Thinking Outside the Box: Ideas for Culturally Appropriate Governance for the IFMO Project

Throughout the months of October and November 2019, the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) held community engagement sessions across the country. Representatives from Indigenous communities came together to discuss the development of the Indigenous Fire Marshal Office (IFMO). Overall impressions from the sessions are summarized in the first blog in this series.

One of the three topics that was discussed during the community engagement sessions was the appropriate governance model for the IFMO project. Determining the appropriate governance structure for the IFMO project presents an opportunity to hear the perspectives of the communities themselves and to think outside the box. The IFMO board will be unique, with its own culture and expectations of board members. The need to be culturally astute has been recognized, as is the need to be considerate of all distinctions-based groups. In the development of the IFMO governance model, the North is also recognized as a unique place, with unique people and unique needs.

Participants were presented with four models

1. The advisory board model

An advisory board is the platform for the Executive Director to turn to for assistance and advice. The members of an advisory board are usually those who are known to the non-profit’s management team and are trusted by them. They bring professional skills and unique talents with them that are useful to the non-profit, and that they offer at no charge.

2. The cooperative governance model

In a model such as this, the board of the IFMO would be expected to make decisions as a group of equals. It is a highly consensus-based model of non-profit governance because no member has a higher standing or more power on the board than another.

3. Policy governance board model

With this model, the board delegates much of their trust and confidence in operating the group to an Executive Director. Regular meetings would be held between the board and the Executive Director so that the board can receive updates on the activities of the IFMO. This model has a more formal structure, but its effectiveness makes it a popular governance model with non-profits. The board operates using one voice and rarely works with committees.

4. Management team board model

In this common model, committees help carry out the activities of the organization, and board and staff work in partnership. The committees would have ‘standing’ in the organization as permanent structures and would be built into the IFMO Operating By-law. The board forms into committees to do these things itself or to support staff of the IFMO in these areas.

What did participants have to say?

Each session saw lively discussion on the benefits and challenges of each model, though no model stood out as preferred. Some participants preferred governance models that were familiar, while others explored the possibility that the IFMO governance structure should not be decided by societal norms—that this is an opportunity to create a culturally appropriate model.

This idea of developing a culturally appropriate model was reinforced during lengthy discussions on the challenges that a national organization will face in honouring the diversity of its clients and achieving comprehensive regional representation. Participants shared the following suggestions on how to achieve this goal:

  • Having 2 representatives from each province;
  • Having sub-committees to bring more voices to the table; and
  • Taking a geographic approach to representation to ensure that metro, urban, rural, and remote communities all have a voice.

Echoing the call to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of the community, there was also discussion on the need to have representation from women, youth, and Elders. The importance of grassroots involvement was also highlighted.

Despite a lack of consensus on the appropriate model, the following values and characteristics were consistently mentioned as essential for the governance model:

  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Sustainability
  • Responsiveness

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series, which will highlight the outcomes of the discussions on Programs and Services for the IFMO project.

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