Blog: Why governance matters

My job title – Sector Development Officer – has become something of a joke in my family: “It doesn’t tell me what you actually do!”, “You could be doing anything with a title like that!”.

This means that describing my work has become a common task when we catch up. In one of these conversations recently, I found myself talking to an uncle who wasn’t at all impressed when I told him that a lot of my work was about resourcing community organisations to strengthen their governance.

Governance – the framework in which safe and effective work can do be done – is one of those words that can quickly shut a conversation down. “Sounds like bureaucracy,” my uncle said dismissively. But being one of those who see the critical role of governance, I wasn’t ready to let that go. While uncles are famously intransigent – many a Christmas argument attests to that! – it wasn’t hard to win my uncle over on the importance of governance.

In fact, it just took one sentence: “It might sound like that,” I acknowledged, “but one of the things we’re focused on at the moment is helping organisations see how they can change the ways they operate and their physical spaces to reduce the risk that children will be abused.”

The problem with governance

There are a couple of important things that have negative associations for many people. Politics, for example, is such a dirty word that many people who care about education, healthcare provision, social justice and other deeply political matters declare themselves “not political”. I think governance is another term that immediately turns many people off.

Yet governance is intrinsically linked to whether organisations do good rather than harm, the wellbeing of workers and communities, and the safety of children and other vulnerable people. Governance can be the difference between financial sustainability or bankruptcy. Poor governance is implicated in service provider de-registrations and, at times, leads those with legal responsibilities for an organisation into the court system and potentially prison.

So for those invested in governance its importance is obvious, but for many (perhaps most) people the term is at best boring, if not actively distasteful. That leaves those of us who care about governance with a choice to make: do we shrug it off or do we fight to show that governance is integral to ethical, effective work in the community sector (and beyond)?

Governance in the practice

For me, the answer is obvious and the solution is to show how governance is intimately linked to the real-world effects of community services and to the issues that our broader communities care about. As my recent conversation shows, when people recognise the connection between this previously reviled word and essential issues the real importance of governance becomes clear.

The vast majority of people across our communities care about the safety of children and want to see investment in identifying and reducing risks to child safety. Similarly, concerns about human rights, the effective and ethical use of government and philanthropic funds, promoting quality service provision, and many other governance-related matters are common.

As with politics, when people see the real-world implications of governance practice, I think their reactions to it will change.

Having had responsibility for quality and compliance in both the community and education sectors, I have no doubts about the importance of good governance and I am lucky to work in an organisation where it is well-recognised. But I need to remember that many people don’t have the hands-on experience I have or any other reason to have thought about governance in detail.

If you are one of those people, I hope I have encouraged you to think about governance positively and, if you are a governance devotee like me, to help others make the connection between governance and the wellbeing and safety of workers and the communities we serve.

If you’re interested in all things governance, consider joining QCOSS at a Quality Collaboration Network meeting! The QCN is a peer-led network for those involved in implementing the Human Services Quality Framework within their organisation.

It provides an opportunity to share experiences, information and resources on audit and quality matters, as well as identifying common issues across the sector to inform system updates to government. Monthly meetings offer guest speakers and discussion on a range of topics, while access to peers and experts provides a community of knowledge and experience to draw on for everyday support. Find out more.

Are you a governance body member looking for introductory, practical information sessions to sharpen your knowledge and skills in all things governance? Check out QCOSS’ new On Board workshop series! Session one (10:00am to 11:30am on 17 April) is all about Mastering Meetings! Register.