Interviews & articles

Iain Watson - Governance Now 2019 Speaker Interview

By Cultural Governance Alliance

This year’s Governance Now conference is all about practical solutions to common problems: how to anticipate and plan for the worst whilst delivering the best for your organisation.

In the run up, Iain Watson - Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums - shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Iain Watson

On the governance today and in the future

What are the most pressing governance challenges facing the culture sector today?

  • Ensuring diversity of governing bodies
  • Managing balance of skills on governing bodies
  • Balancing mission vs enterprise
  • Providing appropriate support to executive
  • Need to respond to external factors may demand new skill sets – e.g. tax relief instead of grants

How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?

  • Increased focus on business models
  • Increased need for and use of trustee skills
  • Move form ‘traditional oversight role’ to more enterprising

What’s the greatest opportunity that sector-wide good governance might bring?

  • Increased diversity of sector
  • Improved sustainability of sector

How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next few years?

  • Need to ensure that we can keep streamlining and focusing and avoid simply reporting ‘what we did on our holidays’
  • Need to develop appropriate tools to make e.g risk management easier without getting into the detail that the executive need to manage – there is a danger of governance becoming an industry

What’s the future of cultural governance in one word?

  • Opportunity

On your career

Tell us about your first governance role. How did you learn the ropes?

It was as a Member of Museums Association Council – in those days (20 plus years ago) it was a very large (circa 35 people) board and very unwieldy (completely different now).

There was no proper induction and all you could do was watch what other people did.

Not long after I learned a lot as a director of a small NFP (but not charitable training company) where I became Company secretary and had to hone my skills – we did have good governance training as part of that board.

What governance challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

Complexity – in my exec role I have to support my main Strategic Board and we also have a Charity, a Trading Company, an Exhibition production company and an Audit committee. These bodies all need servicing. I am a non-exec on two of these boards.

What are the qualities of a good trustee?

  • Commitment to Nolan principles
  • Willingness to give time
  • Ability to provide support and challenge
  • Understanding off the difference between exec and non-exec
  • A skill set which complements the exec

What advice would you give prospective trustees/(or chairs) in the cultural sector?

  • Take time to get to know your exec
  • Be visible in the organisation
  • Recognise what you don’t know

We hope you’ll join Iain
and a host of other fantastic speakers at Governance Now 2019 — the flagship conference for culture sector trustees and professionals.

Governance Now takes place at the Friend’s Meeting House, London on 8th November 2019. Book tickets here.

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