Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada
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Networks of Centres of Excellence Annual Meeting

Panel: Network and Centre Best Practices in Governance

The success of networks and centres depends heavily on the strength of their Board of Directors and how it relates to senior management. The Private Sector Advisory Board and the Standing Selection Committee have reported a correlation between strong performance and good board governance. Networks and centres that have established strong Board leadership are better able to drive their programs toward concrete impacts, and fair and transparent processes for strategic investments in innovation and commercialization. They also address best practices in disclosing and managing conflict of interest in a way that supports good governance while maintaining a high level of engagement of private sector Board members and strategic partners.

Key points

  • Set up the right structures
    • Even though networks and centres are incorporated as not-for-profits, they must be run as a business.
    • Network and centre leaders should develop a good understanding of the documents that shape their governance structure, including funding agreements, bylaws and terms of reference.
    • The pillars of good governance include accountability, transparency, engagement and mutual trust. Good governance must underpin operational decisions and provide the necessary structure to pursue the right projects to meet network or centre goals.
    • Board members’ functions include oversight, financial stewardship, advice, regulatory compliance and strategy. The selection criteria for members should include having a broad representation of stakeholders, an independent voice and the ability to provide a strategic focus. Those chosen must be strongly committed to the network or centre’s mission.
  • Prepare for and benefit from the review process
    • Networks and centres should prepare carefully for reviews, examining themselves and bringing in people to do a mock review.
    • Focus on goals, but be prepared to detour. Mid-term and annual review processes can be helpful in terms of ensuring the network or centre is on the right track. Take critical feedback seriously and treat it as an opportunity to learn.
  • Adapt to changes
    • Networks and centres go through different phases as they evolve, each with different needs and characteristics. Lessons learned along the way include the need to establish trust early, recognizing that cultural change is difficult, understanding that failure can be constructive, and focussing early on legacy.
    • The ongoing evolution of a network or centre’s mandate may lead to various approaches to legacy. For example, an NCE may take advantage of the private sector partnerships and collaborative culture it has cultivated to spin off a CECR. A CECR may develop different strategies to become sustainable, including setting up a for-profit sister organization that funnels money back to the CECR.
  • Manage conflict of interest
    • The right interests have to be represented for a Board of Directors to be effective, but their presence will also inevitably lead to some conflicts of interest. These can include members who also have an interest in a partner company or members who work on projects but are also involved with funding decisions.
    • The key is to have good systems in place to ensure that all conflicts are disclosed and addressed. Networks and centres should call on outside advice when needed, including from the NCE Secretariat or independent consultants. Some situations may have to be resolved by removing members or limiting their roles.