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LET'S TALK LIBRARIES

A blog from the Ontario Library Service
Board Self-Evaluations and Assessment

Board Self-Evaluations and Assessment

The final calendar year of the current board term is underway, and it’s an ideal time to undertake a board self-evaluation and assessment. One of the most common questions to follow this suggestion is: “What? Why does the Library Board need to conduct a self-evaluation and assessment?” Think of a self-evaluation like a performance review for the board; the self-evaluation and assessment process allows the Board to objectively examine how it is supporting and enabling the library in achieving its mandate. As we move closer to the appointment of boards for a new four-year term following the Fall municipal elections, the self-evaluation and assessment process also adds value in the development of any Board Legacy documents.

“I recommend that Boards have annual, or term work plans and check their progress and performance periodically against the plans.  A good way to deconstruct assessment is to see if the Board is doing what it said it will do (or supposed to do) by examining if it’s providing oversight, foresight, and insight.  And then, the examination and evaluation process begins from there in earnest.” – S. S. Ahmad, OLBA President

It is important to have regular check-ups for your governance practices. The self-evaluation and assessment process is a good indicator of your health as a board and organization. To do this, you need to have different strategies in place for improving your performance and for ongoing assessment. A properly constructed evaluation tool identifies what you should know, helps measure how well you know it, and, more importantly, how to apply it.​

Additional value-added elements to an ongoing practice of board self-evaluation and assessment include:

  • making it easier to plan for the next board term or planning for succession of the board
  • providing start-up support for new board members
  • identifying gaps in skill and experience levels
  • ensuring board alignment with the library’s strategic plan and action plans

Now for the details and specifics of key procedural elements…

When?

It is most common to do an evaluation and assessment once or twice during the board term. For some Boards, the first assessment experience feels awkward and somewhat daunting. However, if the process and outcomes are accepted, the Board can learn and improve its performance based on the assessment. Embarking on a second assessment proves that the Board has learned the importance of monitoring its own effectiveness. Assessment is about the future and ensuring that the Board’s contribution to the organization maintains ongoing excellence.

Who?

In addition to evaluating the whole Board, it is equally important for members to conduct a self-assessment of their individual performance. The purpose here is for individuals to be honest with themselves about how active, prepared, and effective they have been in fulfilling their responsibilities as a member of the Library Board. Individual assessment also provides a valuable opportunity to identify gaps in knowledge or a need for additional training.  ​

Also consider including the Library’s CEO in board evaluation activities. They are a key player on your governance team and can provide an important perspective within the process.

How?

  1. Develop a policy – you can’t govern without policy and so having a policy for this process provides structure and continuity.
  2. Demonstrate accountability – assessment shows that you believe in the values of transparency, accountability, learning, and development; and establishes credibility with those who fund and support the library.
  3. Reflect on priorities – identify the issues that have occupied most of the board’s time and ask yourself if those were a good use of time/energy. Key areas to consider include:
    • Organizational mission and values
    • Strategic planning
    • Policies
    • Financials
    • Relationships with the CEO, Council, and Community
  1. Be specific – make use of open-ended questions to gather more specific, detailed results and understanding.
  2. Follow-Up – discuss the assessment results together and address issues that get uncovered. Information gleaned from evaluations can be used in developing or revising recruitment, orientation, and training policies, procedures, and strategic plans. ​

“I very much support the process of board self-evaluation. Throughout the year [my] Board does self-evaluations through questionnaires about the CEO, Performance of Individual Board Members, Conduct of the Board, and Feedback to the Chair…Regular check-ins on different areas of Board activities/interactions is critical to avoid entrenchment of behaviours or conduct that is not helpful to the Board. Also, Board self-evaluations can highlight areas that may have gotten overlooked or missed throughout the year and give a Board the chance to review and reflect as they plan for the year ahead.” – Ben Hendricks, past president OLBA

The commitment to conducting a board self-evaluation and assessment is a means by which the Board can hold itself accountable for the performance of the organization and the state of its governance. It is a commitment to having candid, maybe even difficult, conversations about the extent to which the Board is measuring up to its own policies, codes of conduct, standards, and expectations. A board assessment is connected to the success of the organization and how the Board is contributing to effective governance of the library.

Pro Tip – aim to establish a realistic and meaningful process that works for YOUR board structure and library.

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