COVID-19 has severely impacted the educational system. In the US alone, 4,200 higher education institutions have scrambled to serve students during the worst of lockdowns. To successfully navigate the crisis and strengthen their delivery models for the future, higher education institutions need to recognize the importance of shared governance. Using this model of governance, universities can adapt rapidly to crises and changes occurring in the educational system.
What Is Shared Governance?
Shared governance is the distribution of leadership among the board members, faculty members, and administration. Shared leadership facilitates the decision-making process, information sharing, and transparency.
In this governance model, collaboration increases, strengthening the partnerships between the board members, faculty members, and administration.
Additionally, shared governance helps consolidate the fragmented landscape present in the traditional governance model. Under this model, constituents work more effectively toward making and following sustainable strategic decisions.
The key objective is to achieve alignment between the distinct roles of the board members, faculty, and administration. Without this alignment, the fulfillment of responsibilities is significantly less efficient.
How to Make Shared Governance Work in Higher Education
Higher education institutions looking to employ the shared governance model can follow this implementation framework:
1. Awareness Discussion
The first step in the implementation process is to begin a discussion on how different constituents perceive shared governance and how they see their role in this model.
The discovery phase, preferably a meeting where proceedings and discussions are written down, will then reveal any discrepancies in how the board, the faculty, and the administration view leadership based on shared governance.
The goal is to develop a set of shared principles and the distinction of responsibilities to apply to the actions of all constituents. All parties then have to understand their mutual responsibility toward ensuring the well-being of the university.
The faculty is responsible for the academic policy since it has the broadest experience in the matter. The board, on the other hand, is responsible for the oversight of the delivery of quality education.
The basic elements of shared governance:
- Good communication
- Transparency and respect
- Shared accountability
Note: You can develop a guideline to be used when there is disagreement in the distribution of roles and responsibilities so that it’s clear how to solve these types of disagreements.
2. Assessment Phase
Next, the constituents should develop a framework for assessing the current state of shared governance. This regular assessment will then reveal any gaps in the implementation that need to be addressed.
The assessment can be done via surveys or regular discussions. It’s critical to obtain honest assessments from all constituents. Assessments will then give you a better understanding of how the board, faculty, and administration members view shared governance.
Sample questions to ask:
- What is the level of transparency among constituents, i.e., whether all parties feel that no one is withholding information? Also, does everyone have the information that is important to the decision-making process?
- What is the distribution of roles and responsibilities?
- Is the decision making process, as well as the necessary steps involved (consultation and approval) clear to everyone?
- Is there alignment on strategic goals for the higher education institution?
- Does the structure of the board, faculty, and administration encourage the implementation of shared governance?
Note: Consider including an open-ended question asking for suggestions on how to improve shared governance at the institution.
3. Improvement Stage
With a detailed assessment of the shared governance practised at the institution, start improving areas that revealed shortcomings. To do this, employ robust communication plans to allow for a streamlined information flow.
Information flow is necessary to equip the board, faculty, and administration with the knowledge and insight required to make informed decisions. In the shared governance model, the performance of all constituents depends on even and timely distribution of information.
For example, the faculty needs to regularly report to the board about the value of the academic program. Board members need this information to perform their oversight responsibilities effectively.
Similarly, the board needs to invite the faculty to take part in strategic decision-making processes. For example, let faculty members participate in board meetings or board committee meetings. Any decision-making should be preceded by in-depth, inclusive consultations where all particles are involved, adding their expertise.
Consider using secure communication solutions for regular and collaborative meetings.
Additionally, for the model to work, it’s critical that the faculty is capable of making timely decisions. That said, the board and administration should recognize that the faculty may lack the skills necessary to embrace leadership roles effectively.
Faculty leaders should therefore participate in leadership training to increase their leadership capabilities.
In the last step, the constituents at higher education institutions should polish and strengthen information-sharing practices to future-proof shared governance. This can be achieved by building and extending social capital through various initiatives.
For example, board members can serve as guest lecturers (provided they have appropriate expertise), take part in field trips, or attend a faculty meeting.
Shared Governance Fortifies Operations
The processes and strategies for the development of higher education governance will be different for every university. To properly gauge the current and expected state of shared governance, you can employ an iterative approach.
Every successful shared governance model includes two key elements: communication and collaboration. Implement solutions facilitating communication in a secure and intuitive way to increase transparency.