There are many practical resources about good governance for community organisations and initiatives, for example Community Net is a useful website to look at for a start. Our resource offers some of our favourite emerging ideas about governance in relation to CLD contexts. These add to and sometimes challenge conventional wisdom on the topic. Choose what’s useful to you and leave the rest.

What does Community-led Governance look like in practice?

This can look different depending on what kind of organisation you are. Read on to start thinking about what kind of governance model you might need, to discover our key learnings and to find some getting started ideas that really work.

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Starting up questions
No one size fits all! Think about the following questions as they will affect what your particular governance model will look like:
• Are you a small, informal organising group?
• Or are you a formally elected committee with your own constitution/legal structure?
• Are you part of a larger, established NGO, iwi, hapū, whanau, church or cultural group providing umbrella support to a local CLD initiative or community-led action?
• How long have you been going?
• How big is your budget?
• What cultural traditions do you need to consider in terms of how governance will work?
• What legal/constitutional constraints do you need to be aware of?

We’ve learnt that it’s important to embed CLD principles in what we do and how
Grow from shared local visions: The most important work of governance is to be a wise kaitiaki, enabling the wider community (not just those elected or appointed) to shape dreams and plan activities to enable shared local visions
Build from strengths: Governance needs to empower action focused, project-based teams to work with their strengths, assets and passions and get on with their work in a nimble, adaptable way
Work with diverse people and sectors: Governance can take the lead in building movements for collective impact. They can intentionally focus on enabling broad participation: making decisions with rather than for people and proactively looking for collaboration opportunities
Grow collaborative local leadership: Governance needs to be about relationships more than a hierarchy. Lightweight, flexible, flat governance structures promote high trust and shared decision-making, leadership and power
Learn by doing: Being courageous and taking risks is all part of CLD. Along with the wider community, a governance team intentionally learns from the doing at every step. They hold themselves accountable as guardians/kaitiaki of shared values and vision. They are accountable to the community and other stakeholders and are up for experimenting to see what works, actively adapting to ensure things keep moving forward

Things that work
Here are some ideas for a CLD group or project that is just getting started.
• The most important thing is to let your vision, values and culture shape your structure, not the other way around! Aim to apply CLD principles to all that you do. That includes embedding them in the governance structure you decide on.
• Get started by doing some things together that people have energy for. Focusing on governance structures early on can be a bit dull and can dampen community energy.
• Look for an organisation to support you that has shared or similar values. They might be able to help fund your project, employ team members, provide a venue, etc. You might not always need their support, but they can help to get your organisation off the ground. Make sure you have a clear agreement with them about roles, responsibilities and relationships, recognising that things may change with time.
• Think about who needs to be involved in the group and who’s included when making decisions and how. Can some decisions by made by action teams, rather than the governance team? How will you encourage wider community participation? You could do some of the following:

  • Have open community gatherings (meetings, afternoon teas, pizza nights, picnics in the park) every 3 or 4 months to bring people together and share what’s happening in the community. Look for opportunities to actively involve others in the thinking, planning and action. Have some fun, acknowledge people doing great things, welcome others to join in, ask some powerful questions to get feedback, create space for people to raise issues or ideas.
  • Hold community story evenings or awards nights, where people can share stories about their projects, what they’ve learnt and their ideas for the future.
  • Host yearly reflection and sense-making processes so you can look at what’s happened in the last year and why, as well as shaping together what could happen next. And make it fun! Why have a meeting when you could have a party?
  • Reinvent AGMs as purposeful, fun, interesting community conversations and celebrations. Reach out to get some new voices and ideas at these events. E.g. what ideas do teenagers in your community have?
  • Include some planning and purposeful engagement in community events and activities during the year. For example, at your local Easter Egg Hunt you might set up a wishing tree so people can add to it what they value in their place or what changes they’d like to see. Or you could interview people with your smart-phone, asking them the same questions.

The following resources give some great examples of community-led initiatives that have thought quite differently about how to do governance.
Note that the Inspiring Communities model is a living example of how we, as an organisation, have adapted traditional models to align with our values and to allow us to apply CLD principles to how we operate.

The Three Styles of Leadership Focus

We believe there are three core elements for any governance group or organisation using a CLD approach: stewardship/kaitaiaki, strategy and generative thinking.

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The resources that follow are adapted with a community-led development lens from Chait, Ryan and Taylor’s work and from others who have built on their insights.

Chait, Ryan and Taylor argue that every governance group needs to balance three aspects of leadership focus. We see these as core elements for any governance group or organisation, plus, of course, having a strong team culture.

  • Stewardship/kaitiaki – oversight of the current operation: its policies, systems, finances, service quality, employment practices, organisational culture, legal obligations, risks, problems and performance. This is usually the main focus of governance.
  • Strategy – looking ahead to where the organisation wants to head and how to get there effectively. Considering the organisation’s vision, values, mission and key strategic priorities and then learning, adapting and innovating as risks and opportunities are identified. Many groups do this through some kind of annual planning cycle and/or regular strategic strategic discussions.
  • Generative thinking – This uses the knowledge of the people around the governance table (and beyond it) and data to take a fresh look at opportunities and challenges for making the biggest impact on the core vision while dealing with the complexity of the present reality. Not many groups work much in this ‘sense-making’ space, looking for past patterns and new ways of approaching things

Here’s a table showing the different ways of thinking involved in these three styles.

Resources for further reading
Chait, Ryan and Taylor – Governance as Leadership, 2005
Trower – The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High Performing Nonprofit Boards, 2013

Using Generative Thinking

We believe that more governance groups need to work in the generative thinking space. Here’s why.

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If more groups used generative thinking, this would mean:
• more adaptive and collaborative leadership inside organisations between governance groups and managers/staff/volunteers and externally with other diverse community voices
• more lateral, creative and critical thinking happening about how to address deep-rooted, complex social issues between diverse community stakeholders

Kaitiaki responsibilities are really important, but that doesn’t mean we only focus on ‘business as usual’ within our organisation. Strategic thinking invites us to look at our organisation or initiative’s mission and values and our vision for the difference we want to make in our community and in the world.

When an organisation turns outwards and engages with others who share a similar vision, the conversation changes. See the resource below for how to be an effective supporter of CLD and to assess whether you are turning inwards or outwards as an individual or organisation.

Strategic and generative thinking work expand possibilities, new relationships are formed and potential for greater collective impact is enabled. This can also be called catalytic thinking.

PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) is another great resource which is being used with great success with individuals, whānau and organisations in Aotearoa.

How can we work differently?

How can we think and work differently in a CLD context? Here are some examples of how our questions might shift when we do kaitiaki in combination with generative questions.

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Doing Stewardship/Kaitiaki Work Differently

Building a culture of generative thinking

Most governance groups’ cultures are focused on traditional stewardship/kaitiaki work. How can we shift our culture to be able to govern using all three aspects (stewardship, strategy and generative)?

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Making the shift to governance using all three elements needs:
• Buy-in from a critical mass of key governance members including the Chair and those reporting to him/her
• Time to build a shared understanding of why we should do things differently, to overcome fears and to grow new skills so we can ask generative questions
• A mind-shift beyond either/or, black/white thinking towards and/and thinking
• Skills to notice patterns, issues, solutions and opportunities that we haven’t always paid attention to

Here are some practical strategies for expanding generative thinking:
• Start where the energy is! Structure the agenda to give the most time and the best energy to the key issues that matter most
• Don’t fall into the habit of approving recommendations and not doing much else. This can work well for routine matters, but not big decisions
• Make space for informal discussion and learning as well as diagnosing and framing key issues
• Encourage questions, not just make statements about what people think about the issues being considered. This encourages real dialogue
• Work in small groups to encourage multiple voices to speak up and to generate questions and alternatives
• Give governance team members opportunities to have real conversations with internal and external stakeholders
• Ask governance team members to think about different stakeholders: How would they react to this decision? What would they do in your shoes?
• Divide the team into three groups and ask each group to explore the issue from a different thinking mode – kaitiaki, strategic and generative – to see what different approaches can be developed
• Ask questions that encourage people to think differently: How can we look at this differently? What if our strategy is wrong? How would we know?
• Invite perspectives from those outside the group, with particular guests for relevant conversations
• Form working groups made up of governance team members, staff, external organisations and community members to explore important issues
• Have time where the governance team meets without the staff/volunteers/CEO now and then
• Include at least one generative thinking question for discussion in each agenda and report

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