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Seven scrutiny power-ups for making the council more transparent


Transparency is one of the seven scrutiny superpowers. By asking questions and publishing the answers, by asking for reports and putting them in the public domain, scrutiny has the special ability to make local government more open and transparent.

Think about scrutiny as the window that lets the public see what the council is doing.

Sure you are doing great things already but maybe you want to flex your scrutiny super-muscles and take things to the next level.

So, here are seven power-ups. Things that others have found useful – that you might find worth thinking about.

Maybe you are doing all of these already – but, hey, at least that tells you how much of a scrutiny super hero you already are. 💪

 

1. Webcasting

Council meetings are often webcast but what about scrutiny meetings? Webcasting not only gives the public the opportunity to see what’s happening from the comfort of their armchairs but it also opens up the possibility of recording and sharing the good bits. There are many ways to webcast these days so find the way that suits you best.

2. Live tweeting

Live tweeting scrutiny meetings is a great way of making council business more visible, transparent and accessible. And it helps local democracy by reaching out and making connections that might not otherwise have been made. I’ve written up some live tweeting top tips and you can find them here.

3. Better webpages

If scrutiny is a window into the council is doing then the scrutiny webpages are a window for the public to see what scrutiny is doing. Have these pages been designed in a way that’s helpful for people? It’s always worth talking to people about what they are trying to do when they visit your pages and how easy it is for them to do it. You can then makes some changes that make things easier.

4. Snippets

Webpages have snippets. It’s the line or two under the page title that appears when you perform a search. Scrutiny papers could have them too. It might be a simple idea but a short, friendly summary at the top of every agenda and report is a great way to help people navigate through the council paperwork. And when I say short I mean one or two sentences written in the way you would explain to someone in the street. This was an idea I picked up from Diane Simms at a notwestminster event (more about that in this post about making council reports more digestible – plus John Popham promoting the use of video – see 6).

5. Press releases

People still get news through local media so you can boost the visibility of your work by proactively producing press releases. Of course these need to be written in the right way and you’d better talk to your friendly council comms people first.

6. Videos

One of the many great things they are doing in Kirklees is producing and sharing a short video summary before each council meeting. Why not do something similar for scrutiny? It could be great (here is the link to the Kirklees Democracy Commission youtube page if you don’t believe me).

7. Findings reports

OK, you spent months on that big scrutiny review and collected all that evidence. Yes, you’ve summarised it beautifully in your final report but why not publish all the raw data in a format that others can use?  In a spreadsheet maybe? As an added bonus it shows that you are transparent about your own work and don’t mind if people check what you based your excellent recommendations on.

Six frameworks to help demonstrate the impact of scrutiny


Thinking about how you demonstrate the impact of your scrutiny work? Wondering how you might improve? Well, there are frameworks that can help. This post highlights six.

No doubt there are things you are already doing. Annual reports, updates to council meetings, features in council newspapers, press releases, videos, recommendation trackers are just a few of the ways that scrutineers show that they are making a difference.

This post is for anyone who wants to develop or review their approach. It suggests six solid frameworks that can be used and adapted. Hopefully you will find one that you works for you.

Why demonstrate the impact of scrutiny?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to demonstrate the impact of your scrutiny work. It might be a simple concern to know that you are making a difference. It might be that you want to demonstrate to the wider organisation that scrutiny is worth investment. Or it might be to provide assurance to the public that their concerns and issues are being properly addressed.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to know what exactly you want to achieve. After all, if time and effort is going to be spent then it’s good to know why.

Key questions before you start

Before getting into the frameworks here are three questions I think it’s worth asking to prepare the ground:

1.What works well for us already?

This solution focussed question invites you to notice the things that are already effective for you in your own context. What’s working well that might be developed or expanded? What’s working well in one committee that might be tried in others? Are there good examples of demonstrating impact being used for other aspects of council business?

2.Who are our audience and what do they need?

This design thinking question asks you to think about your final product and who will be using it. Whatever the final product you have in mind, you need to talk to whoever you want to impress and find out what they like and what they don’t.

3.Exactly what question should we be trying to answer?

From a research perspective, it’s always worth spending time to the right question. What aspect of impact do you want to focus on?  What’s a meaningful question for your audience? What’s a manageable question to answer given the resources at hand?

Six frameworks

Frameworks can help you in a number of ways. They can help you organise the work you are doing more coherently, provide you with a clear method, give you inspiration, offer something practical you can adapt or maybe just challenge you to think differently.

The frameworks below help you to think about the three main aspects of demonstrating impact; data collection, analysis and presentation.

So, here are the six frameworks (there will be others out there of course).  I hope you find something useful.

1. Policy impact (Constitution Unit, University College London)

Described as the ‘gold standard’ by those in the know, this report details extensive research into the work of parliamentary select committees over a number of years. Usefully the report details eight aspects of policy influence that might be used as hooks to hang a discussion upon:

  • Direct government acceptance of committee recommendations (discussed above) 
  • Influencing policy debate 
  • Spotlighting issues and altering policy priorities 
  • Brokering in policy disputes 
  • Providing expert evidence 
  • Holding government and outside bodies accountable 
  • Exposure 
  • Generating fear (anticipated reactions)

Selective Influence: The Policy Impact of House of Commons Select Committees, Meg Russell and Meghan Benton, Constitution Unit June 2011 (full report here)

2. Outcomes (Institute of Government)

Anything from the Institute of Government is likely to be excellent in my opinion, and this report on parliamentary scrutiny is no exception. It provides a framework for assessing impact that sets out a series of possible outcomes alongside the questions you might want to ask and the quantitative and qualitative evidence that you might need to demonstrate each.  The outcomes are:

  • Evidence
  • Analysis
  • Openness
  • Learning
  • Processes
  • Context
  • Democracy

Parliamentary Scrutiny of Government, Hannah White, Institute of Government, (2015) (full report here)

3.  Results scorecard (City and County of Swansea)

I’m very happy to recommend this approach as it was something I was involved in. ☺️  It’s essentially a mix of Results Based Accountability and the Balanced Scorecard approaches.  Scrutiny’s annual report includes  24 indicators mapped against 4 simple questions. There is a narrative for each question and, because this has been done for a numbest of years, changes over time can be analysed. The 4 questions are:

  • How much scrutiny did we do?
  • How well did we do it?
  • How much did scrutiny affect the business of the Council?
  • What were the outcomes of scrutiny?

You can download the annual report for 17/18 here.

 

4. Return on investment (Centre for Public Scrutiny)

If you a looking for something a little more hard edged, this report from CfPS (a.k.a. the people who know about scrutiny) should be right up your street.  It takes the idea of ‘return on investment’ (essentially a cost – benefit analysis) and applies it to scrutiny work. Calculating the cost of scrutiny work is perhaps the straightforward part. This report will also help you think about the ‘return’ in terms of:

  • The process benefits
  • The outcome changes

Tipping the Scales, Su Turner and Linda Phipps, Centre for Public Scrutiny (2012)

The report is here.

5. Governance (European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies)

This is my favourite governance framework (we all have one don’t we…). Drawing on a substantial review of the literature, this framework sets out five ‘themes’ that between them cover all of the aspects of governance.  This is helpful if you want to show that scrutiny has an impact on the different aspects of good governance across the organisation.  The framework is known as TAPIC for short which stands for:

  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Participation
  • Integrity (things work as they should)
  • Capacity (for policy development)

TAPIC has been published in Strengthening Health System Governance, Greer et al (2016) A shorter summary of the relevant chapter (which is by Greer, Wismar, Figueras and Mckee) can be found here (pdf).

6. Reach and significance (Research Excellence Framework)

This framework comes from the academic world where it has become essential for universities to be able to demonstrate their research impact. It’s not directly scrutiny or governance related but I think this is something that can be adapted.  The key takeaway is that impact can be described in terms of the concepts of reach and significance (breadth and depth if you like) where:

  • Reach = ‘the extent and/or diversity of the beneficiaries of the impact, as relevant to the nature of the impact’.
  • Significance = ‘the degree to which the impact has enabled, enriched, influenced, informed or changed the performance, policies, practices, products, services, understanding, awareness or well-being of the beneficiaries’

Consultation on the draft panel criteria and working methods, REF 2018/02 July 2018 (report here if you want to see it)

 

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How to live tweet a council meeting


If you are thinking of tweeting a council meeting, or maybe you are already tweeting meetings but thinking about how you might improve, here are some ideas that you might find helpful.

Tweeting council meetings is a great way of making council business more visible, transparent and accessible.  Whether it’s full council, cabinet, scrutiny, live tweeting helps local democracy by reaching out and making connections that might not otherwise have been made.  People who do this, whether as part of their jobs, or as citizen volunteers, deserve a lot of credit in my opinion – I think it’s a much undervalued public service and something that requires a fair degree of skill.

I’ve written this because there doesn’t seem to be a guide out there and because I think there should be.

I’m particularly grateful to Diane (@72prufrocks who tweets meetings from @kirkdemocracy) and James (@javerilljourno who covers Northamptonshire) for their ideas and, if you want to see what good looks like, definitely start by checking out what they do.

OK, so here are the suggestions. First the general strategy followed by some specific tactics but remember – this is just what others have found helpful – you decide what’s best for you.

Strategy

Think of your audience

The first question you should ask yourself is ‘who am I tweeting for?’  It may be one audience or many, either way you should have them in your mind when you are tweeting – this will help you get the tone right.  If it helps, think about some actual people when tweeting and tweet for them (without using their names obviously…).

Use the right language

Council meetings tend to use a very particular language and it can be easy for those involved to forget that people ‘outside’ might find it unfamiliar or even off putting.  Things like apologies, motions, points of order and minutes might make sense to you but they could mean something very different to your intended audience – you really don’t need to use them.  Just talk as you would to someone in a cafe or bar.  Remember also that tweets can only ever be a summary and that’s fine – they do not need to be a verbatim account.

Pick the interesting bits

James makes a great point when he says: “I actually think it’s a case of working out what ‘not’ to tweet. I generally have the rule of thumb that if I find it dull, then the readers definitely will and I won’t tweet it.”

Report rather than comment

Again, James makes another great point when he says: “Effectively all I do is cherry pick the most interesting quotes, provide them with a little bit of context, and allow people to come to their own conclusions.” This will be particularly true for council officers who need to be ‘politically neutral’.

Use pictures and videos if you can

OK, so pictures of meetings may not be so exciting but seeing the people involved can bring things alive for those following on twitter.  Oh, and pictures make things that much more shareable. By the way, @kirkdemocracy produce short video explainers of each council meeting – a lovely way to start a live tweet.

Set yourself up right

This might just be personal preference, but I find it easier to get on top of some high quality tweeting if I’m using a laptop and sat at a table.  It’s just easier to tap away and to grab links links.  You can also use a twitter app like Tweetdeck to manage things across a number of columns.

Prepare

Nothing interrupts the flow like having to find that online report or that twitter handle.  Spending a little time beforehand digging out the things you know you are going to need and getting familiar with the agenda will help to ensure a more relaxing experience.

Listen, listen, listen

Great advice from Diane and perhaps one of the harder parts of this – properly paying attention to what’s going on while writing summary tweets at the same time.

Make sense of it

Another great point from Diane – explain what’s happening and keep doing it, don’t assume that everyone is a local democracy expert

 Share their story

Yet another great point from Diane – councillors and citizens are people and what’s personal is relatable.

Notice what works

There is no perfect way of doing this – it’s all about what works best.  So, notice what works well for you and do more of that.  Accept that there will be some trial and error. Things take time to build sometimes so don’t worry if you don’t get much response at first.

 

Tactics

As well as these general points, there are some specific things you can do when tweeting that might be helpful.

Threading

Threading means replying to your last tweet so that, when people read those tweets, they follow nicely, one below the next in order.  Doing a separate thread for each agenda item creates a nice mini story for each.  It also means that, when someone retweets something they are sharing a link to an entire item.

Tagging

Tagging means including someone’s twitter handle in a tweet.  It’s a really helpful way of letting people know that they are being mentioned and gives them the chance to share and respond.  If an organisation gets mentioned in a report you can tag them to let them know it’s being discussed.  Many councillors now have twitter accounts so you can tag them as well.

Hashtagging

Hashtags (written with a # at the start), are short labels that allow people to search for tweets that are of interest to them.  Using the same hashtag for council meeting tweets (e.g. #anycounciltweets or #anytowndemocracy) will allow people to create searches to follow the action with.  Others can also join in knowing that everyone will see what they have tweeted. When tweeting also think about the hashtags that might attract the attention of people who might not otherwise have been aware of the meeting.  So, for example, you might add the local area hashtag to the start of the thread for each item.  By the way, people tweeting council meetings often use #ldreporter so check it out to see what others are up to.

Linking

By providing links to the agenda, online reports, and webcasts, stories or anything else that’s relevant, you can help make these things much more accessible to those outside and those inside the meeting.

Replying

If someone does reply to one of your tweets it’s always good to respond – even if it’s just to acknowledge them.

 

Oh, and of course, you should always be respectful and remember that what you are doing is publishing – the law still applies –  even to twitter.

One final point from Diane, which I’m guessing is from bitter experience.  She says simply: “Charger.”

Photo credit: @kirkdemocracy

How to design a scrutiny work programme


This post sets out my take on how to design a scrutiny work programme so that it’s focussed on the right issues and has the support of everyone involved.  

Designing a work programme is one of the most important activities for anyone involved in scrutiny.

A good work programme ensures that scrutiny is focussing on the things that matter most and is making the best use of scarce time and resources.  More than this, when it’s done right, the process of designing a work programme can promote transparency and public participation and be a positive demonstration of good governance.

While every process will be different – and quite rightly so, because every organisation is different – there are some fundamentals that underpin every good process.

Finally, while this is written with local government scrutiny in mind, it should also be helpful for housing association tenants, school governors or anyone else in a scrutiny role.

First principles

When designing a work programme it’s helpful to bear in mind that:

  • Work planning is an ongoing process not a one off event.  Things change so you need to leave space to be flexible. And this means giving your work programme proper attention – not just ‘nodding it through.  There should be time set aside at every regular meeting to talk about the work programme to ensure it stays relevant.
  • Work planning is an activity for the whole team – not just the chair or the majority group – scrutiny activity will be more effective down the line if everyone has been involved in the development of the work programme
  • Like any aspect of governance, work planning should be an ongoing conversation with others – whether the public, the organisation, regulators or partners to name just a few
  • The design of the work programme will need to be changed as time goes on.  There is no perfect template that will work for everyone and it’s important to regularly test whether it works.  It’s always a work in progress so don’t be afraid to experiment with the way it’s set out or presented.  Regularly ask ‘is it useful?’ and ‘Does it do what we need it to do?’

Thinking about impact

As the aim of the work programme is to ensure that scrutiny makes the biggest impact possible – so it’s useful to talk about what this means.  I like to think about impact like this:

Addressing the biggest issues of concern that are not being tackled by anyone else.

If you have different version that’s fine – better even.   What matters is that impact, however you define it, provides a focus for your scrutiny activity.  Your definition will also be helpful when it comes to evaluating and reviewing the work that you have done.

Designing the work programme

The initial development of a work programme can be divided into three stages; mapping concerns, prioritising topics and matching activities to topics.

1.  Mapping concerns

This is the discovery phase of designing the work programme.

I like to use the ‘four conversations’ (public, corporate, regulatory and partnership) when thinking about the information that needs to be gathered and who to talk to.

Of course time and resources will dictate how much you can do but, the more time you spend discovering concerns, the better the work programme will be.  It’s always good to do the work in public if you can whenever but you may prefer to do this informally and report back – or ask those providing support to do it for you.

Here are some ideas for discovering concerns:

The public – citizens and service users

  • Invite people to talk to you or go and meet them where they are
  • Use social media
  • Commission surveys
  • Use the results of other surveys
  • Draw on anecdotal evidence from your own experience – as councillors, for example, you will have a good sense of what is going on on the ground

Corporate and performance

  • Invite cabinet members / senior officers to come and talk to you
  • Research annual reports and corporate strategies
  • Research performance reports
  • Survey staff
  • Consider your council’s forward plan – particularly the cabinet items

Regulators and government

  • Invite regulators or inspectors to speak to you
  • Research inspection and regulatory reports
  • See what select committees are looking at
  • Check out what issues government is consulting on
  • Ask MPs or members of devolved parliaments for their views

Partners

  • Invite them to a meeting
  • Survey them
  • Research partnership reports and minutes
  • Research the annual reports and strategies of partner organisations
  • Talk to scrutineers in nearby councils

Oh, and don’t forget to revisit your last work programme if you have one.  There may be issues that you were unable to tackle, or new issues that came out of the work that you did.  This should all go into the pot.

2.  Prioritising topics

Having collected lots of concerns the next step is to identify the most significant.

This can be done at a meeting or, even better, at a conference involving others.  Consider inviting those involved in audit roles for example, or other backbench councillors.

Again, you should prioritise in the way that you find most helpful.  If you are looking for ideas you could consider this three stage process:

a)  Providing everyone with a list of issues thrown up by the discovery stage showing where each has come from

b) Working in small groups or pairs to identify the issues that:

  • Have been raised in more than one place
  • Affect the widest group of people
  • Have the greatest effect on individuals

c)  Each group can be challenged to identify three issues that match one or more of these criteria and feed them back.

These can then be incorporated into the work programme or, if another stage is needed, consider the use of dot voting on wall charts, or another method, to allow each individual to express their preferences that can then be added up.

Even better put a short list back to the public and invite them to vote with the promise that the best supported issues will be acted upon.

3.  Matching activities to topics

Having prioritised a smaller number of issues the next challenge is to shape them into practical activities.  Each scrutiny context is different, however there will be alternative ways for scrutiny work to get done and for recommendations to be made.

Consider, for example, which issues of concern will be best addressed by:

  • In depth inquiry work
  • Peformance monitoring
  • One off task and finish
  • Mystery shopping
  • Calling in a report before a decision is made by the governing body, cabinet or board
  • Calling for a new report to be produced that can be discussed at a meeting

It makes sense for this to be done, in the first instance, by the chair working with support officers or at least a smaller group.

It is important at this stage to filter out the issues that are being looked at by others elsewhere.  This can be done by talking to officers.  These issues should not be lost, however. They should still be captured in the work programme and revisited.  You will want to know what the outcomes of these other processes has been – you may then want to pick them up again if you are unsatisfied.

Ongoing Review

Your work programme needs to be organic and tested regularly.

This goes not just for the contents – but for the way it looks, how it is presented on the printed page, how it is published online – in other words how usable it is.

It’s good to regularly ask the committee or task group ‘how helpful is this format for you?’ and ‘what could be better?’.

In terms of format it may be that a simple one page timetable is sufficient.  For a committee dealing with a number of strands of work, maybe employing task and finish groups, for example, a more complex format will be needed. The key thing is that the members of the committee can easily follow what’s happening and are able to suggest ideas.

If there is silence each time the work programme is discussed then it probable needs a rework.

And finally, where the work programme goes on your agenda is also part of the design.

If it’s important to you (and it should be!) then maybe it should be the first thing you discuss.  It doesn’t need to get in the way of the main items as long as you keep to a time limit.  But at least it’s being considered while everyone is fresh and not at the end, when everyone is itching to leave.

 

By the way, if this is something you think I might be able to help you with, drop me a line on my contact page.

 

Photo credit

The seven scrutiny kryptonites ☢️


When I wrote about The Seven Scrutiny Powers, I had a reply on twitter mentioning kryptonite.  And I thought, yes, we should be talking about this – aspects of local government culture that neutralise the seven scrutiny superpowers (transparency, accountability, participation, solutions, calling-in, assurance and capacity).

This may seem negative but think of it it as an anti-problem. If we wanted to ensure scrutiny was completely ineffective what would we do? Then we can do exactly the opposite of course.

I’m not claiming that any of this is necessarily intentional.  Rather I suspect that these are culturally convenient ways of doing things that develop, maybe even unconsciously, over time.  So, there is no supervillan, but these kryptonite will be recognisable to anyone who has worked in the scrutiny world.

Also remember, while kryptonite has a negative effect on scrutiny, it also does damage to the rest of the organisation.

And, while each type of kryptonite neutralises some powers more than others, each type of kryptonite has some effect on every aspect of scrutiny.

So, in no particular order there they are.

The Seven Scrutiny Kryptonites

1.  The party card

a.k.a. Political management

While party politics contributes to a healthy local democracy, party politicking, party cliques and the use of the party whip, can all have a negative effect.  Party management can undermine accountability and call-ins by ensuring that backbenchers give executive members from the same party an easy ride and ensure that the most controversial decisions pass unchallenged.

2.  The vault of secrets

a.k.a. Information restriction

The flow of information can be controlled in a number of ways including the overuse of confidentiality clauses, limited information about future cabinet decisions and a culture of keeping rather than sharing.  Information restriction can hinder scrutiny as it seeks to make the organisation more transparent, and as it seeks to plan its work.

3.  The deflector shield

a.k.a. Executive defensiveness

Scrutiny cannot work well if the cabinet are not open to be challenged, are inward looking or take a ‘we know best’ approach.  Executive defensiveness can seriously affect the scrutiny power of accountability and render the solutions proposed from in depth inquiries of little value.

4.   The room of doom

a.k.a. Poor meeting environments

The physical environment that scrutiny is given to work in can have a detrimental effect if the room or the seating arrangements are wrong.  Poor meeting environments can particularly affect the power of participation by isolating the public from councillors and creating an atmosphere of over formality.

5.  The cloak of invisibility

a.k.a. Limited publicity

The oxygen of publicity is important for scrutiny, not least so that the public can get involved.  By offering limited or even no publicity to scrutiny, and focusing instead only on what cabinet and council are doing, scrutiny is left in the shadows and the power of participation is neutralised.

6.  The game of disdain

a.k.a. Talking scrutiny down

The organisational stories that are told about scrutiny affect its status and the way people, particularly councillors, engage with it.  By talking scrutiny down the ability to provide serious accountability is affected as is the potential to offer the organisation additional policy development and problem solving capacity.

7.  The support stiffler

a.k.a. Restricted resources

Decisions about the resources and support available to scrutiny have a major bearing on scrutiny’s ability to work effectively.  Without access to its own advice, support and research, scrutiny becomes dependent on others and limited in what it can do.  When the resources that scrutiny has access to are restricted, at least in comparison, to cabinet, for example, the ability to exercise any of the seven superpowers are limited.

Thank you to @shelleyburke23 for the kryptonite idea and to @alanfinch4 @thomoli @tonybovaird @davidjabb @cfps_ed @jj_mclaughlin @vcusworthlabour @jonathanflowers @bryony1963 for their comments and suggestions.

The seven scrutiny superpowers ✊


As many new councillors are getting to grips with their new roles and many more old hands are getting back up to speed, here’s a reminder of the superpowers that scrutiny councillors have to change the world.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the process, in the paperwork and the meetings, but don’t forget what scrutiny can do to help the good citizens of the area.

Of course scrutiny has some formal legal powers, but it’s the powers that come from the drive, creativity and commitment of the scrutiny councillors themselves that are far more interesting.

Far better than simply the legal powers – these are the superpowers, and there are seven of them.

The seven scrutiny superpowers

1.  The power of transparency

By asking questions and publishing the answers, by asking for reports and putting them in the public domain, scrutiny has the special ability to make local government more open and transparent.

2.  The power of accountability

By requiring cabinet members and other decision makers to give an account of themselves in public, by asking the questions that the public want the answers to and by publicly highlighting both concerns and praise, scrutiny is able to ensure that the public interest stays at the heart of decision making.

3.  The power of participation

By inviting the public and others outside the council to share their views and work with councillors, scrutiny can ensure that people’s voices are heard, that their involvement makes difference and that the issues that matter to citizens are acted on by decision makers.

4.  The power of solutions

By taking time to explore difficult and challenging issues in depth and talking to a wide range of people, scrutiny has the ability to find solutions to the most difficult policy problems and to suggest ways to improve the services that matter to people.

5.  The power of challenge

By acting as a critical friend, scrutiny can ensure that cabinet decisions are made as they should be – in the public interest.  Scrutiny can look at cabinet reports before decisions are taken and call-in decisions once they have been made.

6.  The power of assurance

By acting as a watchdog and by ensuring that services are delivered as they should be, scrutiny can give the public confidence that the local council operates with integrity and performs effectively.

7.  The power of capacity

By working on the things that really matter to the council and the public, scrutiny can make sure that all of the resources of the council are used to maximum effect.  In particular scrutiny can harness the power of the majority of councillors who are not in the Cabinet.

 

That’s the superpowers of scrutiny right there.

POW!

PS. Of course it’s important to be wary of the seven scrutiny kryptonites as these can neutralise scrutiny super powers. Read about them here.

 

Updated 19.12.18

The TAPIC framework: A really useful governance map


If you are looking for a method to organise your governance work, the TAPIC framework is one of the most robust in research terms and one of the simplest to use.  Drawing on an extensive literature review, the authors of this framework capture five categories of governance; transparency, accountability, participation, integrity and capacity. These five categories together provide a useful map of the issues that any public body will want to think about when considering their governance arrrangements.

About the Framework

The TAPIC framework comes from the world of health governance.  You can find the full details in chapter two of ‘Strengthening Health Systems Governance:  Better policies, stronger performance’ (2016) edited by Greer, Wismar and Figueras.  A shorter summary of the chapter (which is by Greer, Wismar, Figueras and Mckee) can be found here (pdf).

Although the framework has been developed in the health context, the authors have drawn on the wider public administration literature for their extensive review.  This identified 60 attributes of good governance which the authors then reduced to the five categories of the TAPIC framework.

Crucially the five categories do not overlap and and are independent of each other.  The result is a map that covers all of the governance terrain.  This is helpful because it gives confidence that all of the important aspects of governance will have been covered in any review.

It’s also important to stress that the framework is not prescriptive.  The five categories are not ‘ingredients of good governance’ as the authors put it, but rather boxes that tell us what needs to be addressed.  While simply seeking more of one of the categories may not necessarily be better, there may also be trade offs and conflicts between the different categories.

Nevertheless, the map provided by the framework will help governance practitioners to ensure that what needs to be covered, is covered.  In fact I’ve used the TAPIC framework to set the categories for this blog.

Here then are each of the five categories in brief.

Transparency

Transparency refers to the way that public bodies inform those outside the organisation about decision making and the decision making process.  At its best, say Greer et al, ‘transparency produces information that is available, useful and accurate so it can be used by those who would rely on, plan with or seek to influence the organisation.  The result is trust’.

Accountability

Accountability refers to the relationship between the public body and another organisation or forum that must be informed of decisions, is entitled to have those decisions explained to it and has the power of sanction.  Good accountability goes beyond ensuring compliance through punishment and instead sees public bodies being supported by the expertise and experience of those holding the body to account.

Participation

Participation ‘means that affected parties have access to decision making and power so that they acquire a meaningful stake in the in the work of the institution’ (Greer et al). As well as ownership, participation can also generate information to improve decisions and ensure that organisations operate in line with democratic principles.

Integrity

Integrity refers to the ethical dimensions of a public body such as legality and anti-corruption, but it also refers more widely to the good management of the organisation.  Processes should be understood and predictable, roles and responsibilities should be clear and rules should also be clearly stated and observed.  Beyond this integrity relates to the overall mission and purpose of the organisation and its coherence in pursuing this.

Capacity

Capacity, or more specifically policy capacity, refers to the ‘ability to develop policy that is aligned with resources in pursuit of goals’ (Forest et al cited by Greer et al).  This can mean the support provided, often by a small team, to those involved in the policy process that can ‘transform ideas into workable, well designed policies’.  Skills in areas such as analysis and research will be important as will the ability to manage networks of relevant stakeholders.

 

 

 

 

 

The International Framework: A great option for your governance review

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.

Seven Principles

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