What Policy Governance Means to Me

An Interview with Rebecca Jamieson

By Caroline OliverFebruary 22, 2011 | Print

(First published in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Board Leadership, available to subscribers electronically on February 22.)

Interviews under the title “What Policy Governance Means to Me” are a new feature of
Board Leadership and will appear approximately three times a year. We look forward to bringing you the voices of a variety of people whose lives and work have been impacted by Policy Governance theory and practice.

In this issue, Managing Editor Caroline Oliver talks to Rebecca Jamieson, a member of the Six Nations of Grand River, the largest First Nation (by population) in Canada. Rebecca has more than forty years’ experience in education at all levels, with a focus on First Nations education. Rebecca has participated in the Carver Policy Governance Academy and has been a Policy Governance practitioner for almost twenty years.

Caroline: In terms of organizational leadership styles, would you describe yourself as an artist, a craftsman, or a technocrat?1

Rebecca: I am not sure. I am known for being able to see the big picture and work with others to come to common understanding of this, and to “sign on.” I lead by example; I coach and empower people at both the board and staff levels to develop their own capacity and make the maximum contribution they can if they choose to be engaged.

Caroline: What was your experience of board governance before you came across Policy Governance?

Rebecca: Prior to my coming across Policy Governance, my most formal experience with board governance was at the university level. I found this experience to be frustrating because much of the focus was on empire building (at the individual, departmental, and institutional levels) and not about serving people or making a difference in people’s lives in effective and efficient ways. I found the dynamics in the boardroom to be power-based, adversarial, and often destructive. I found little opportunity to make a contribution in such a dynamic.

Caroline: How did you come across Policy Governance, and why did it interest you?

Rebecca: I first came across Policy Governance when I began my search for a governance system for the Six Nations community education project. The Six Nations of the Grand River has a history of dual governance systems at the community level (an elected system based on federal legislation and a traditional governance system based on traditional laws and customs). The two systems function in parallel, and conflict is liable to erupt in the community when the moral and legal authority of either system is challenged.

The Six Nations of the Grand River community was considering “taking over” its elementary education and secondary education services, which were being administered by the Canadian Federal Government through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The elementary system at the time had approximately eleven hundred elementary students and six hundred secondary students, and postsecondary support services were also being considered for local control. This was no small project because it touched the lives of all Six Nations families in some way.

Given the local political context, those of us involved in the education project also had to take into account the effects of our education experience as a people. The history of education for Six Nations, and all First Nations in Canada, is now quite well known—most significantly, the devastating impact of assimilation policies, including the residential school period, on language and culture, community, family structures, community systems, individual well being, and community health.

What all this meant was that Six Nations could not just “adopt” a governance system. We needed something more—something that spoke to who we are as a collective.

When I found John Carver’s book Boards That Make a Difference in a bookstore in Toronto, I was also reading a great deal about postcolonization movements around the world and the type of leadership and governance systems in play. And, in the end, I concluded that the logic of the Policy Governance Model would suit us very well, for several reasons. First, the logic of the model is holistic and therefore sustainable if attended to as conceived. Second, it focuses on the human enterprise for which governance exists. Third, it engages people in making a difference in ways that empower them and contribute to the overall good. Fourth, it engages people in systems that build personal and organizational integrity and sustainability: responsibility, accountability, communication, and purpose.

The logic of the model and the principles that make the model maintainable are so very close to our Haudenosaunee traditional governance system, it is uncanny. Indeed, for me, and for many who have embraced Policy Governance at Six Nations, the Policy Governance model is another way to understand and explain the logic of our traditional governance system. The fit of Policy Governance as a “modern day governance system” for Six Nations was therefore quite evident. This fact, together with having John and Miriam come to work with us directly and conduct further training for some of us through the Policy Governance Academy, has given us a good foundation to work from.

Caroline: How have you used Policy Governance?

Rebecca: I personally work with Policy Governance at both board and CEO levels because I have been involved in implementing Policy Governance in several organizations in the community, as well as across the province of Ontario. I also offer introductory workshops and hands-on training upon request.

Caroline: What impact do you think your use of Policy Governance has had on the lives of others?

Rebecca: The impact of Policy Governance has been very positive for all engaged in any organization that I have worked with. In my experience, everyone, from the owners to board members, to staff and clients, all end up knowing their roles more clearly and being empowered to fulfill their roles consistently and successfully. All understand accountability and the interdependence that ensures accountability. This makes for human interchange that is dynamic, which is critical for the long-term survival of a “people” or nation.

Caroline: What lessons have you learned from using Policy Governance?

Rebecca: I have learned so many lessons from Policy Governance—most importantly, the value of being able to articulate a model that is sustainable, that offers a place for all who wish to be engaged in making a difference.

“The Policy Governance Model offers a place for all who wish to be engaged in making a difference.”

Caroline: How do you see the future of Policy Governance?

Rebecca: For me, I am still optimistic that Policy Governance can be implemented more at the political level and more broadly in public institutions such as hospitals and education institutes. Once implemented, maintenance systems must be in place to ensure the integrity of the model’s use. Some practitioners are developing systems for this, but as practitioners I think we all need to commit more to this effort.


1For this characterization we thank Patricia Pitcher, author of Artists, Craftsmen, and Technocrats: The Dreams, Realities, and Illusions of Leadership. (Toronto: Stoddart, 1996).

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