Seven tips for Boards who meet in public
In the last few weeks, I’ve observed five public Board meetings. Here’s some observations of what I found –
The public don’t turn out for public Board meetings
In 4 out of 5 Boards there were fewer than 3 members of the public present. Once there was only me. I counted 16 at the fifth Board but most of these were staff. Talking to Board Members after the meetings it was clear that they get a bigger public turnout when something controversial and high profile is being discussed, but on the whole seats set aside for the public remain empty.
Certainly the timing of most meetings is unlikely to suit people who work 9-5. All of the meetings I observed were in the morning during the working week.
Maybe they are not sufficiently interesting, although much of the conversation I witnessed touched on subjects of concern to many of us, for example:
- local availability of GPs;
- enabling frail elderly people to return home after a spell in hospital;
- the impact of shortages of care home places and home-care packages; and
- how to achieve financial savings and at the same time meet ever increasing demand.
It can also be quite intimidating being the only member of the public there. Chairs for the public are set out to the side of the Board table. It’s difficult not to feel ‘on show’. I wonder if the Board members feel the same.
There was a wide disparity in how the Boards behaved
At one end of the spectrum public attendance at the Board was treated as normal, no need for advance notification. We were not acknowledged. It was ‘business as usual’.
At the other end, one Chair took the trouble to welcome members of the public by name at the beginning of the meeting and to ask each member of the Board to introduce themselves and state their role on the Board. At the end of one Board meeting the Chair invited me to ask a question or make a comment. This was our practice years ago when I was an NHS Board member.
Good Practice Tips for Boards
So, here are some good practice tips for Boards meeting in public –
- Make sure the public know they are welcome to come along
- Make it easy to find out when your meetings are held and where you meet (some public sector websites are hard to navigate)
- Have someone designated to welcome members of the public, show them where to sit and make sure they have a copy of the papers or at least the agenda
- Get the Board members to say who they are and, if relevant, who they represent (or if it is a large Board have name cards facing in the direction of the public seats)
- Explain the format for the Board meeting
- Explain your guidelines for the public (for example: no recording, no questions or comments unless specifically invited by the Chair at the end of the meeting, etc.)
- Have an exit survey. This could be as simple as 3 or 4 questions on a card. What did they think of the meeting? Did they feel welcome? Were the issues clear? What further information would they like?
Above all, have the courage to have real conversations about important issues in public. I’ll be talking more about that in a future blog.
If you would like to find out more about the Board Watch project and how you can improve the quality of your Boardroom Conversations, then drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org