Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Learning theory to governance practice: Launching a summer post series

For as long as I've been formally researching and writing about nonprofit board learning, I've pondered ways to both share the theoretical perspectives that inform my thinking and translate them into practitioner context.

For at least two summers, I've envisioned a mid-week series spotlighting select quotes from my doctoral dissertation, showing how I connect the dots between the ideas grounded in adult learning theory and nonprofit governance practice. This is the summer when I want to try to make that happen, beginning today.

As I revisited the dissertation's literature review, I'm finding that some of the ideas that I most want to share don't lend themselves well to the snappy-billboard kind of format that I envisioned for the series. But I'll try to make this work; because I believe that what I learned from, and saw in, those adult learning sources have much to offer nonprofit board development. It also informs my 2015 theme here. I'll share a quote/idea a week until the summer is over (or one or both of us tires of the process).


Now that I've offered that learning-focused context, I'll launch the series with a quote from probably the only attempt I've seen to (more or less) explicitly address nonprofit board learning, by an author writing from within the sector. (Nancy Axelrod, Culture of Inquiry: Healthy Debate in the Boardroom, 2007).

Opening with this quote is not only okay, it's probably appropriate. It sets the context for the adult learning concepts that I will be sharing in the rest of this series: the kind of environment where a board's ultimate goals and responsibilities can be fulfilled.

Inquiry is a popular theme here, as regular readers know. Boards that understand the power of great questions and explorations have the greatest potential for high-impact performance - success in fulfilling all of their governance responsibilities - and for feeding and sustaining member motivation.

Building a culture that is inviting and stimulating, the culture of inquiry that Axelrod describes here, should be one fundamental goal for board development efforts. Effective governance performance - however we define it - should be the ultimate outcome driving board learning goals and processes. But the kind of culture Axelrod lays forth, in this quote and the book from which it came, provides the foundation to make that happen.

A couple of questions for reflection:

  • What do you see becoming possible for you board, in the kind of culture that Axelrod describes? Be specific. 
  • What are the major challenges to your board creating and embracing a culture of inquiry? What are the fears, knowledge gaps, etc., driving those challenges? What can you and your board do to minimize or eliminate those obstacles?

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