Wombat Housing Support Services (WHSS) supports people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to attain and maintain suitable housing in and around Melbourne’s West. The Board had been working for many years with a very professional and structured approach to governance known as the Carver model. However, given the changing operating environment, they felt it was time to test if it was still fit for purpose.
LDC Group were asked to review their governance model and advise on how it might be strengthened to continue to support the organisation in a complex and changing environment. Liz Dimitriadis and Anne Smyth who have considerable experience both as board members and in working with boards undertook this work.
We conducted two meetings with the board as part of their strategic planning workshops. These were facilitated conversations guided by our experience and knowledge of the governance practices that enable boards to be effective, especially in community settings where boards are volunteers and work in resource constrained environments.
We helped them to explore those governance principles and practices, to reflect on how well they thought they were doing regarding these and what they saw the as benefits and disadvantages of their current approach. Board members were encouraged to identify the governance approach that they thought would best serve Wombat in the emerging environment and what that would look like in practice. This involved strategic and practical conversations about what would need to happen at both board and operational levels for a revised, bespoke model to be developed and to work.
Board members appreciated the opportunity to explore their practice in a guided and systematic way and as a result were able to develop a clearer picture of what was working well and should be retained and what required change. This process provided them with the foundation they needed to further develop their governance practices and some ideas about how to do that. We were also able provide them with some simple tools to support the development of new approaches, including an approach to board evaluation we call a Board Health Check.
The board members felt the governance review process respected the good work they had done over the years, acknowledged what they had achieved, was honest about what needed to change. It also provided some practical ways forward. We believe this demonstrates the advantage to our approach, which is sensitive to context in contrast to imposing a generic model that does not take account of organisational history and context.