Evaluating board effectiveness
How do you know if your board is effective?
Does your board share a common view as to the purpose/s of effectiveness evaluation?
Is there agreement as to what effectiveness means for your organisation?
Has your board agreed on an evaluation framework that supports meaningful evaluation of its own effectiveness?
How effective is your evaluation of board effectiveness?
These questions are amongst the many that could be posed regarding the board’s process of reflection on its own performance.
If your organisation has a Governance Committee (or similar), a Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Framework may already have been developed and implemented. If not, the benefit of creating such a framework is well worth considering.
The MELD Reflective Governance Model recognises Board Effectiveness Evaluation as just one aspect of evaluation activities the organisation will want to address within its framework.
Part 2 in this series will expand on the six dimensions suggested in the above chart, offering examples of focal areas that could be evaluated, and some suggested methods.
Subjective or Objective Evaluations?
Various forms of subjectivity can influence a board’s self-evaluation – as hinted in the header image above. Even where a so-called objective evaluation is conducted using a standardised survey format, the very act of choosing that approach may reflect an unwillingness to fully engage with the process. Using a ‘box ticking’ approach may allow directors to say “that obligation has been met for another year”, but it misses the chance to identify and act on opportunities for improvement.
Where customised approaches are used, they can sometimes be coloured by beliefs like “We are all volunteers and shouldn’t be held to the same standards as corporate directors“. Or, “We should only have to complete a 5-minute exercise at the end of the year, with maybe five or six questions requiring only True/False or Yes/No answers“.
As implied by the chart below, a blend of both objective and subjective evaluation methods is desirable. This will avoid some of the limitations that using only one of those approaches is likely to involve.
For and against Objective Evaluations
Pros and cons of using objective evaluation methods to gauge the effectiveness of a non-profit board include:
- Objectivity: Objective evaluation methods rely on quantifiable data, metrics, and information, which can help ensure that the evaluations are unbiased and not influenced by personal opinions or emotions.
- Consistency: Objective evaluation methods can help ensure that the evaluations are consistent over time, as they rely on standardised metrics and data that can be easily compared and analyzed.
- Evidence-based Decision-making: Objective evaluation methods can provide the board with data and evidence to support its decisions, which can help the board make more informed and effective decisions.
- Improved Performance: Objective evaluations can help the board identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes to enhance its performance and decision-making processes.
- Limited Perspective: Objective evaluation methods may not capture the full range of perspectives and experiences of stakeholders, and may not accurately reflect the board’s impact on the organisation and its stakeholders.
- Lack of Context: Objective evaluation methods may not consider the context in which decisions are made, such as external factors, unique challenges, and constraints, which can impact the board’s ability to achieve its goals.
- Reliance on Data: Objectivity evaluation methods may be limited by the quality and availability of data, and may not accurately reflect the full range of outcomes and impacts of the board’s decisions.
- Over-simplification: Objective evaluations may oversimplify complex issues and decision-making processes, and may not adequately capture the nuances and complexities of the board’s work.
Summing up, objective evaluation methods can be useful tools for gauging the effectiveness of a non-profit board, but they should be used in conjunction with other evaluation methods (see below) to provide a comprehensive and holistic view of the board’s performance and impact.
For and against Subjective Evaluations
Pros and cons of using subjective evaluation methods to gauge the effectiveness of a non-profit board include:
- Stakeholder Perspectives: Subjective evaluation methods, such as stakeholder feedback and surveys, can provide valuable insights into the perspectives and experiences of stakeholders, which can help the board understand its impact on the organization and its stakeholders.
- Contextual Understanding: Subjective evaluation methods can provide the board with a better understanding of the context in which its decisions are made, and the unique challenges and constraints faced by the organization and its stakeholders.
- Improved Communication: Subjective evaluation methods, such as open forums and stakeholder feedback, can help improve communication and understanding between the board and its stakeholders, and can foster a more collaborative and transparent decision-making process.
- Holistic View: Subjective evaluation methods can provide a more comprehensive and holistic view of the board’s performance and impact, as they consider a range of perspectives, experiences, and outcomes.
- Bias: Subjective evaluation methods may be influenced by personal opinions, emotions, and biases, which can limit their accuracy and objectivity.
- Lack of Consistency: Subjective evaluations may not be consistent over time, as they may vary based on the perspectives and opinions of different stakeholders at different times.
- Limited Data: Subjective evaluation methods may not provide quantifiable data or evidence to support the board’s decisions, which can limit its ability to make informed and evidence-based decisions.
- Time-consuming: Subjective evaluation methods, such as stakeholder feedback, can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, and may not be feasible for all organisations.
Having weighed these arguments, we can conclude that subjective evaluation methods are able to provide valuable insights into the perspectives and experiences of stakeholders. They can also help the board to understand its impact on the organisation and its stakeholders. However, to provide a more complete view of the board’s performance and impact they should be used in conjunction with objective evaluation methods.
Best practice board effectiveness evaluation
The chart above describes various defining characteristics of “best practice” board effectiveness evaluation from objective and subjective perspectives respectively. The blending of these two approaches will better capture the nuances and complexities of the board’s work. Here are some brief descriptions of each characteristic mentioned in the chart.
Characteristics of objective methods:
- Regularity: Evaluation should be conducted regularly, at least once a year, to ensure that the board is continuously improving and staying in line with the organisation’s mission and values.
- Objectivity: Evaluation should be based on objective criteria and evidence, such as performance metrics, goal tracking, and regular review and reflection, to ensure that the board’s performance is accurately measured and evaluated.
- Inclusiveness: Evaluation should involve input from all relevant stakeholders, including board members, staff, volunteers, members/donors/beneficiaries, and experts, to ensure that a wide range of perspectives and experiences are considered.
- Transparency: Evaluation should be conducted in an open and transparent manner, with clear methods, criteria, and processes for evaluating the board’s performance.
- Evidence-based: Evaluation should be based on evidence, including performance metrics, goal tracking, and regular review and reflection, to ensure that the board’s decisions are informed and evidence-based.
- Continuous Improvement: Evaluation should be a continuous process, with regular follow-up and implementation of recommendations, to ensure that the board is continuously improving and staying in line with the organisation’s mission and values.
- Adaptability: Evaluation should be flexible and adaptable, allowing the board to respond to changing circumstances and evolve its approach over time.
- Independence: Some part of the evaluation should be conducted by an independent third party, to ensure impartiality and objectivity.
- Feedback: Evaluation should provide meaningful and actionable feedback to the board, to help it identify areas for improvement and prioritise its efforts.
Characteristics of subjective methods:
- Contextualisation: Evaluation should take into account the context in which the board operates, including the organisation’s mission and values, its external environment, and the challenges and opportunities it faces.
- Qualitative Data: Evaluation should incorporate qualitative data, such as interviews, surveys, and case studies, to capture the perspectives, experiences, and motivations of stakeholders and provide a more nuanced understanding of the board’s work.
- Holistic Approach: Evaluation should take a holistic approach, considering both the strengths and weaknesses of the board and its individual members, and the impact of its decisions on the organisation and its stakeholders.
- Self-reflection: Evaluation should encourage self-reflection and introspection by board members, to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses and identify areas for personal and professional development.
- Integration of Subjectivity: Evaluation should recognize and integrate the subjective experiences and perspectives of stakeholders, including board members, staff, and other relevant parties, to better capture the complexities of the board’s work.
- Flexibility and Adaptability: Evaluation should be flexible and adaptable, allowing for adjustments to be made as circumstances change and new information emerges.
- Integration of Values: Evaluation should take into account the organisation’s mission and values, and evaluate the board’s performance in light of these values, to ensure that its decisions align with its purpose and principles.
- Collaboration and Partnership: Evaluation should be a collaborative process, involving close partnership and collaboration between the board, staff, and stakeholders, to ensure that all perspectives and experiences are considered.
- Consideration of Human Factors: Evaluation should take into account the human factors that influence the board’s work, such as the motivations, skills, and behaviors of individual board members and other stakeholders.
Incorporating both objective and subjective evaluation measures will help the board to continuously improve, and to better serve the organisation and its stakeholders.