5-Dimensional Vision for School Boards

I don’t know who first applied the words “Foresight, Insight, Oversight” to governance but it has definitely caught on including within the US Congress.  These three words neatly describe the role of governance in whatever context including the work of school boards or councils.  In an excellent and concise article[1] for Philanthropy New Zealand Graeme Nahkies of Boardworks International sets out clearly the balance of foresight, insight and oversight that makes for a “fully sighted board”.  A highly recommended read for all board and council members.

Around the school board and council table it might be helpful to use the following as a reminder to help the board to attain a good balance:

  Key questions Synonyms
Oversight What is happening within the organisation? Observant, conscientious attention, strict supervision, detailed questioning, awareness of risk, knowledge of compliance, getting “into the weeds”
Insight Why did that happen?  Why will that happen?  Why do we need that to happen? Intuition, sixth sense, sagacity, discernment, detached deduction, wisdom, getting “into the helicopter”
Foresight What will happen in the future? What do we want to happen? Farsighted, visionary, exercising good judgment, creative discernment, unusual perception, anticipation, prescience

Some writers add a fourth dimension which in many ways is pretty obvious – that is “hindsight”.  The danger for boards is that they can on occasion get stuck in looking backwards.  Hindsight, however, is looking backwards with intelligence to ask not just what happened in the past but to reflect on the implications for forward thinking.

And I think there is a fifth dimension which I describe as “inside-out-sight” – the ability for board members to look out beyond the boundaries of the school and to hold a wider perspective that can sometimes be more difficult for those engaged in the intensity of the day to day leadership of the school.  What is happening in other schools and in education locally but also nationally and internationally?  What can we learn from the management and leadership of other organisations? How can we build partnerships, alliances and networks which will challenge and enliven our own thinking?

  Key questions Synonyms
Hindsight What has happened before? Experience, understanding, knowledge, learning, recollection, reflection
Inside-Out-Sight What is happening over there? Observant, attentive, insightful, thoughtful, lateral thinking, creative

The trap for boards is that they can sometimes get caught up too much in “oversight” because the immediate and often dramatic impact of errors in compliance and risk management are all too real.  The consequence is that boards spend almost all their time in oversight and can lose balance.  The way that boards most add value is to open up the organisation’s thinking rather than to close it down which is why insight, foresight, hindsight and inside-out-sight are so enriching.

So what might the balance look like?  There isn’t a right answer – but this is a great question for the school board itself to debate and agree itself as to its aim.  Perhaps the board or council could agree what proportion of time should be spent in each area as a guide to itself and as a way to review its own activity.  And taking that one step further, it might be a useful aide memoire to create a dashboard[2] to remind members of the school board or council how time and attention might be allocated.

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[1] http://bit.ly/1zZlFJJ

[2] Adapted from “Cutting Information Clutter, Richard Blahunka, Product Manager, CBIP, January 2008