Whether you are developing a strategy, designing a work programme or solving a problem, there are four conversations the you should be having; the public, regulatory, corporate and partnership conversations.
Good conversations are the cornerstone of good governance. But, as a councillor, school governor or board member, who should you be talking to?
In this post I briefly set out the four conversations you should be having with suggestions about who should be included, why each conversation matters and how to take them forward.
The four conversations of public governance is a handy rule of thumb that can be applied in many situations.
1. The public conversation
As a public body you work for the public so you want to be sure you are meeting people’s needs and doing the things they expect.
Broadly speaking you can divide the public conversation into two – those who use your services and citizens of the wider community that you serve. You are responsible to the former for providing the services they need and accountable to the latter (maybe indirectly) for contributing to the wider public good.
Time spent trying to understand the user perspective is always time well spent. It can provide reassurance that you are doing the right things and, more often than not, unexpected insights.
In practice the public conversation might be with people that have been co-opted onto your committee or board, invited to attend meetings or through additional mechanisms such as a citizens juries or user groups or surveys.
2. The regulation conversation
Regulators are the bodies that set the rules for how you work and will be responsible for ensuring that you operate in the right way. Often these bodies will be providing your funding and will have powers they can use if things aren’t working as they should. It might be that your work is overseen by a central or local government department. Or a national regulation or inspection body. Or any combination of these.
This conversation is important to provide assurance to those that regulate and for you to understand from them what they expect. Regulators are also in a good position to sign post to good practice and to major developments that might affect you.
It’s always good to talk to your regulators and inspectors face to face if possible. An alternative is simply to write to them. The conversation can also take place through reports – scrutiny reports can highlight issues for regulators just as regulators can do the same for scrutiny.
3. The corporate conversation
This is the conversation you have with your the executives who lead your organisation and the managers that run your organisation. They are the agenda setters and the deliverers.
It may be that you are part of a decision making body or in a scrutiny role. Either way the corporate conversation matters if you are going to understand the strategic direction of your organisation, its policies and how well it is performing.
The corporate conversation should be the easiest to access and face to face meetings should always be possible. However, it’s always worth talking to others in the organisation, those working at the frontline for example, to expand the conversation and get a fuller picture.
4. The partnership conversation
No public body can operate in isolation and so it is important to talk to the various bodies that you rely on to get things done. These include the other public services that you work with, those in the voluntary sector and the private sector. Don’t forget to talk to those nearby organisations in the same sector as you – whether its neighbouring local councils, nearby schools or other housing associations working in the same locality.
Partners are particularly valuable for the semi independent perspective that they can bring. They may have practical experience of working with your organisation and can give valuable feedback. More than this they might be working to support the same people and working towards the same ends. Finding out how others work and how they see the world can be a great way to think creatively about what you do.
Face to face is always best of course. But why not go and visit your partners – you learn so much more about people when you visit them on their home turf.