R&D in the Governance & Leadership Lab

Professor at chalkboardResearch and Development is a big part of Creating the Future’s mission. After all, for the combined impact of all social change efforts to be successful in creating the world we want, we will need to find the most effective ways of accomplishing that!

And there is no more important place to focus that R&D than in governance and leadership.

Whether we are talking about a traditional “nonprofit” or a social enterprise, whether we mean a socially conscious “triple bottom line” business or a government ministry – the leadership and decision-making that govern those community benefit efforts will be a huge factor in the degree to which we achieve our vision for the world.

Creating the Future has therefore formed an R&D Lab for Governance and Leadership.

We started by gathering a few people who have a passion for governance for an initial conversation about what this lab might accomplish. If we closed our eyes and dreamed our biggest governance dreams, what would that look like? What would we be working on?  If governance and board structures didn’t exist – if we had a blank slate with no parameters or legal requirements – what would you hope the result of this Governance / Leadership R&D Lab would be? What could a lab like this make possible – and for whom?

The list was long and the meeting energized. As one team member noted in her reflections at the end of the session, “I’ve been on quite a few governance committees and never had this much fun!”

As you read these creative brainstormed thoughts, please add your own. (And please note that these snippets of phrases have not been wordsmithed – this was, after all, a brainstorming session!)

• A clear understanding of what governance is! Asking questions such as: Are boards really necessary? Is this really the most effective way to lead, to create the future and ensure the viability of an effort?

• Rethink everything – a new set of possibilities. A place to test out theories – to learn first hand what might work and what might not. A place to do research projects, where “failing” is just as important as succeeding. Creating any demonstration projects we may feel we need, with different ways of demonstrating.

• A group that is continuously and consciously learning.

• Having board work become inspirational for people. “Getting governance beyond just checking boxes.” People are disappointed and frustrated with their current experience of governance. “Boards are often an unsafe place for adults who feel uncertain. We’re supposed to be competent adults. There is anxiety in wondering, ‘Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?’”

• Enhance the value and respect the sector has towards boards. “Board development / training costs too much” is really saying, “We don’t value our board enough.”

• In traditional “nonprofit” orgs, rethinking governance and leadership as not just the board, but the team of board and ED.

• Shape and share a “bigger,” more comprehensive conversation about governance. Currently the primary conversation about  “good” governance focuses on legal / operational oversight and board mechanics. Expand that conversation considerably – or create a new conversation about the potential of governance and leadership to aim at making a direct difference in communities.

• High school civics – introducing high school aged kids to what it means to govern a board (clubs, community service). Kids often already see themselves as leaders – they need training. They crave it!

• University level – Rethinking undergraduate and graduate degree programs in nonprofit management re: boards and governance. Rethinking the role of leadership and governance in social enterprise classes (growing trend). Also providing training on campus for how to be a board member – of a club or an honor society or a fraternity or…

• Importance of having free access to information on how to be an effective board.

• The importance of building relationships when it comes to governance and boards

• Opportunity to create governance education programs for national organizations to provide to their affiliates / members / chapters – rooted in vision and values and community change vs. a focus solely on oversight and board mechanics. Rethinking Chamber of Commerce type community leadership programs to include how to be a board member who leads towards creating the future of the community.

That’s the list our initial team brainstormed in their short time together. As we dig in to explore which projects to take on (and more immediately, to establish the vision and mission for this team), what would YOU dream to accomplish for Governance and Leadership of social change groups, if we were to blow it all up and start over again?  What could a lab like this make possible – and for whom?

(And if you are interested in being part of this R&D lab, let us know. The group will be expanding as soon as we figure out how to do so!)

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “R&D in the Governance & Leadership Lab”

  1. “Having board work become inspirational”…that’s what excites me the most…to me, allowing organizations to tap the full potential of their boards starts with empowering board members to question and aspire – what will support that and what barriers need to be overcome?


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