I was lucky enough recently to meet some people that I’d first come into contact almost 20 years ago through the Countryside Agency’s Market Towns Programme while at Action for Market Towns at the Revive & Thrive Conference in Colchester. There are so many unsung heroes battling away to help their special piece of the UK prosper. So, a special mention to one of them, Janet Marriott at the Coleford Partnership!
My workshop at the conference looked at how boards function and how they can work most effectively. The first question is, when did you last formally ask the question, how well are we working?”. For many partnerships that’s a long time ago. If you are a BID then you should do that a year out from renewal every term, which means every 5 years. Of course, if things are not going well do it more often, and probably with outside help.Let’s get over the language: I see the review as a “validation” rather than an “evaluation”.
- Is the organisation “fit for purpose”?
Is it efficient?
Are all appropriate stakeholders engaged
Is the direction right?
So it’s, forward looking. Whereas, Evaluation is:
- Looking at specific objectives
Delivery of the Business Plan
In other words, “Have we done what we said we would do?” i.e. backward looking.
The first step in getting board members to think about this might be to do a Partnership Skills Audit* . Doing this you will find out things you didn’t know about people you may have know for a while, things they did and skills acquired before joining the board. It’s also good for identifying gaps. If you have no board members with, say, finance or marketing experience you but want to target people.
An excellent tool by R. Lesirge & R. Oakley at the Cass Business School is the Board Appraisal Toolkit: the self-assessment grid. It’s designed for charities but so much of it applies. It asks, of a series of issues that impact on boards, such as, Understanding or Energy, is it a) Cause for concern?, b) Needs attention or c) Still room for improvement? I think there should be d). Everything is just fine!
Getting people to open up is a challenge. To do this in a non-threatening way is simple. Tie a length of string across the room, say 2m long. One end is the starting point, to the left say, the situation partnership found at the beginning. The string represents the progress you have made compared to where you wanted to be 5 years (or how ever long) later. Ask board members to tie a piece of twine or ribbon to the line to represent the progress made against what you set out to achieve. If you have achieved everything, and more, everyone will tie there ribbon at the right hand end. I have to tell you that this is unlikely to happen! You will get a range of options, but by illustrating it graphically like this it opens it up for discuss; why some thinks that way. And with that opportunity you can move on from there.
To be a really high performing partnership there are many factors that come together, most important of which is the people. If you can get the right people around the table all willing to be flexible, with energy and commitment by all the parties involved you’ve got a good chance.
I have run many Partnership Governance Reviews over the years, and talking to each other in an open way is the most important ingredient for success.
*Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy.