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It takes two to dance the scrutiny tango

Tango is a great metaphor for good scrutiny.  Whether you are a councillor, a school governor or any other member of a public body, thinking about what tango involves (the dance not the drink of course) will help you take steps towards more effective scrutiny.

Here are the four reasons why:

1.  The good scrutineer takes the lead role

Like all partner dances, scrutiny has a leader and follower.

Good scrutiny happens when the scrutineer sets the terms of engagement; less so when they follow the lead of the cabinet member, head teacher or chief executive of whatever body they are part of.

This means forming a workplan that focusses on the issues that you want to look at and taking control of what gets discussed at your meetings.  The good scrutineer carefully frames each item, by carefully explaining what they want to achieve and then ensures the right questions are asked and the conversation is managed as they want.

At the same time those being scrutinised have to be willing to follow.  To attend when called, to provide the information that’s asked for, in the format required, and to be open and honest in the responses they give.  Most of all the ‘scrutinisee’ has to show respect for scrutiny in what they say and what they do.

2.  Effective scrutiny responds to the music

The tango is not a fully scripted dance.  Instead there is plenty of improvisation.  Partners respond to changes in tone and tempo as they feel they need to.

In the same way scrutiny has to remain flexible and be able to respond to topical events.

Both scrutineer and scrutinisee should feel confident to suggest changes to work programmes, add additional meetings and change agenda items around to reflect, in particular, issues of concern to the public or users of the service they are responsible to.

3.  Good scrutiny keeps to time

The good dancer always keeps to time.  Complex techniques are performed to the beat.

Similarly scrutiny has a music of its own.  It has fit just right in the policy process.  Policy development work has to take place before proposals are fully formed.  Pre-decision scrutiny of the final report has to be given time to consider and provide feed back.  Call-ins of decisions also need a reasonable window to operate in.

Responses to scrutiny must also be timely.  Standards should be set for the scrutinisee to provide answers to written questions and for the responses to reports. All this should be monitored by the scrutineer.

4.  Scrutiny at its best pleases the audience

Scrutiny should promote transparency and accountability.  It should focus on the issues that citizens and those using the service care about.

The public should be welcomed in to watch the dance and should be able to give their feedback.

They should even be able to join in.  But maybe that needs a different metaphor…


Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/ow8tLW


Good public governance needs good conversations

As a councillor, school governor or member of a public body, you want to feel confident that you are doing the right things in the right way.  While professional advice and good practice guides are important to have, it’s your conversations that will help you most.  But what is a conversation, why do they matter and what makes them so powerful?  

What’s a conversation?

By conversation I mean something more than a friendly chat.

It’s a term to describe the interactions you have with people outside of your council or governing body.  It might involve meeting in person, phone calls, video calls, exchanges of emails or communication through social media.  A conversation might be a combination of all of these things.

Your most important conversations will be with central or local government, your regulators, your managers, your partners and crucially, the public.

A conversation is always a two way process.  It’s good to explain what you are doing and share things of course.  It’s even better to give account of your work.  But the real value of a conversation is what you bring back in, what you learn and what you change as a result.  Sometimes conversations can even create something new, something neither side expected, some new idea or inspiration.  That’s why effective listening is so important.

Conversations can be formal or informal.  The word conversation suggests something more informal, but of course that might not always work.

It’s good to have councillors, governors, members present when any part of a conversation is taking place – and all of them if you can.  Of course this isn’t always possible but everyone should be kept in the loop even if they can’t be there in person.  And a conversation should be captured in some way so it can be shared as openly as possible.

And your conversations don’t all have to take place in the town hall, board room or school hall.  Particularly when talking to the public it can be better to get out of your usual, comfortable meeting place.  You are likely to have a better conversation if you do.

Why have conversations?

Some of the reasons to have conversations include:

  1. Confidence:  Talking to the right people can reassure you that you are doing the right things in the right way.  You can also check that you haven’t missed anything important or some major change heading your way.
  2. Inspiration:  Some conversations can remind you why you do what you do.  Positive stories give you the energy to carry on and the emotional support you sometimes need for your work.
  3. Noticing: What you are already doing well – sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you to do this.
  4. Tailoring: Making sure you can adapt good practice to fit your own unique circumstances.
  5. Solutions:  Sharing challenges with others outside of your normal meetings can help to suggest new things you might want to try.  Sometimes it’s the conversation itself that generates the new thinking.
  6. Influence:  Sharing your hopes and ideas with others can also lead to changes outside of your public body.  Conversations have the potential to bring about change on both sides.
  7. Values:  Understanding what’s important to others, sharing what matters to you.
  8. Describing: What good looks like – co-creating the future you want to see for your governing body with people who have a stake in that future.
  9. Relationships:  Can be sources of mutual help and support.  Conversations help to build these ties and can lead to new relationships.
  10. Creative tension: Sometimes different conversations might tell you different things, but  these tensions can be a source of creativity and innovation, of challenge and development.

By paying attention to why you are having a conversation and what you want to get out of it, you can more easily decide what questions you want ask.  You can give structure and purpose to your annual meeting with your regulator, your quarterly update from your operations manager or your visit to the community association.

The power of conversations

Conversations are much more than simply an exchange of information.

As many psychologists and social scientists will tell you, our social reality and our knowledge about the world is constructed by our interactions with others.  This means that the way councillors, school governors and members of public bodies go about their business is also constructed by their interactions.

In other words, how you think and act as a member of a public body has a lot to do with the conversations that you have.

It should also be liberating to know that you can create your own version of good governance through your conversations – a version that fits your needs and circumstances.  A version that is easier to understand and achieve because you made it.

Getting your governance arrangements off the shelf maybe easier in the short term but will be less satisfying later on.

So, whether you are thinking about one aspect of your governance arrangements, or reviewing all of them, it really is worth making sure that your conversations are the right ones and that they are good ones.



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