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Cornwall Museums Partnership

Lessons about Good Governance

What does good governance look like?

The concept of governance is very important, and it needs to be well established and understood by, not only board members and trustees of a museum, but by staff and volunteers aswell. So, what is governance?

Governance is the term used to describe the trustees’ role in developing the long term strategic direction of the museum; implementing policies to achieve the museum’s objectives; complying with legal requirements and governance documents; and accountability to those with an interest in the museum.

If we assume that the majority of people who are trustees are aware of what governance is, let’s look at what is not governance.

  • Governance is not about being involved in the day-to-day operations of an organisation/museum.
  • Governance is not about managing staff, volunteers, programming activities or operational spend.
  • Governance is not about working independently and in isolation. Now that we got all that negativity out of the way, let’s explore what are the Key Principles from the Draft Code of Governance.

So what is the role of a trustee?

  • Organisational purpose and direction – trustees have a duty to lead their museum strategically, with a clear vision, to achieve their aims as effectively as possible with the resources available.
  • Leadership – the Board leads by example insisting that anyone representing the organisation reflects its values positively
  • Integrity – trustees are legally required to work in the best interests of the charity of which they are a trustee. Trustees have ultimate responsibility for the charity’s funds and assets, including its reputation.
  • Decision making, risk and control – the Board retains overall responsibility for risk management. It promotes a culture of prudence with resources but also understands that being over cautious and risk averse is itself a risk.
  • Diversity – Boards whose trustees have different backgrounds and experience make better decisions.
  • Board effectiveness – the tone the Board sets through its leadership, behaviour, culture and performance is paramount to the success of the charity, and trustees will be judged in this context.
  • Open and accountable – the Board leads the organisation in being transparent and accountable.

It is fundamental for trustees to commit to and deliver high standards of governance and the ongoing development of best practice at all times. Simply meeting the legal requirement is not enough –  Museums owe it to their local communities, staff, volunteers, and visitors to demonstrate and practice exemplary leadership and governance.

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