Looking for a precise description of the 10 principles of the Policy Governance
model? This official document that lays out what IS and IS NOT Policy Governance.
POLICY GOVERNANCE® SOURCE DOCUMENT
Why a Source Document?
A “source” is a point of origin. A source document is a “fundamental document or record on which subsequent writings, compositions, opinions, beliefs, or practices are based.” (Websters)
Without a simply expressed clear point of source, interpretations, opinions, writings and implementations
may intentionally or unintentionally diverge from the originating intent and ultimately be undifferentiated. The
point of source (“authoritative source”) is John Carver, the creator of Policy Governance, with
Miriam Carver his fellow master teacher.
Without a simply expressed clear source document, Policy Governance is not reliably grounded and not transferable
as a paradigm of governance. It is left vulnerable to interpretation, adaptation and impotence. This
document has been produced by the International Policy Governance Association and approved by John and Miriam
Carver as being true to source.
What Policy Governance is NOT!
- Policy Governance is not a specific board structure. It does not dictate board size, specific officers,
or require a CEO. While it gives rise to principles for committees, it does not prohibit committees nor require
- Policy Governance is not a set of individual “best practices” or tips for piecemeal improvement.
- Policy Governance does not dictate what a board should do or say about group dynamics, methods of needs
assessment, basic problem solving, fund raising, managing change.
- Policy Governance does not limit human interaction or stifle collective or individual thinking.
What Policy Governance IS!
Policy Governance is a comprehensive set of integrated principles that, when consistently applied,
allows governing boards to realize owner-accountable organizations.
Starting with recognition of the fundamental reasons that boards exist and the nature of board authority,
Policy Governance integrates a number of unique principles designed to enable accountable board leadership.
Principles of Policy Governance
1. Ownership: The board connects its authority and accountability to those who morally if
not legally own the organization—if such a class exists beyond the board itself—seeing its task
as servant-leader to and for that group. “Owners,” as used in the Policy Governance model, are
not all stakeholders, but only those who stand in a position corresponding to shareholders in an equity corporation.
Therefore, staff and clients are not owners unless they independently qualify as such.
2. Governance Position: With the ownership above it and operational matters below it, a governing
board forms a distinct link in the chain of command or moral authority. Its role is commander, not advisor.
It exists to exercise that authority and properly empower others rather than to be management’s consultant,
ornament, or adversary. The board—not the staff—bears full and direct responsibility for the process
and products of governance, just as it bears accountability for any authority and performance expectations
delegated to others.
3. Board Holism: The board makes authoritative decisions directed toward management and toward
itself, its individual members, and committees only as a total group. That is, the board’s authority
is a group authority rather than a summation of individual authorities.
4. Ends Policies: The board defines in writing the (a) the results, changes, or benefits
that should come about for (b) specified recipients, beneficiaries, or other targeted groups, and (c) at what
cost or relative priority for the various benefits or various beneficiaries. These are not all the possible
benefits that may occur, but are those that form the purpose of the organization, the achievement of which
constitutes organizational success. Policy documents containing solely these decisions are categorized as Ends in
the terminology of the Policy Governance model but can be called by whatever name a board chooses, as long
as the concept is strictly preserved.
5. Board Means Policies: The board defines in writing those behaviors, values-added, practices,
disciplines, and conduct of the board itself and of the board’s delegation and accountability relationship
with its own subcomponents and with the executive part of the organization. Because these are non-ends decisions,
they are called board means to distinguish them from ends and staff means. All board behaviours, decisions
and documents must be consistent with these pronouncements. In the terminology of the Policy Governance model,
documents containing solely these decisions are categorized as Governance Process and Board-Management
Delegation but can be called by whatever name a board chooses, as long as the concept is strictly preserved.
6. Executive Limitations Policies: The board makes decisions with respect to its staff’s
means decisions and actions only in a proscriptive way in order simultaneously (a) to avoid prescribing means
and (b) to put off limits those means that would be unacceptable even if they work. Policy documents
containing solely these decisions are categorized as Executive Limitations in the Policy Governance
terminology, but can be called by whatever name a board chooses, as long as the concept is strictly preserved.
7. Policy “Sizes”: The board’s decisions in Ends, Governance Process,
Board-Management Delegation, and Executive Limitations are made beginning at the broadest, most inclusive level
and, if necessary, continuing into more detailed levels that narrow the interpretative range of higher levels,
proceeding one articulated level at a time. These documents are exhaustive, replacing or obviating board expressions
of mission, vision, philosophy, values, strategy, and budget. They are called policies in the terminology
of the Policy Governance model but can be called by whatever name a board chooses, as long as the concept is
8. Delegation to Management: If the board chooses to delegate to management through a chief
executive officer, it honors the exclusive authority and accountability of that role as the sole connector
between governance and management. In any event, the board never delegates the same authority or responsibility
to more than one point.
9. Any Reasonable Interpretation: In delegating decisions beyond the ones recorded in board
policies, the board grants the delegatee the right to use any reasonable interpretation of those policies.
In the case of Ends and Executive Limitations when a CEO exists, that delegatee is the CEO. In the case of
Governance Process and Board-Management Delegation, that delegatee is the CGO (chief governance officer) except
when the board has explicitly designated another board member or board committee.
10. Monitoring: The board monitors organizational performance solely through fair but systematic
assessment of whether a reasonable interpretation of its Ends policies is being achieved within the boundaries
set by a reasonable interpretation of its Executive Limitations policies. If there is a CEO, this constitutes
the CEO's evaluation.
All other practices, documents, and disciplines must be consistent with the above principles. For example,
if an outside authority demands board actions inconsistent with Policy Governance, the board should use a 'required
approvals agenda' or other device to be lawful without compromising governance.
Policy Governance is a precision system that promises excellence in governance only if used with precision.
These governance principles form a seamless paradigm or model. As with a clock, removing one wheel may
not spoil its looks but will seriously damage its ability to tell time. So in Policy Governance, all the above
pieces must be in place for Policy Governance to be effective. When all brought into play, they allow for a
governing board to realize owner accountability. When they are not used completely, true owner accountability
is not available.
Policy Governance boards live these principles in everything they are, do and say.
Produced by International Policy Governance Association in consultation with John and Miriam
Policy Governance® is a registered service mark of John Carver. Used
Copying permitted if attributed to source. If referenced as source document, must reference entire document
and, if copied, be copied in its entirety.