Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Learning theory to governance practice: Access to embedded local board knowledge

This, my friends, is one of the major reasons we need to tend to diversity - especially diversity of networks and community connections - in our boardrooms.

Obviously, professional expertise plays an important role in equipping nonprofit boards for the kinds of questions and responsibilities. We need access expertise in our mission areas, legal perspectives, people comfortable with financials, experienced public relations folk, etc. Often, that expertise sits on the board with us. It may even help drive board composition and the recruitment processes that feed it.

But Yanow describes another type of expertise that complements that (and, in my view, is as important): local knowledge. We need to understand the needs of our communities, however we define them. We need to hear about experiences, impacts, and ideas about our mission areas. We need access to stakeholder group voices, and opportunities to engage them in the processes that lead to programs and services that meet their needs and fulfill our missions.

We need community-specific context to inform our thinking, our visioning, and our decision making. We need people in the room with different experiences, networks, and lived perspectives than our own.

  • How do we identify and attract connections to local knowledge needed by our board?
  • How do we specifically recruit for those connections and expertise?
  • How do we engage that knowledge (and those communities) in meaningful and authentic ways?
  • How do we use that knowledge to build board understanding and capacity - and to make the best decisions possible?

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