due to the model’s universality.

The dramatic rise of self-governing iwi (Maori tribes) too, has meant greater attention to governance with these  groups, including a proposed law for Maori governance entitled Waka Umanga, which refers to Policy Governance principles.

One effective way that Policy Governance has spread in New Zealand to these diverse agencies, is through the work of Policy Governance practitioners alongside national associations, who have included Policy Governance in guidance documents for their sector.  For example, New Zealand’s national sporting agency (SPARC) provides advice to all sporting entities and clubs across the country. It developed a resource called “Nine Steps to Effective Governance,” which is strongly influenced by the Policy Governance model. A similar resource is available for the Creative Arts sector and School Boards of Trustees, where governance documentation strongly reflects Policy Governance principles. And a government-run community Internet resource that many small agencies rely on also promotes Policy Governance and provides examples of policies.

Many other entities, such as the newly established Primary Health Organisations, refer to the model and suggest it as a preferred option.  Sometimes, however, Policy Governance has been modified, either within the resource or by those implementing it, and these changes have had a negative impact on the model’s integrity.  Awareness of the model therefore extends beyond those working to implement it faithfully. A number of agencies we work with already have bits of Policy Governance thinking sprinkled in their existing documentation. This has often been dropped in by someone such as a board member or consultant who found it on the Web and thought it looked like “good stuff’ without reading further.

Through this work over the past decade, we can report that New Zealand is achieving a critical mass for the Carver model, as well as gaining credibility for Policy Governance practitioners and boards. This leads neatly onto the future challenges for New Zealand. We are at a tipping point of awareness, presenting opportunity to be built on in coming years.

Currently four New Zealanders who have attended the Policy Governance Academy taught by John and Miriam Carver.  We are informally in contact with each other, and more recently have been discussing whether to develop a New Zealand or Australasian linkage to the International Policy Governance Association, thereby developing local networks to ensure support and shared learning.

The Policy Governance model has global relevance, and in New Zealand, need to work together to capture local language and implementation issues that maintains the model’s integrity. This has the potential to fundamentally transform governance across a range of key organisations.

Policy Governance® is an internationally registered service mark of John Carver. Registration is only to ensure accurate description of the model rather than for financial gain. The model is available free to all with no royalties or license fees for its use. The authoritative website for the Policy Governance model is at www.carvergovernance.com