The value of external governance reviews

14 September 2023

Principal consultant Sue Rogerson says nothing beats impartial external perspective when it comes to maintaining high standards

Allegations of sexism and discrimination facing the Welsh Rugby Union, Birmingham City Council declaring itself effectively bankrupt, the Patient Safety Commissioner warning that the NHS is heading for major new scandal causing ‘severe harm and death’, the escape of Daniel Khalife from HMP Wandsworth…

These apparently unconnected recent scandals share a common characteristic: they all demonstrate what can happen when a deterioration in standards is allowed to go unchecked. But how can things be allowed to reach this disastrous point in any well-established organisation run by skilled and conscientious people?

One common reason for this kind of gradual and imperceptible slide in any organisation is that everyone is preoccupied with delivering increasingly demanding day-to-day operational priorities. It’s very hard to see that you’re moving in the wrong direction when you don’t have the time to pause and survey the horizon every once in a while.

Many public sector organisations are still struggling to find their feet following the pandemic. Resources are tighter than ever, there are significant workforce challenges, relentless regulatory pressures, huge treatment backlogs in the case of the NHS, and a loss of organisational memory following significant reorganisations. Given these pressures it is hardly a surprise that many public sector organisations have fallen back on a piecemeal approach, with staff rushing from one fire to the next without noticing a gradual overall decline.

We recognise this phenomenon in organisations we visit across multiple sectors. It’s usually possible to detect it pretty quickly. Some of the tell-tale signs are disorganised, chaotic behaviour, missed appointments, and bumped meetings.

Those organisations that do recognise the danger might decide to carry out their own internal reviews – in NHS trusts that usually means a CQC self-assessment. But these exercises are often not made a particularly high priority, and they’re usually carried out by relatively junior staff who already have multiple competing priorities to deliver.

Too many meetings

And it’s still easy to miss crucial elements. To focus in on just one area, the number of meetings we all attended proliferated during the pandemic and in many cases this emergency model persists simply because no one has had the time to assess it properly. When was the last time the range of meetings undertaken in your organisation was reviewed? Do they all have a direct line of sight to the board, or are there multiple complex arrangements, with meetings reporting into two or more committees?

By far the most effective way to undertake self-assessment or review your organisation’s meeting arrangements is by looking outside the organisation for an objective viewpoint of people with no axe to grind, no distractions, and the benefit of a much broader perspective than anyone in-house. Someone like GGI. Bringing us in also gives you additional capacity – we carry out CQC and meeting reviews so that you don’t have to.

For CQC reviews we do a comprehensive assessment of all the key lines of enquiry and give you a robust report and guidance on how you can fill any gaps you may have, to get you CQC assessment ready. And we have updated our processes to ensure we can support systems and organisations to prepare for the new CQC approach.

For meeting reviews we have developed a programme called Making Meetings Matter, where we run three cycles of the review linked to selected meetings and agree with you where you want to get to in terms of improvement. We have been able to reduce many hours spent in meetings in the NHS using this process.

In one trust alone, we helped to release 1,384 hours of executive time per year by reducing the number of meetings attended by execs by 417. Just think what becomes possible when that much time is released.

How many times do you read headlines about scandals in the NHS, such as Stafford, Nottingham and East Kent, or in local government, such as Liverpool Council in 2021 or Birmingham this year, and think ‘there but for the grace of God…’? Don’t let it happen to you – contact GGI today.

Meet the author: Sue Rogerson

Principal Consultant

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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