Plans are underway to establish a new Governance Alliance for the cultural sector, to address poor practices and a shortfall in expertise among board members.
Geoff Wilson, Clore Leadership Programme, 2015
Cultural sector trustees must show stronger leadership and become more adaptive and far-sighted, according to an independent strategic review of governance in arts organisations and museums.
The review, commissioned by the Clore Leadership Programme (CLP), concludes that it is no longer sufficient for boards to simply fulfil the fiduciary aspects of their role.
To encourage a step change in the performance of boards, the review authors – David Bryan, Anne Murch and Hilary Carty, who was recently appointed Director of CLP – have recommended that a new Governance Alliance be established to help cultural sector boards develop the skills they need and become bolder in tackling the challenge of a turbulent environment.
According to the report, boards need “greater agility and fresh thinking” to support organisations to achieve their ambitions. It concludes that effective governance will only be achieved with a “concerted strategy” to shift both mindsets and behaviours.
“This requires boards to acknowledge that the current volatility is ‘the new normal’ and adapt their approach in response,” the report says.
“Closed ‘friendship circles’” with unfocused skill-sets are no longer appropriate for board membership, it adds. Trustees should adopt “a multi-layered approach to leadership” that prioritises advocacy, strategic thinking, collective endeavour and emotional intelligence, and draws on members’ technical expertise and experience.
According to the report, areas where boards could develop their practice include:
- developing a healthier attitude to risk;
- being more confident in questioning creative policies and programming;
- stepping more courageously into the fundraising role;
- learning from the wider third sector; and
- adopting a more proactive approach to inclusion and diversity.
Although advice, training and publications aimed at governance in the not-for-profit sector are widely available, boards in the cultural sector are not consistently using these, the report notes. It says opportunities for professional development at relevant events need to be more compelling, “so that these are seen as ‘must attend’”.
Arts organisations and museums have much to learn from other charities, and many would “welcome guidance, signposting and assurance – from trusted sources and from their peers” on resources that would be most useful.
Carty told AP: “Having led the review team as an independent consultant, I am particularly mindful of the need to capitalise on and share the good work in evidence, whilst supporting boards to effectively respond to the strategic and operational challenges outlined.”
Together with CLP, a number of commissioning trusts and foundations with a focus on the cultural sector – Clore Duffield Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Foyle Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation – have already “seeded the foundation” of a strategic alliance of organisations concerned with resilience and innovation in governance.
The report recommends that these partners extend this collaboration by joining forces with strategic agencies that support non-profit organisations to form a Governance Alliance that can “build on the appetite for collaboration and closer partnerships to harness and promote the tools for effective governance”.
Such an alliance should, it says, provide a voice for advocacy across the sector, promote culture change in the delivery of governance and create an online Governance Resource that would be a first port-of-call for advice, information and development for arts organisations and museums.
CLP has invited comments on the review from the sector, and is convening conversations with potential partners to explore the level of traction for the report’s four key recommendations, including the Governance Alliance and Governance Resource.
Carty said: “Initial soundings have been positive and we will work through the autumn to consolidate an action plan for this priority area of work.”
CLP has already published a Practical Guide to Governance in the Arts and Museums and will shortly be promoting a set of ‘board development days’ to encourage “a pro-active response to the recommendation for culture change and strong governance leadership in the sector”.