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The Skills to Govern: The Challenge for Public Sector Governance Bodies. Andrew Graham School of Police Studies Queens University Canada. Paper prepared for the XVI International Research Society for Public Management Conference Rome, University of Tor Vergata 11/04/2012 - 13/04/2012.

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the skills to govern the challenge for public sector governance bodies

The Skills to Govern: The Challenge for Public Sector Governance Bodies

Andrew Graham

School of Police Studies

Queens University


Paper prepared for the XVI International Research Society for Public Management Conference

Rome, University of Tor Vergata

11/04/2012 - 13/04/2012

my purpose
My Purpose
  • Outline my own research into public sector oversight
  • Focus on police oversight
  • Focus on the skills needed to be effective in public sector oversight
general proposition
General Proposition
  • Oversight bodies in the public sector demand a set of unique skills if the the oversight is to be anything other than window dressing
  • Such skills, as in the case of private sector governance, are not necessarily inherent in the individuals appointed to oversight boards
  • Governments need to focus on getting the right skill set even when they face issues of representivity and political considerations
  • Boards and the organizations they oversee need to focus on continual skill development
why specialized oversight
Why specialized oversight?
  • An agency of government is created to operate in a near commercial but with residual public policy goals. The agency is not fully privatized, but rather operates mostly in the private sector but with public interests or ownership.
  • An agency of government, while still within the ambit of political direction, operates a highly specialized service that requires expert governance. Many publicly owned financing entities would fit into this category.
why specialized oversight many reasons
Why specialized oversight? Many reasons
  • A public entity is created by law, but operates with full independence. An example here would be a public hospital, university or educational authority.
  • A public agency is responsible for a service or function that is highly specialized but has to operate with considerable independence from daily political direction while still requiring oversight in the broader public interest. Police and security agencies come readily to mind.
the public policy roles played will vary
The public policy roles played will vary
  • Often specialized oversight bodies are created to strengthen public interest oversight.
  • Often they are created to create a buffer between direct political interference and the agency that must maintain some independence in both practice and form.
  • Often such oversight is designed to strengthen either transparency or representivity
where this positions the overseers
Where this positions the overseers

In all cases, those who serve on such boards are at a nexus between a meta-principal – the government – and the agent. They are in essence titular principals acting for a meta-principal or owner but with the goals of the agency in mind and often in trust as well.


“The board of directors plays a central part in governance. Its general role is to cultivate the organization’s short and long-term success consistent with the organization’s mandate and objectives, and to do so in an accountable manner. When discharging its responsibilities, the board oversees the affairs of the organization, supervises management through the chief executive officer (CEO), and sets standards for organizational conduct.”

Best Practice Guidelines, Government of British Columbia, Canada, 2005

weak governance has inherent r isks
Weak Governance has Inherent Risks
  • Increased risk of capture by the agency’s management (cheer leading),
  • Weaker capacity to implement policies in a coherent manner,
  • Cronyism and sometimes corruption,
  • Weakened efficiency and effectiveness of public sector,
  • Diminished rather than enhanced transparency and accountability,
  • Misuse of public funding,
  • Undermined citizens’ trust.
challenges in canadian police oversight
Challenges in Canadian Police Oversight
  • Multi-jurisdictional nature of policing
  • Long history of civilian oversight of police especially at local level
  • Mixed systems of appointment
  • Often more representational basis that skills basis
  • Mixed loyalties
  • Short terms of office
  • Major challenge of poorly prepared civilians taking on the oversight of policing
  • Chief/ Board conflicts – residual power capacity of the Chief
core legislated roles of police boards
Core legislated roles of police boards
  • Appointment of the Chief,
  • Setting of strategic direction and policy for the service, and
  • Determination of the budget for the service.
efforts to build governance capacity in police oversight
Efforts to build governance capacity in police oversight
  • Challenges:
    • Mixed allegiances
    • Disincentives to act collectively
    • Poor focus on skill sets
    • Optional nature of training and development.
  • Experience varies across the country, often based on the size of the board
  • In general, board members are left on their own to address their own skill deficiencies
  • Major exceptions exist with attendant positive results
building an understanding of the skills needed to govern
Building an understanding of the skills needed to govern
  • Governance skills for the public sector are an amalgam of private sector governance with a public policy overlay
  • Governance skills are different from management skills
  • Within the police oversight community, a growing awareness that basic skills are needed and that some need to be developed
  • This is not about orientation and briefing on appointment. This is ongoing.
skills needed to be effective
Skills needed to be effective
  • Political acumen or sensitivity.
  • Understanding the broader public good(s) being served through the governance role.
  • Listening to and interpret the community being served.
  • Understanding of the authorizing environment,.
  • Independence, especially for those board members who are appointed on a representational basis.
skills needed to be effective1
Skills needed to be effective
  • Holding management to account.
  • Understanding the information needed and what to do with it to monitor overall performance
  • Risk identification and management: risks to the agency as well as risks within the agency
  • Articulating policy in a way that the broader community being served can understand it and management can operationalize it in pragmatic, budgetary and legal terms.
skills needed to be effective2
Skills needed to be effective
  • Understanding and applying boardroom ethics including honesty, readiness to work with others and a focus on collective decision-making.
  • Conducting and participating of meetings, board dynamics, and standards of behaviour.
  • Demonstrating an understanding of the distinction between governing and managing.
skills needed to be effective3
Skills needed to be effective
  • Understanding the broader community that the boards operate in and avoiding being a special interest advocate.
  • Assimilating and using large amounts of information.
  • Working within the rules of governance and engagement.
what has to happen
What has to happen?
  • Skill development is not a free good. Governments need to invest. Some good examples.
  • Development of basic resource materials – the Government of Western Australia example
  • Governance capacity and effectiveness of oversight bodies needs to be part of a government’s audit universe
what has to happen1
What has to happen?
  • Boards need to spend time on their governance performance without dwelling on its excessively.
  • Annual assessments at the group and individual level are key.
  • The role of the Chair become crucial in both monitoring performance and finding resources.
what has to happen2
What has to happen?
  • Common tools for good governance from the private sector need to be adopted:
    • Annual Board and Chair assessments,
    • Development of a board competency matrix, as has already been done in some police boards and commissions in Canada,
    • Develop a board specific risk profile that focuses on capacity,
    • Require individual Board members to articulate an annual learning plan.
  • Ensure members receive governance training from centres of excellence in this area.
concluding messages
Concluding messages
  • One cannot assume that upon appointment to a government oversight board the member will bring all of the attendant skills to the task.
  • The representative nature of some board members may inhibit their need to join into the collective process of governance of the agency.
concluding messages1
Concluding messages
  • This is a dangerous form of isolation and one that, certainly within the police governance world, renders the board considerably less useful than it ought to be.
  • A focus on skills informs the need for a collective level of ability and focus on the melding of talent rather than the continuous jostling of interests.
  • That is the heart of good corporate and public sector governance.
andrew graham school of policy studies queen s university

Andrew GrahamSchool of Policy StudiesQueen’s University