If you are reviewing the work of your public body and thinking about how your review should be structured, the International Framework is a great option for you to think about. It sets out seven key principles of good governance and provides plenty of suggestions about what good practice looks like.
For any public body, change is is the only constant. As a member of a public body, therefore, you will want to regularly reassure yourself that your governance arrangements are as good as they can be. You will also want to make regular improvements. For local councils this type of review is likely to be done by the audit committee. For other public bodies, such as schools, the work might by done by a sub committee or by the governing body as a whole.
Either way, your governance review needs a structure to ensure that everything that needs to be covered, is covered.
The International Framework
One very robust framework you can use is The International Framework: Good Governance in the Public Sector (2014). This was developed jointly by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).
It can be downloaded from the CIPFA website here.
The International Framework builds on previous similar work, draws on a substantial literature review and is informed by an international panel. You can be confident that it is tried and tested.
While it has been used to assess the governance of bodies as large as the European Union, it is general enough to be employed by any public body down to the smallest parish council or school.
This framework suggests seven principles of good governance:
- Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law
- Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement
- Determining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social, and environmental benefits
- Determining the interventions necessary to optimize the achievement of the intended outcomes
- Developing the entity’s capacity, including the capability of its leadership and the individuals within it
- Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management
- Implementing good practices in transparency, reporting, and audit, to deliver effective accountability
As the report suggests:
The Framework should be useful for all those specifically associated with governance— governing body members, senior managers, and those involved in scrutinizing the effectiveness of governance, including internal and external auditors. It also provides a resource for the public to challenge substandard governance in public sector entities.
Using the International Framework
The report breaks down each principle into sub principles (e.g. Behaving with Integrity) and provides a description of what good governance looks like for each including what, as a governing body, you should be doing, and some useful ‘implementation tips’.
You can use the International Framework to review one aspect of your governance arrangements or you can use it to review the whole lot.
The report is, of course, a general guide and your organisation, the context you work in and your governing body are all unique in many ways. Good governance is not something that can be taken off the shelf. General principles, no matter how well researched, always have to be adapted to work in a particular setting.
For this reason you should aim to use this framework (or any other one), as a broad guide to help your own exploration of good governance.
You can use the descriptions as benchmarks and ask a series of key questions:
Is this something we want to do?
What aspects of this do we already do well?
How do we get to the next level?
What practical next steps do we want to try?
How will we know if we have been succesful?
Answering questions like these is always done best in a group; ideally with the whole committee or governing body. This way you can make use of the expertise that everyone has and their experience of what works.
Even better if you can have good conversations with people outside of your committee or governing body to ensure that you get a truly rich picture.
And if you are looking for a nice way to discuss those questions, why not try zero to ten scales – I’ve written about them here.
Image: Relationships between the Principles for Good Governance in the Public Sector, from The International Framework: Good Governance in the Public Sector (2014), by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). p.11