What are the criteria for recruiting board members?
This is largely a question of, on the one hand, local and/or diverse representation, and on the other, specialist expertise and forming links beyond the area. That is, should governance structures be entirely community-led, or involve organisations and individual based outside the area – such as government agencies, or individuals with particular expertise? Answers to this question may depend on the skills and knowledge available within the area, and the area’s overall priorities.
Clearly, ensuring that local residents feel a sense of “ownership” of the designated area is desirable, and often, residence in the area is a criterion for membership of the governance structure of these areas. There is also, however, a need for a certain level of experience or expertise among board members. This may include simply previous experience of being on the board of an organisation, and therefore, an understanding of the associated responsibilities. It may also include specialist areas of knowledge such as ecology, or the necessary “networks” to help connect the area to government priorities on a national level. These can sometimes be difficult to find in sparsely populated areas where many local residents already have voluntary commitments to one or more other organisations. In these cases, the criteria for recruitment may be based on the specialist skills or knowledge being sought, as well as local representation.
In terms of experience of previous organisational governance, there is also a balance to be struck here. Particularly in sparsely populated areas, making “previous experience on boards” a requirement is likely to result in the same people volunteering for multiple organisations, and therefore, a lack of fresh perspectives. Achieving a balance between experienced members and those representing new or diverse perspectives, then, is a key consideration.
At the time of the SHAPE project, staff and directors of one designated area were considering opening up membership to people with particular expertise, but who lived outside the area. They reported that among a population of just 2,000 within the area, it was becoming challenging to find the necessary expertise. The starting point for board recruitment, they felt, start with the question of “what skills are needed for the Board?”, not simply “who is willing to be on it?”