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The Society’s governance review

News and Views

The Society’s governance review

News and Views

Bridget Lumb
President, The Physiological Society


Hot on the heels of the newly adopted 2018-2022 Strategy, one of my first roles as incoming President was to oversee a governance review. At first, I imagined this would be a very dry and tedious overhaul of The Society’s Articles of Association. STOP THERE – it’s been far from it. To meet its charitable objectives, much of the scientific activities of The Society are organised through its Committees, which in turn report to and are advised by Council (the Board of Trustees). The governance review was the opportunity to revise the ways in which our Committees operate and, importantly, to establish structures that have the potential to increase participation of Members – that’s YOU! The details of these changes will be made available for comment at the next Annual General Meeting.

To enable this review, the Chairs of The Society’s Committees (Sarah Hall, Deborah Baines, Rachel Tribe, Susan Deuchars, Lucy Donaldson and Frank Sengpiel) have worked closely with the Governance Working/Implementation Group (Bridget Lumb [Chair], Guy Bewick, Lucy Donaldson, Sarah Hall, Matt Taylor and Charlotte Haigh), alongside an external consultant, Lucy Devine (Wellspring Consulting Ltd), and Society staff Rosie Waterton (Governance Manager) and Dariel Burdass (Chief Executive).

What is Good Governance?

Good governance is about the processes required for making and implementing decisions. It’s not about making “correct” decisions, but about the best possible process for making those decisions.

Governance encompasses strategic leadership and direction, as well as accountability and ensuring the organisation is effectively and properly run. Governance is distinct from the day-to-day management and operations delegated to staff via the Chief Executive. Strong governance coupled with good management is fundamental to running a successful, confident and forward-thinking charitable organisation where Trustees are abreast of their duties and activities, and services are well planned and managed. A governance review is an opportunity to reflect on a charity’s governance arrangements, in particular governance structures, which can often evolve without a coherent plan.

Why now?

There are two main reasons why this was an ideal time for a governance review:

Firstly, following the successful adoption of the 2018-2022 Strategy, which has provided a five-year framework for activities and a systematic approach to agreeing priorities (but at the same time flexibility and agility in The Society’s focus), Council agreed that it was an ideal opportunity to bring in an external governance consultant to review both structure and processes of The Society’s governance. The goals of the governance review were:

  • To ensure transparency and accountability in the way decision-making and responsibilities are distributed and information flows across The Society.
  • To ensure the governance structure supports the delivery of the strategy and provides a balance of agility, expertise and engagement through a series of focused, time-limited groups, allowing Council to focus on core strategic areas.
  • To ensure improved inclusion and diversity within the governance structure.
  • To enable efficient and effective decision-making through clear, delegated lines of authority.
  • To ensure the legitimacy of governing documents of The Society, meaning that the Articles of Association and Regulations reflect best practice.

Secondly, with increased scrutiny of charity governance from regulating bodies it is also timely to review the governance of The Society to ensure we, as Trustees, are safeguarding the future of The Society from any kind of regulatory breach.

How will this affect Members?

As one of the goals for the review was to increase Member engagement, and diversity and inclusion, we will also want to bring in some new people, from inside and outside The Society. We will work to ensure that we are being diverse and inclusive, with a minimum expectation of 33% female representation on our committees and working groups, but working towards a target of 50%. To do this, there will be open calls for Members to join committees and groups, when new people are needed.

What is the time-frame for the governance review?

As with any complex project, the implementation will be via a phased approach to ensure we get it right. Therefore, we expect to realise the outcomes of the review throughout 2019 and into 2020. Following the principle of transparency, we will share more information with the membership as it becomes available.

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