Creating Shared Governance

4.A Design the Right Governance

There isn’t an ideal governance model that can simply be adopted for your collaboration. The task for partners is to design a ‘fit-for-purpose’ governance structure and processes that are agile enough to utilize the skills and resources of all the partners, take advantage of opportunities, mitigate risk, and achieve the shared vision.

What is unique about governance leadership?
Collaboration leaders need a specific and distinct set of skills and competencies. Their job is to facilitate, motivate and connect, not to be ‘in charge’. They’re called to manage the unique functions of collaboration governance where power and authority is shared with other partners, and resources and capacities are mobilized for collective actions. Effective collaboration leaders ensure that the collaboration is fulfilling the multiple, and often complex, layers of accountability.
What are the key decisions that need to be made about our governance?
Collaborations that don’t take the time to agree on the best governance are often plagued by the challenges of managing competing interests, dealing with power inequities, meeting ambiguous accountabilities, and slow decision-making. Think about what is driving your collaboration, learn about your partners’ expectations and requirements, assign responsibilities and identify how decisions will be made. You’ll also want to consider options for organizing structures and the pros and cons of each.
Overcoming Challenges in Decision Making
Conflicts arose when a group of local citizens and three community-based organizations collaborating on food security made a decision that didn’t reflect the interests of their broader membership. They realized they needed a clear protocol for decision-making that allowed them to stay true to their vision and values but didn’t bog them down. The Coordinating Committee reviewed the kinds of decisions made and who needed to make them. It was agreed that, whenever possible, decisions would be based on consensus, which was clearly defined. A backup democratic voting system was developed for decisions on highly contentious issues where they couldn’t reach consensus. The Coordinating Committee would handle most of the strategic and operational decisions. The broader membership would be regularly and respectfully consulted in advance and make decisions on critical issues through an agreed-upon consensus building process.
Thoughts on Leadership in Collaboration

Here is advice from collaboration leaders on the key success factors:

  • Don’t lose sight of the vision and outcomes; keep focused on the sum of all the parts
  • Find mutuality and the interdependence between partners, recognizing that combining the respective expertise and strengths of the participating individuals and organizations produces better outcomes
  • Move the leadership around the table so that everyone is tending to the process
  • Facilitate fruitful and frank communication; ask questions that open a way into the conversation for another
  • Don’t be afraid of quiet spaces where people are thinking and no-one rushes in to fill the space
  • Look for common ground by synthesizing what people are saying
  • Listen well
  • Be a good steward of the vision and find ways to balance the different needs and opportunities, strengths and assets of all the partners
  • Be one part entrepreneur, two parts strategic and three parts visionary
  • Focus on relationships and trust and have fun doing it
  • Encourage partners to achieve a better quality of life for all those who are served by the collaboration
  • Use W.E.S.K.A.T. (Who Else Should Know About This)
  • Acknowledge that differences in collaborations can bring conflict but also lead to greater outcomes that could not have been achieved alone, as long as you work with conflict in positive ways
  • Keep your collective eyes on the destination while being open to change along the way; accept messiness and allow for flexibility in processes and outcomes
  • Pay attention to power and dynamics, naming their impact, and facilitating an environment where everyone can contribute their best and have a voice
Profiles of Collaboration Structures

An Informal Collectively Organized Collaboration

Adapted from: Building a Nonprofit Network
The Toronto Drop-In Network is a coalition of more than 45 drop-in centres. Although they’ve been collaborating for over 10 years, they continue to function as an informal, unincorporated network using a Governance Plan and Terms of Reference to lay out the organizational structure and roles. One partner serves as the network’s lead agency – acting as trustee for funds, providing financial administration and approving hiring decisions made by the Steering Committee. While the membership is responsible for setting direction, a representative Steering Committee is responsible for governing the network and maintaining a trusteeship agreement with the lead agency. The Network Manager reports to the Steering Committee.

A Constellation Collaboration

Adapted from: Building a Nonprofit Network
The Canadian Collaboration for Children’s Health and Environment is an affiliation of groups with overlapping missions. The collaboration operates as a collectively organized, unincorporated network in which various partner organizations play a lead role to receive and administer funds and to guide and implement projects. A Coordinating Committee, comprised of representatives from partner organizations, is the managing body for the network and guides and oversees its work. Partners are encouraged to form self-governing action groups, called ‘constellations’, to work together on a specific issue. A Secretariat supports the work of the collaboration and the governance, management, procedures and obligations of partners are described in a Management Terms of Reference. The Collaboration Director, who facilitates the work of the partners, ensures that all partners are served equally.

A Shared Administrative Platform Collaboration

East Scarborough Storefront is a community hub that creates more accessible services and support. The hub co-ordinates the work of over 30 agencies, organizations and government services as well as engages the community. TIDES Canada, a shared administration platform (SAP) organization, manages the hub’s finances and handles payroll. When hub staff or Steering Committee members have questions about insurance or HR standards, the SAP does the work and the research, and supplies the answers. The TIDES Board provides financial accountability and due diligence around legal requirements while the community Steering Committee attends to strategic and operational oversight.

An Incorporated Collaboration

Adapted from: Building a Nonprofit Network
Alliance for Children and Youth of Waterloo Region, is incorporated as a nonprofit, member driven organization which brings together a wide range of agencies and individuals for joint discussions, planning and action. The alliance describes its structure as a ‘flipped hierarchy’, with the partners setting the directions and priorities, the Board of Directors refining them, and the staff acting on them. Partners work through ‘forum meetings’ held monthly to implement programs.

A Joint Alliance Between Two Organizations

The Silver Brush is a social enterprise providing employment and training for persons living with mental health challenges in Toronto. It began as an alliance between Houselink Community Homes and Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC). The Silver Brush is physically housed in PARC’s office building and benefited in its start-up phase from a rent-free lease. PARC is legally liable for the business and is responsible to the Canadian Revenue Agency. Houselink acts as the recipient/flow-through for all funding, dispenses funds to the enterprise as required, and is responsible for financial reporting to funders.