I read a very interesting article by David O. Renz entitled “Reframing Governance”.  It appeared in Volume 13, Issue 4, Winter 2006 of The Nonprofit Quarterly.  It will be of particular interest to those involved with international NGOs who work collaboratively.  The article by Renz illustrates the challenge of thinking about governance through the lense of a national board when in fact international or interorganizational alliances may have a larger practical effect on governance.

If you to see the traditional view of governance you can read my article entitled Good Governance for Canadian Non-Profits and Charities at http://www.blumbergs.ca/articles_more.php?id=154_0_2_0

Here are some excerpts from David Renz’s article:

“It used to be that boards and governance were substantially the same—the two concepts overlapped. But with time and a radically changing environment (e.g., changes in complexity, pace, scale, and nature of community problems and needs), the domain of “governance” has been moving beyond the domain of “the board.” …

Therefore, we’ve organized or developed our response at yet another level—the interorganizational alliance. In the new mode, the organization may well be the unit from which services are delivered, but such service delivery is designed, organized, resourced, and coordinated (in other words, governed) by the overarching network of relationships (among organizational leaders) that crosses and links all of the participating organizations and enti¬ties. Similar dynamics are emerging in some parts of the nonprofit policy and advocacy domain, where different organizations’ actions are orchestrated by a coordinative governance process that operates largely beyond the scope of any particular board, even as it deploys lob¬bying resources from various individual organizations. …

It is at the meta-organization level that the generative leadership and strategy are handled; the frontline action or delivery of services (i.e., operations) is handled by the individual organizations (cells of operation) consistent with and in furtherance of the accomplishment of the interorganizational entity’s mission, vision, long-term goals, and strategies (all of the key functions, you’ll note, that are the domain of governance). For these areas of community action, it is no longer about the “networked organization,” it is about the “network as organization.” These are systems of organized (but not hierarchical) influence and engagement that link multiple constituent entities to work on matters of overarching importance and concern. In this environment, the boards of individual organizations are at least guided by and often become accountable to the larger governance system. The frame of reference is larger than the constituent organization.

If you’re really in one of these new systems of governance, your board has less strategic room to move and make choices. You’re dancing to the tune of a piper (or even more likely, multiple pipers!) beyond your organization’s boundaries. In other words, the governance of your work has moved beyond your organization’s boundaries (and your organization no longer has the kind of sovereignty that it once had).

Does this mean that boards of individual agencies are no longer relevant? No, not any more than any one program in a multi-service human services agency is automatically irrelevant because it is part of the larger whole. The board is necessary, and there is a critical kind of value offered at the level of the agency board. But it’s not the only level of leadership and governance that exists, nor is it the overarching and highly autonomous kind of entity that historically has had the luxury of assuming it is in charge. It’s just not the only level anymore. …

One of the challenges of this emerging form of governance is that it moves the locus of control beyond any one organization. For better or worse, no single entity is in charge, and any agency that thinks it can call the shots is going to find that its power over others is muted. Interestingly, this includes governmental entities that may think (and still keep trying to act like) they are in charge. The fact that an agency has a legal or statutory mandate to address a given problem does not give it any real control over the kinds of messy problems for which these governance systems are emerging. For example, no urban redevelopment agency has ever had the capacity to resolve its urban community’s problems without bringing other entities into the game and, increasingly, these other entities have demanded a substantive role in the decision-making process. Part of the power of this new governance is that it is better able to accommodate and engage this shared power dynamic. …

This new mode of governance has some significant implications for the next generation of nonprofit board work. For example, it will require different kinds of knowledge, skills, and abilities. This is the work of leadership, not man¬agement. So it will be essential for its partici¬pants to be proficient in a different kind of leadership, especially skilled in the capacity to network, build multi-faceted relationships across boundaries and among diverse groups of people, and effectively exercise influence in the absence of authority. (John Gardner, in his outstanding book, On Leadership, aptly described this as “exercising nonjurisdictional power.”) The very ability to perceive this new level of operation is unique, requiring a multi-level systems perspective and a different kind of “mental model” from that to which the typical board member is accustomed.”

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While no one disputes the importance of a board of an organization this article by Renz hits the nail on the head about the type of governance that many international NGOs face who are in international alliances.  The article also allays some of the fears that a board may have in being part of an international alliance.  Such international alliances are becoming more common and necessary to efficiently confront the challenges faced by NGOs operating internationally.

For the full article go to: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/section/853.html