All institutions need good governance

Hilary Carty, Issue 120/01, 03.01.2019
In our age of financial and political uncertainty, and faced with tricky ethical decisions, greater public scrutiny and the challenges of cultural, technological and demographic changes, the board’s role in governance has never been more complex – or vital. So it is essential that we share best practice and learnings, to lead a positive culture change, and become more aware, connected and empowered to address these challenges.

Cultural sector trustees are made of strong stuff. That was a central message of the recent Governance Now conference, organised by Clore Leadership and the Cultural Governance Alliance – a light-touch collective of organisations, agencies and advocates working strategically to promote best practice in the governance of culture.

Trustees demonstrate enthusiasm, despite the demands of austerity; show agility and flexibility to move dynamically around persistent obstacles; have an appetite for collaboration when societal trust is on the wane; and hold fast to ambitions within an often-volatile environment. We work in a sector full of passion and ambition, with shared aspirations that great culture will stimulate audiences and positively impact society.

But we live in a time of distinct uncertainty, with more “unknown unknowns” than ever. So, yes to the strength of our trustees. Yes to resilience. But even the hardiest trustees benefit from support, and the most fervent welcome a chance to reflect and review, engage in peer-to-peer discussion and gather fresh perspectives from different thinkers and new debates.

Governance Now provided this, with more than 100 sector professionals sharing views on topics ranging from young trusteeship and board audits to cyber security and Brexit. It was a moment to focus on finding solutions: what actions to prioritise when things go wrong; how to govern when elements are not in your control; and what strategies and tips will consolidate our ways of working and improve our chances of working well.

It emerged that finding space for connection is critical. As is environmental sustainability and financial resilience – interrogating the most effective balance of altruism and commerciality to underpin our sector’s hybrid model of subsidy, philanthropy and enterprise. The key is “connection” – interacting and exchanging to probe, share, navigate and learn.

And what will trustees do differently, having refreshed their approaches?

  • Better recruitment/engagement of new trustees
  • Succession and contingency planning
  • Improved financial information and literacy
  • Prioritise communicating with other trustees
  • Prepare better briefings
  • Listen more

Good governance is at the heart of healthy cultural organisations. And connection is central to healthy exchange. Join the Cultural Governance Alliance and be supported to deliver good governance.

Hilary Carty is the director of Clore Leadership

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