‘Governance’ and Small Organisations

Small groups matter. Their work is an essential part of the quality of life we enjoy. But, many small, voluntary groups and organisations are struggling as good-governance-bad-governancethey try to come to grips with governance and charities regulation. In recent training sessions I have delivered I see how members of committees of small organisations can feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the jargon and the requirements involved in signing up to the Governance Code or the Charities Regulator.

Poor governance by some large, national charitable organisations in recent years has caused scandal and led to a loss of confidence by the public in their support for charities. The introduction of the governance code and the charities legislation in recent years is a good thing and will bring about better standards and transparency, which should restore public confidence and trust in the sector.

However, there is a question of scale here. There is a world of a difference between a small, voluntary group and a large, national organisation employing hundreds of people. It is my experience that both the governance code and the charities regulation are not accessible enough for such small groups. These groups need more support over time to understand and implement the new requirements.

At training and information sessions I find most groups don’t know the difference between the code and the legislation, and therefore don’t understand that one is voluntary and the other is obligatory (for most organisations). Groups can be surprised when they discover that they are now deemed to be a ‘charity’ as the meaning of the term has broadened under the Charities Act. The Wheel and the Governance Code organisations have done a lot in terms of promoting the take-up of the code, preparing resources and giving information talks. Previously, the Charities Regulator staff also gave presentations around the country, and they too provide helpful information on their website and by phone.

However, I re-state, there is a big difference between organisations with some level of staffing resource and small organisations run totally by local volunteers, and more needs to be done to help the small groups to understand and implement the new requirements and changes.

Is training enough? As a community trainer, I am sometimes invited to provide training on governance and related matters to community and voluntary groups, and participants are generally very appreciate of clarity and information on governance requirements. However, I am not sure that a day’s training or an evening workshop is enough for groups with little or no administrative resources; follow-through is important. On-line registration, up-loading annual reports and completion of templates are new and foreign notions for a lot of people who have been voluntary committee members for a long time.

As well as training and information, there is a need for on-going support and mentoring to assist groups as they attempt to implement the new requirements. While the focus is on the larger organisations there is no plan as to how to effectively support the small groups. Locally, there are initiatives to train and inform led by Partnership Companies, Volunteer Centres and PPNs, but this can be hit and miss, and lacks coordination.

I would guess the majority of groups within the broad community and voluntary sector in Ireland are small groups without staffing, and therefore governance requirements are an additional task to be taken on by committee members. There is a risk that volunteers will become discouraged by the requirements, this could be an unintended outcome from a necessary and worthwhile introduction of governance standards and compliance.

It might be worthwhile to develop an extended programme of supports for groups over a period of time, even as a pilot programme. Lessons could then be learned on how best to support small organisations on the ‘governance journey’

Paul O’Raw

Community Trainer and Facilitator



Conflict Resolution through Mediation

Why Mediation?

Conflicts happen. It’s an inevitable part of human interaction, be it in personal relationships, the workplace, business or community. Traditionally, when conflicts are addressed, an adversarial approach is used, be it in a labour/ workplace dispute, a separating couple, a community conflict or a dispute over a business deal. Somebody wins and somebody loses. Costs are considerable. It is based on the principle that someone is right and someone else is wrong.


Mediation takes a different approach. It is not about attributing blame. It seeks to work in a structured manner with the disputing parties to reach an agreement that both can live with.


While not every conflict is suitable for resolution through mediation, there are some clear advantages to the process. It is quicker, non-confrontational and cheaper than the formal legal route. Its voluntary, confidential and binding in that the parties involved sign a legal agreement to mediate document in advance. The agreement to mediate is binding but the Mediated Agreement is only binding if that is what parties wish.  If agreement is reached, both parties then sign a mediated agreement document.


Mediation works towards a win-win situation.  However, it is not a panacea, there are no guarantees, and parties may still need to get further professional advice eg legal, financial etc. But given the stress involved in the adversarial legal approach, the negative publicity, the time required, the costs and the consequences of ‘losing’ there is a role for mediation, an alternative to litigation. A successful mediation facilitates the parties in conflict to identify their own solutions to the problems, the solution is not imposed. The mediator role is to facilitate the process – not to instruct or advise.


Recently Minister Francis Fitzgerald has published the Mediation Bill, it will require further debate and refinement before final enactment. This will put mediation on a sounder footing, providing it with formal recognition and regulating its practice.


Paul O’Raw

Member Mediators Institute of Ireland.

See www.themii.ie for more information.

Creative Facilitation Training

Creative Facilitation Training. If you are working in community development/ social change / community education you might be interested in Partners Training for Transformation course on creative facilitation. Be challenged and inspired! I did it myself and got a lot from it that I use in my work with a range of groups.


Organisational Development – Taking Time Out

Organisational Development – Taking Time Out

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

A while ago I facilitated a day with 30 staff from a large organisation (2 x ½ days with 15 at each). It was a  workshop on how staff could more effectively contribute to committee functioning. The organisation was going through a period of re-structuring and felt it would be beneficial to have a facilitated session to look at some of the issues arising from the changes. The session included; key elements of committee effectiveness, balancing group task and maintenance, and personal reflection on contribution to committee work. All organisations can be so busy with the work that it feels like there is no time to pause. Taking time out enabled these staff to step back, to examine the issues and to share ideas on what needed to be done. See staff feedback on workshop from the evaluation:


General Comments;

Very interesting  / highly impressive/ excellent/ extremely helpful/ re-energised/ timely/ insightful/ gentle and supportive/ much needed training topic/very productive / worthwhile/positive/ effective / helpful/ overall very good / all objectives met/ facilitator included all members with expertise/ empowered people to come up with solutions/ good pace and well facilitated/ good to be asked to think about our expectations


I feel more confident to go back to management…

I would be more aware of my role as a committee member…

Helped me to move on from complaining about the problems to considering my role in it and solutions

…gained great clarity on what a subcommittee should be …

Loved comment on courage…

Gives me permission to trust my gut

Got me thinking about my reasons and motivation re committees

I learned a lot from it

Highlighting personal responsibility in role on committees

Just needs to be put into practice

A Reflective Workshop;

Thought generating & provoking  / allowed space to reflect/ got me thinking/ good opportunity to reflect on current practice / allowed space and time to think/ good discussions/ Greater understanding of others perspectives; positives and negatives, and importance of role of both/ Lots of time for people to share their thoughts/ a helpful opportunity to air and share our experiences and challenges/ brought some views to light/ very open, shared and quality discussion/ open and honest discussion/ Important to stand back and reflect on how we can maximise the time spent on committee work/ staff reflected well/ as a group we reflected

We Are Greater Than Our Despair

we are greater than our despairWe Are Greater Than Our Despair – a poem to counter all the negativity, fear, turmoil and confusion in the world at present.

EU Society Losing its Balance

The upheaval in EU society triggered by the UK Brexit highlights the inter-connectedness of modern life. All aspects have b3 spheres modelecome increasingly inter-dependent; the economic, the  political and the social. This 3-spheres model presents a way of viewing the relationship between the 3 key elements of society, and the importance of seeking balance and respect for each sphere. We need all 3 to be functioning properly for a healthy society – which they are blatantly not at present!


Can we have better meetings? Survey on your views and experiences

Hi, I’m preparing training to help groups and organisations have better meetings and I’m looking for your experience and feedback through this confidential and anonymous survey. Thanks in advance for taking the time.

Survey closes this Friday 20th May.

Follow this link; https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6PJ8K38

not retired!!

Some people have enquired recently, asking how is my retirement – far from it!POR036 (2)

After 14 years managing the Community Development Dept in South Kerry Development Partnership I recently left to develop my independent community training and facilitation business. I gained great experience while with SKDP and I wish everyone involved all the best over the coming years. I am now working freelance – providing training to a broad range of groups and organisations involved in community development and social inclusion. For more information on my services, see my website www.pauloraw.ie, phone me on 087 2317204.


The Spirit Level – Why Greater Equality is Better for Everyone

inequality income

The Spirit Level

Now and then I dip into a book that helps me keep the faith that there are better ways of running our countries and progressing our societies. The book is ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, and it has gathered together over 30 years of international research into why some countries do better than others. Across the developed world, the authors have looked closely at things like life expectancy, health, education, mental health, crime, happiness, sense of safety etc. Examining these topics over time shows trends and patterns and the authors have done a great service for our modern world in tying all this together and drawing out the meanings and lessons. They conclude that with the right vision, commitment and policies, countries can have happier, safer and friendlier societies for all its citizens.


More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better

So what is the message? More equal societies almost always do better. The book’s authors focus  particularly on income equality, and they have demonstrated that in countries where there is greater income equality, there are less social problems, eg less unemployment, less crime, fewer teenage pregnancies, less mental health problems etc. These countries tend to be more stable, to have good economies, to care for the environment more and to show more solidarity with less developed countries.


Mind The Gap!

So why would countries such as the US and the UK have greater social problems than Denmark and Japan for example? Why do wealthy countries with greater income inequalities have significantly more numbers of people in poverty, unemployed, and greater prison populations etc? The answer seems to lie in the income gap. If citizens perceive that there is major inequality and there is no way to change their circumstances, then they tend to lose their self-esteem. They lose their sense of belief that they can improve their situation. Community begins to weaken and trust begins to break down. And the size of the income inequality gap makes a difference. The authors observe that in countries where this gap is smaller, the level of social problems is very significantly lesser than the more unequal countries.


Equality is Better For All of Us

So, why does reading book this make me feel better? Because other countries, eg Nordic states, have proven that when governments have long-term policies in place to create greater equality, across a broad range of issues, their societies become safer, friendlier places for all. The authors demonstrate that the right vision and strategy can bring about long-term benefits for everyone in society. Things can be better, we can have fairer, safer and friendlier societies to live in – that is what we all want.


A New Vision

It requires a new vision. This sounds clichéd but whether we appreciate it or not we already have a vision of how things should be run, and it has brought us to where we are now. Given the madness of our own Celtic Tiger period followed by the cruelty of Austerity, we in Ireland could do with a better vision to guide us. The commemoration and celebration of the 1916 centenary gives us an opportunity to question the level of equality and fairness we have achieved as an independent state.  The ‘Spirit Level’ suggests to us that instead of waiting until the economy improves so that we can begin working towards greater equality, we should work towards greater equality, and one of the consequences will be a more sustainable society and therefore a more sustainable economy.


The Spirit Level; Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; Allen Lane; Penguin Books

Groups and Organisations Beneath the Surface

IcebergWhat does a group or organisation need to do its work well – to provide good quality facilities and services etc for its clients or members, and to be a healthy place to work?

Obviously it needs the people, ie staff and volunteers, it needs premises or facilities, as well as the equipment, tools, funding etc to get on with the job. Organisations also need a vision, a plan, a constitution and policies. We can say that these are the visible aspects, the parts we can see above the surface.

And what lies beneath? We all have our beliefs, our values, life experiences, fears and anxieties that we carry with us, mostly at a sub-conscious level. We bring these features of our personality with us wherever we go and they have a considerable influence on how we get on in different situations. Organisations are made up of people, and are therefore shaped by these sub-conscious factors.

While it is somewhat easier to look after the visible matters – the less visible matters are often overlooked within groups and organisations. And we wonder why our organisations have problems! Time out to do some essential organisational maintenance is time well spent. It’s not necessarily easy work, but organisations can learn skills to pay more attention to this area.

For an in-depth explanation of these processes read; Individuals, Groups, and Organisations Beneath the Surface; 2006, An Introduction, Lionel F. Stapley