On the 26th November, Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy was pleased to host a breakfast session on the topic of ‘Innovation in Governance’, as part of the Governance Now! conference hosted by the Cultural Governance Alliance. This event was attended by Trustees and professionals from across the creative sector, and - despite the early start - prompted interesting discussions on the future of cultural governance.
As part of this session, we asked attendees to consider what boards can do now to foster innovation, the new ideas boards should be considering, and how boards should evolve over the next 10 years to sustain innovation. This blog collates key ideas that arose within the session, as well as our wider reflections on how governance can be more innovative in order to better support the sector.
In the short term, boards can stimulate new ideas by putting in place structures that create the environment for innovation. Suggestions for this included running innovation away days once a year, adding innovation as an item on the agenda to provide a specific time for new ideas to be raised, and building a culture of ‘no silly ideas’, to encourage out-of-the-box thinking that could drive forward strategy and impact.
“If you determinedly make a space for the discussion, then it will happen”
Several attendees argued for innovation being a regular agenda item, rather than an annual away day, so that all topics are considered through the lens of innovation, and so that board members don’t delay blue sky thinking to just one day a year.
Also discussed was the fact that the pressure of current issues that need meaningful responses (such as Black Lives Matter, the climate crisis, and Covid-19 restrictions) reduce the time available for innovation, and make it difficult for Trustees to dedicate time to setting strategy. In response to this, our attendees suggested meeting more frequently for now, so that Trustees can move beyond urgent agenda items through more space for future thinking.
It is increasingly clear that having diverse experience on a Board strengthens responses to new ideas, new challenges and new opportunities. In this area, we discussed board diversity in all its forms, using two articles (an Interview with SignHealth Chair Jackie Driver, and an article by young Trustee Maddy Lewis) as prompts to discuss the value of inclusive boards and how we can foster inclusive environments.
It was also noted during the session that diversity has different meanings dependent on place – boards should take time to define the communities and experiences they would like represented in their governance processes, based on the communities which they serve and regions in which they operate.
Innovation as an agenda item could also allow Boards space to consider new ideas and respond to movements and current issues, which could be invaluable: these issues change conversations and could mean that activities and processes need to change too.
Longer term innovation in governance is harder to consider, especially when thinking about the steps we can take now to usher in long term changes.
One interesting idea that was raised in the session was of a board exercise where Trustees are asked to imagine themselves in 2050, and to comment on strategic plans / ideas from their future perspective.
This exercise could allow Trustees to literally put themselves in the shoes of the next generation, and consider the perspectives of future beneficiaries and supporters, who are be less motivated by immediate pressures or short-term thinking.
This process is similar to an exercise we often use at Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy: Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A BHAG is a tangible, yet almost unachievable goal for 50 years’ time, decided in line with your organisation’s mission and vision. We use BHAGs to help decision-makers consider how every action furthers or hinders the likelihood of achieving this, and to support organisations to become more forward-thinking.
As our session came to an end, a comment that we felt was apt to close this blog with is: when it comes to innovation, don’t be afraid to do. Talking about innovation will only get you so far, so think outside the box, consider the risk you are willing to bear, and then take action.