Why Use Policy Based Governance?
We have been using Policy Governance for some six or seven years now, predating my
time on our church's Board, so I was not really clear as to why we ever took up
the model. I did some checking and it seems that Policy Governance was brought
in at a time when the Board was frustrated with lack of definition (clarity)
around the roles and responsibilities of the lead minister with regard to
various committees, staff, and members. Who do committees/staff report to? How
involved should the Board be with each committee? With staff? How involved
(directive) should the minister be? Who is operationally responsible for the
action of staff or a committee—the Board or the minister? So
I think that Policy Governance served to clarify roles and responsibilities.
—Gretchen Dorn, Unity Church-Unitarian, St. Paul, MN
Let me spin out one way of looking at how Policy Governance changes the
status quo. If a Board holds total power to create/approve/enact all decisions
of any significance in an organization, then any initiative that anyone (or any
committee) undertakes has to first come to the Board for action. John Carver
points out somewhere that staff [and volunteer leaders] spend more time and
energy almost making a decision and bringing it to the Board for re-decision,
than they do in undertaking the decision themselves. If these folks have more
expertise than the Board does regarding the matter at hand, they have to educate
the Board in the process. Board members may thrive on learning all they can, and
cherish being at the heart of everything that happens—but this feeds their
own needs, rather than honoring the good folks in the field devoting focused
attention to the issue. Worse, it says sotto voce that we can decide this more
wisely than you can.
What Policy Governance does is more fully empower more people, while also
investing a share of responsibility in the Executive role that the Board
otherwise has to bear in total, by itself. When that empowerment transfers on to
committees and program leaders, immense amounts of energy, creativity and
expertise are unleashed.
—Marge Keip, 08/12/99
I believe the objection to "fewer folks with more power, which is
certainly the Carver Model no matter how you slice it" misses an important
issue. Obviously, the Carver Model favors a delegation of power. How, when, and
where power is delegated is obviously important. But of equal importance is the
accountability for the use of that power.
I believe a "good" system of governance—whatever form it may
take—will be one in which power and accountability go hand; and a system
where they are separated will be a bad form of governance.
I have known congregations (and many other types of organizations) where
power was not officially delegated. Officially, power was distributed to
"the people." It sounded very egalitarian. The problem was that there
were certain people who had de facto power. They had it through informal means
and they were always the first to protest any nasty, evil delegation of power.
The reason was simple: they had power, but no accountability—and they liked
it and they abused it.
The issue is not just delegation of power, be it formal or informal, but how
it is delegated and whether those with power (formally or informally) are also
required to be accountable. In other words, complaints about delegation of power
may be a red herring.
Also, I find it ironic that we spend so much time talking about diversity
while at the same time we have a growing numbering of voices protesting
democratic governance and instead demanding a consensus model. One of the basic
assumptions of democracy is the idea that one will not always get his or her
way. In other words one will have to live with people who are different, i.e.,
diversity (when the decision making process is over there can still be a
"loyal" opposition). Consensus models, which arrive out of indigenous
(tribal) cultural models have very different assumptions. They assume that when
all is said and done everyone will be in agreement, i.e., there will not be
diversity and there will not be a "loyal" opposition because the
failure to "agree" evidences that one is not a "good" member
of the group.
My impression of the Carver Model is that it is a good model for some
situations. But as with any form of governance, the ultimate test is how it is
—Jack Bryant, 08/11/99
The problem with the Board making policy and then delegating to the
committees is that the Board is then trying to administer. It may be that some
Boards can do that with some effectiveness, but I've not seen it at church No
one wants to take the responsibility for contacting all the people who need
contacting and no one is accountable. Sometimes things get done if a committee
is on the ball and self initiating or if a Board chair is very active. But as a
recently retired active Board President, I can testify that it is very hard and
inefficient. Coordination was the major problem.
At my church many years ago, the Board created a Council to do the program
administration to relieve the Board. But the council is also lay people, who are
usually not very good at administering, i.e. delegating and empowering other
people and groups and especially coordinating the efforts of the various groups
in the church. But the main problem is the lack of coordination between the
Board and Council. in spite of liaisons, so that there are really two different
agendas going on.
I see the Carver Model as being more likely to delegate, empower, and
coordinate the Board policies of the church and hence, much more likely to be
able to effectively distribute power. It would also provide a lot more
continuity over time since the x-team would be more permanent that committees
and Boards that change often.
For example, the Board might decide to adopt a policy making a church that
had previously not met in the summer into a year round church with summer
services. The policy might be that they would have services and some form of
program for children although not as extensive as during the regular year. [Our
church did that. The council was not involved and hadn't taken that on as a
project, so they didn't even think about implementing the policy. The Worship
Committee did some work setting up services, but the person who agreed to do
most of the services got stuck with doing everything that is usually done
several other committees during the regular year. It was a mess, except that a
few of us jumped in and helped her out, but it was not a pleasant experience.]
In a Carver Church, the X-team would be present at the Board meeting, would
know it was responsible for coordinating the policy, would meet and divvy up the
tasks of talking to committees (task teams, whatever) explaining the situation,
asking for their ideas and solutions to providing year-round services. They
would not dictate or tell committees what to do, they would help each committee
identify what they felt were their responsibilities, help them see how it would
affect other groups and the overall project and leave the committees to figure
out how they wanted to implement their part of the responsibilities. For
example, the Religious Education Committee would decide if it wanted to have regular classes, a
special open-classroom for all, or just baby sitting for little kids; and it
would put it in place, but the X-team would make sure that their decisions were
coordinated with other affected parties. So for instance, people creating
services would know that elementary children would be in the services and make
provision for their interests.
The X-team would also get together to make sure all the bases were covered.
—Beverly Moore, Louisville, 08/12/99