Boards are tasked with providing strategic oversight. But the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted some charity boards to become more heavily involved with day-to-day operational activities. Shifting the focus from the here-and-now to more medium- to long-term strategic issues will be essential if boards are to keep their organisations on track. What can boards do to ensure that their decisions lead to effective governance and oversight during a period of remote work, distraction and volatility?
Boards in the charity sector are operating in a challenging environment. Covid-19 has created huge need for charitable services, while constraining sources of funding and volunteering support. Governance effectiveness is under scrutiny while many charities are also finding themselves at the brink of viability and are facing truly existential decisions. This autumn, whilst I was working for the decision-science consultancy Leapwise, we partnered with New Philanthropy Capital on a pro bono project to support the sector. We interviewed CEOs and Chairs of UK charities as well as board advisory experts, collected new data from trustees, and integrated their best-practice insights with our knowledge on decision-science. The result is a a report on how boards can equip themselves for a challenging period of decision-making. Staying true to the saying “Never waste a crisis!”, we believe that the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is presenting boards with an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of their meetings and to revisit their decision-making processes.
What is it about diversity that improves decision-making and performance, and how can leaders harness diversity in their organisations? That is the question Tom Gash, CEO of the decision-making consultancy Leapwise, and I recently grappled with in a blog that was published in Public Finance, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy. This is an extract; you can read the whole piece on the Public Finance website and find all the associated academic references on the Leapwise website.
Radio has always fascinated me. When I recently cleared out my childhood bedroom, I re-discovered an old cassette tape featuring the product of an afternoon’s play with girlfriends: a home-recorded radio programme – which, lacking a cassette player, I have yet to listen to again. Radio works, in part, because it is such an intimate medium. The truly skilled presenters sound as though they are speaking to us directly. But during a lockdown, radio and podcasts have gained another significance: they add to our cavernous echo-chambers the experiences and voices of others.
Did you catch 2018’s most memorable demonstration of media illiteracy? When a white-haired US Senator asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook’s business model could be sustainable if Facebook was free, teenagers around the world buried their heads in a collective ‘facepalm’. The generational divide, culminating in Zuckerberg’s almost kindly reply, “Senator, we run ads”, is nothing new. Given the pace of technological change, will today’s educators quickly require an ‘update’?
While organisations and individuals are continuing to adapt to a new and acute physical health threat, experts on social cohesion are also beginning to run health checks on civil society more generally. Last week, Cumberland Lodge hosted Professor Graham Smith, Tessa van Rens, and Will Tanner, for a webinar on polarisation and whether it is being diminished or augmented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout a lively discussion, the panellists highlighted the need to understand polarisation in light of pre-pandemic social divides and drew attention to both the opportunities and risks inherent in a virus that has already spread from individual immune systems to the ‘immune system’ of society at large.
One afternoon in the 1950s, a man is listening to The Boat Race on the radio. He is partaking in an activity so quintessentially British that it is of little concern to anyone outside the United Kingdom. But the man is not listening in Oxford, Cambridge or London. He listens on the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. Britain is his self-described ‘mother country’, and he is, himself, British.
This picture, of the man in the Caribbean tuning into radio waves from London, was painted with vivid affection by his grandson, Martin Forde QC, during the ‘Race in Britain’ conference. This anecdote went straight to the heart of the event: who is included in our imagined community of fellow citizens, and who is not?