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Resource Sheet – Governance

April 10, 2018 • 27 min read

 Definition of Governance:

Broadly speaking, governance is about the decision-making and accountability within an organisation. This relies upon structures and processes to enable the organization to function effectively. It also means an organisation conforms to its legal and regulatory requirements and meets community and stakeholder expectations….

~ Shared Facility Partnerships (Victoria 2007)

Governance is the term used to describe the overall structure of any organization – this could be a community group such as a neighbourhood association, a service providers’ network, an advocacy group, an organization or institution of any size, or a more formal collaborative model, as in the case of a community hub.

Governance models formalizes processes used to guide and share leadership and decision-making among the various partners and stakeholders, and lay out lines of accountability internally and externally to members, funders and the broader community.  Sharing your hub’s governance model and how it works provides reassurance that your hub does what it’s meant to do. Governance can also mean that you are committed to transparency, accountability, and to using precious resources wisely and effectively while staying true to a collective vision.

The effectiveness of your hub can be measured by the degree of collaboration, coordination and integration among all involved.  The aim is to create accessible, seamlessly connected systems within a shared space. The governance model you choose will have direct impact on your ability to achieve this.

You will likely have a different governance model in the early stages than once the hub is “up and running.” Even prior to holding formal governance-related conversations about your hub, you’ll need to seek clarity on a number of questions:

  • Who needs to be “at the table”
  • Who chairs or facilitates the meetings, including who takes notes or minutes, and how they are approved
  • Clarity as to how decisions are to be made: by majority vote, consensus, by a small core of key people, using broader consultation and engagement processes, or a combination
  • How communications about the hub will be developed and managed

You may develop a Terms of Reference or Memorandum of Understanding for your steering committee to lay out the goals and processes guiding your work. These tools will assist you in providing a road map to communities, funders and other potential stakeholders explaining how your steering committee or planning group will transition into the governance structure once the hub doors open.

When your hub becomes operational, you will need a formal governance structure in place, with policies and processes to ensure all hub systems work effectively. These processes will likely be refined over time – a governance structure usually evolves as hub partners learn more and various changes unfold over time.

The following “Collaboration Spectrum” developed by the Tamarack Institute shows a continuum describing various degrees of collaboration between organizations – from a basic situation of “competition” through to fully integrated programs. The Collaboration Spectrum tool can help you determine how your setting is currently structured. It can also help to support your vision and planning process, and decide upon the degree of collaboration and integration you are working toward. In turn, all of this information will help you to develop an appropriate governance structure.

Compete Co-exist Communicate Cooperate Coordinate Collaborate Integrate
 Competition for clients, resources, partners, public attention.  No systematic connection between agencies.  Inter-agency information-sharing (e.g. networking)  As needed, often informal, on discrete activities or projects.  Organizations systematically adjust and align work with each other for greater outcomes.  Longer term interaction based on shared mission, goals; shared decision-makers and resources.  Fully integrated programs, planning, funding.

collaboration spectrum

Source: https://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/hubfs/Resources/Tools/Collaboration%20Spectrum%20Tool%20July%202017.pdf?hsCtaTracking=3d55b1d4-3f96-49f8-9709-417ef39b002c%7Caebc4461-6671-4a55-9904-d6af0ebca656

The focus of the Collaboration Spectrum is on organizations, but it can also be expanded to incorporate formal and informal community groups and broader community participation.

Examples Of Governance Models

The following table lists various types of governance structures.  It is not a comprehensive list; there is a constantly growing range of innovative new approaches as hubs are developed across the province, building on experience and shared learnings.

The first two models in the table are most relevant to collaborative initiatives which may or may not involve a physical location – for example, a network which meets to share information, respond to a specific community issue or coordinate services. These models share many of the goals and principles involved in the idea of a hub – inclusion, coordination and collaboration, a focus on improved conditions, and other positive outcomes for a community.

Governance Model Pros and Cons
Informal Network
  • Description: No lead organization; all members participate in decision-making as “equal” partners; administration shared or managed by designated organization
  • Pros: Flexible and inclusive, power is shared, uncomplicated structure
  • Cons: Participation may vary according to staffing/resources of membership; leadership/control may transition to larger, better resourced organizations
  •  Note: Informal networks may lead to the development of a more formal structure (lead organization, backbone organization)
Shared Platform
  • Description: Host or lead organization assumes governance and administrative “ownership” of a project or projects, for example allowing a project or program of unincorporated group to be implemented
  • Pros: Uses the resources of an existing organization; provides funders with accountability; allows emerging, under-resourced groups to develop
  • Cons: Power issues – lead agency retains overall “ownership”; may undermine development of capacity (skills and infrastructure) of partners; requires administrative resources; culture gap between host and partners may pose challenges


Single organization/

Friendship Centre/ Neighbourhood Centre

  • Description: Single organization that functions as a community hub; builds partnerships and shares space; may be part of broader network/umbrella association
  • Pros: Single governing body and management structure; administrative efficiency; ease of communications and planning; inclusion and holistic approach usually central to the mission; central role in community allows for social planning function; affiliation with umbrella organization/network allows for greater voice; can share space and resources with community (including trustee/shared platform role)
  • Cons: Role as holistic community agency stretches resources – may rely on project funding which challenges sustainability; size and leadership role risks excluding other voices

(See OFIFC Submission re Friendship Centre model and Community Hubs Action Plan; June 2015)

Partnership Models
  • Description: Initial partners share the hub development process through steering committee or similar; may secure development funds through individual members; partners may secure separate leases/agreements to secure space in the hub, but develop shared governance structure; may transition to lead agency model or incorporated organization
  • Pros: Allows for inclusive, shared development of vision and hub model; builds capacity of partners to collaborate in governing/operating the hub
  • Cons: Requires partners to contribute substantial time and resources to the development process; requires resources and management structure for shared hub space and functions; better resourced partners may dominate hub development; risk of co-location with less collaboration/integration than other models
Lead Agency
  • Description: One agency takes responsibility for hub related funding (shared functions), i.e. principal leaseholder or owner of building; hub vision, structure principles developed collaboratively; may devolve some decision-making authority to inclusive hub governance structure (board, advisory etc.)
  • Pros: Partners draw on lead agency’s existing administrative structure and capacity to support hub development and operations; lead can negotiate leases, hub operational funding on behalf of partners; can trustee partners
  • Cons: If lead agency owns building or is principal leaseholder, raises issues of power and control; lead agency board and priorities may shape hub direction; administrative demands and risk to lead organization
Incorporated Organization
  • Description: New organization incorporated to govern/manage hub; can be newly incorporated, or trusteed by hub partner or outside organization
  • Pros: Can share governance between all stakeholders; designed for the specific hub role; dedicated resources
  • Cons: Requires separate administrative structure and resources; requires each partner to dedicate time and resources to support the structure

While much of the recent discussion and action on community hubs has focused on developing new, multi-partner initiatives, a hub may also be a single organization – an Aboriginal Friendship Centre [i]or neighbourhood centre, for example.  The main features of physical hubs such as these are rooted in the idea of meeting or gathering in specific places, perhaps a town square, place of worship or cultural centre – or other places in community where people from all walks of life tend to gather, such as a public library, coffee shop, or mall.

These are inclusive, accessible spaces where people feel safe and part of a supportive community.  Neighbourhood or community centres have a long history of building on these basic features which we aim to replicate with community hubs.  Although governed by a single organization, most neighbourhood centres have developed multiple partnerships with community group and with service providers as they respond to emerging needs and opportunities, and build on their role to serve the whole community.  Some centres offer space for free or on a per-use rental basis to community groups; others have more formal partnerships with other organizations, including mergers or shared platform agreements.

Collaboration And Community Participation

Some aspects of your governance model may have already been decided, or may be dictated by factors beyond your control. No matter what structure your hub adopts, however, any governance model can be developed or “customized” over time to maximize, for example, three core hub principles: collaboration, inclusion and community participation.

The Board of a Lead Agency can delegate authority to a separate hub governance structure – a committee with representation from the various partners, community groups and other stakeholders.  Some items will still need to be referred to the Lead Agency Board for approval – major financial decisions, for example, or policy changes that may impact on accountability to funders. The Association of Ontario Health Centres in its document Community Hubs for Health and Well-being: Shift the Conversation describes key features of this inclusive aspect of community hubs:

 If your hub involves incorporating a new organization, you can work towards building Membership and Board structures reflecting the diversity of your community. Because the membership of a non-profit organization elects the Board, having an inclusive membership increases the likelihood of ensuring community voice in planning and decision-making.

While it’s an impossible task to build a Board representing every distinct group within a community, various approaches can be used to address this challenge. For example, some organizations build in time to engage with community members regarding major planning decisions, and include their perspectives in transparent decision-making processes at the Board level. The resource sheet on Communications and Community Engagement lends additional suggestions about how to build and maintain effective relationships with key groups.

Why It’s Important

 Creates a single structure to tie the hub together: The governance model is the glue that binds all participants together to work towards a shared vision and brings a formal, overall structure to keep the hub true to that vision.  It allows funders, policy makers, community members and other stakeholders to understand the hub’s mission and how each hub partner is held accountable for fulfilling it. The governance model will shape the nature of partnerships.

Gives each participating group/organization clarity: The governance model and its various related documents (Partnership Agreements, Memorandums of Understanding, lease or space rental agreement) clarify for potential partners exactly what they are being asked to commit to and holds them accountable. See the Glossary for a detailed description of these documents.  There are also sample documents in the “templates and examples” section.

In most cases a hub is a collaboration between a number of organizations, their clients and the communities that they serve.  Each hub will have its own specific size, structure and degree of formality.  As well, each group or organization has its own governance structure – accountability to and relationships with its funders, staff and volunteers, membership and communities.

Hub policies may require that partners consult with a committee before applying for new program funding to ensure compatibility with its mission; that it supports collaboration; and that it’s targeted to removes access barriers for designated users. Partnership agreements or memorandums may require each organization to participate in Communications and Engagement planning, in hub open houses, community sweeps and other such activities.  In some cases, there may be local hiring practices which all partners are expected to adopt.

 Inclusion: The governance model is the main vehicle to ensure meaningful inclusion. If your vision includes community partnerships (population groups, services, sectors, neighbourhoods), it’s essential to define makes up those communities, involve them in the development of the governance model, and determine a process allowing for sustainable inclusion and succession planning. For some groups, this may require addressing economic, linguistic or cultural barriers or raise representational issues. Even if your hub is more of a service partnership, the reach, design and impact of your hub will be improved by knowing and engaging with your communities – they can help identify needs, assets and opportunities, and also with the development of appropriate service models to enhance community engagement.

 Managing shared space and functions: Partners interact functionally on a daily basis in many ways: in shared reception spaces and meeting rooms; via booking systems; setting up and cleaning the space; collaborating on joint programming; communications, research, outreach and engagement etc. The governance model sets out policies to provide a framework for managing each of these shared activities. The actual details of how they are implemented on a daily basis (operations) is a management/executive function.

What You Need To Know

Which types of governance models fit your context: This depends on your starting vision and the type of hub model you are creating.  (See Table of Governance Models).

Perhaps one lead organization owns the building, or needs to be the primary leaseholder, sub-leasing to other partners. This lead organization will have direct accountability to its funders and membership for how funds are applied, and will be liable in terms of risk management. This means that their Board will hold ultimate responsibility for many of the decisions about how the hub functions and will therefore impact how the governance and operations of the hub can be structured.

In order to provide partners a more equitable share in implementing the vision, as noted above, some physical hubs and networks incorporate a new organization with representation from the various partners and stakeholder groups.  In this way, the hub becomes its own entity and can shape its own path.[1]  if the hub involves a physical location or locations, the owner or primary leaseholder may still need control over some areas of financial policy and decision-making accountability. Various legal agreements will structure (and be shaped by) relationships between partners, the owner or primary leaseholder, and overall hub governance.

In all cases the goal is to have a clear model to maximize opportunities for shared planning and decision-making. If a lead agency owns or sub-leases the property to other partners, and if that agency also receives funding to manage and operate the hub, then the governance structure of the hub will need to be negotiated with the Board of that lead organization. In some cases a lead agency may agree to devolve authority to the hub board or a governance committee, allowing the partners to shape the direction of the hub. The lead would still have final authority on any major decisions.

Who needs to be involved to achieve your vision: If your vision includes community development and building stronger communities (as with neighbourhood centres and hubs such as Langs in Cambridge and the United Way Toronto & York Region Community Hubs), your governance structure must prioritize community input and inclusion.  This will involve making sure you have adequate resources and a plan to continuously engage with your communities. Communities change, so monitoring the arrival of new population groups and other changes is an important part of this process.

Langs describes its community governance structure in the following way:

Community members, clients and families are meaningfully engaged in all aspects of the organization from governance to strategic planning to program design to program delivery.

Resources to develop and run the goverance model: Governance structure requires significant resources to both develop and maintain it. A service network may be able to “spread the load” by delegating responsibilities across members. In a shared platform model, a lead or host organization handles the brunt of administrative and human resource functions.  The ONN Shared Platform Guidebook states,” Offering a shared platform….is not a small endeavour. It is administratively complex and requires dedicated staff time and expertise to be successful.  Assessing organizational capacity is a key to success.”

In a shared governance system, each individual partner continues to have its own board, committees, reporting protocol, Annual General Meetings etc. This model may require additional resources to appropriately design each of these processes. Also important at the outset is clarifying each partner so as to incorporate in whatever formal agreements are signed.

Authority to act: Wherever possible, individuals representing an organization (on a committee or Board for example) should have decision-making authority on behalf of their organization.  Otherwise the decision-making process can slow things down significantly, as when representatives require access to their leadership to secure a decision. This can also undermine the smooth working of a committee, particularly where there is a mix of individuals with the authority to act, versus those who must first consult. At the outset, ensure the design of your governance structure allows for consultation as needed.

Managing communications: From staff and volunteers, to executive directors and partner organizations, communication is key. Funders require clarity to ensure their own accountability around the ways in which the hub and service agencies are using funds.  Community members must understand how decisions are made about what happens in the hub – including how representation takes place and how they can get involved. See also Communications and Community Engagement Resource Sheet.

What To Watch Out For

Time and resources required to develop and operate the shared model: Ensure you allocate sufficient time and resources for: drafting, distributing, reviewing and revising your governance model with all partners; legal consultation with funders (early on) in the development process; staff and volunteers to oversee shared resources; allow for the additional time involved for board and board committee meetings,

Mission compatibility: A governance model must clearly define what is required of partners to participate in the hub, and reflect the principles supporting the hub vision. Also consider:

  • Boundaries and eligibility criteria: Ensure residents from within a specific area or population group are eligible for and receive priority access to services. For example, some hubs make all services available free to clients from the catchment etc.
  • Mutual commitment to community engagement and participatory planning.
  • Ensure that wherever possible, hub partners designate representatives with authority to make decisions on behalf of their organization.
  • Maximizing opportunities for hub partners to interact is a common hub principle.

Many hubs require partners to share their space where possible for broader community use, and to share program and meeting rooms with others.

Mission drift:  An effective mission is fully integrated in a continuous way into hub operations.  A hub needs a process to monitor, review and evaluate its governance structure and modify it as necessary. All partners need to be bound to the model and have the capacity to contribute to shared activities. Organizations that are present in the hub on a part-time basis, or use it only as a touch-down administrative space, may not be as committed to the collaborative planning and engagement components of the hub. Also, the financial challenges faced by many hubs can lead to securing partnerships or program resources which stray from the core vision of the hub.

Power/autonomy issues:  Where a lead agency has overall governance authority, be clear about which level of authority applies to decisions made by management committee(s), executives, advisory groups, etc.

Smaller organizations and community groups may “…fear that co-location means the loss of organization identity and ultimately amalgamation” (AOHC). They may also have concerns that co-location will result in “more organizations competing for community, funder and volunteer engagement under one roof.” (Langs).  The governance model you choose can address these concerns, at least to some degree, through partnership principles protecting organizational autonomy, and by defining approaches to sharing resources and opportunities, etc. Again, creating opportunities for open discussion and exploration of solutions will allow for collaborative problem-solving and for organizations to determine whether they are prepared to commit to the hub model.

Community representation and inclusion: As has been discussed at several junctures, prioritizing the inclusion of residents, service clients, community members and other key members of the public in the planning and running of your hub is essential.  Also consider:

  • How a particular population group is represented in the governance and planning process: A member of a particular group can offer much insight and experience, but without enough time or opportunity to consult and receive direction, they cannot be said to formally represent them. Building in time for consultation in addition to sitting on boards or committees goes beyond individual representation, for broad-base input and decision-making.
  • Your governance model may need to remove barriers to participation. For example, timing meetings and making space for “sunset prayer breaks”. Similarly, a youth advisory committee will be structured differently from that of a seniors’ advisory. As you assess your community at various levels while keeping in mind your vision, you will begin to understand how your governance model needs to be structured – and, over time, often refined.
  • As community’s change – and they always will – you will to identify those changes and find ways to connect with and bring new groups into the hub. This includes creating space in the governance structure to reflect new membership sectors.

[1] Reference – Network Administrative Organization (OSPN) – separate entity……backbone organization

[i] Friendship Centres across the province, under the umbrella of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, are hubs with a vision to:
…improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people living in an urban environment by supporting self-determined activities which encourage equal access to, and participation in, Canadian society and which respects Aboriginal cultural distinctiveness.”  (OFIFC submission re community hubs.)

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