Making a Mockery of Good Governance: Scouts Canada and the Carver Model

By Liam Morland, April 10, 2007

Is Scouts Canada a well-governed organization? When Scouts Canada restructured its governance in the early 2000s, it stated that it would base its governance on the Policy Governance® Model or Carver model, which is widely recognized as the “gold standard” for good governance. In December 2006 at Senate committee hearing, Scouts Canada's management representatives spoke about how they followed the Carver model. Their message was clear: Carver is the standard for good corporate governance; Scouts Canada follows Carver; therefore, Scouts Canada has good governance. This would all be wonderful if it were true. In reality, Scouts Canada follows some parts of the Carver model while ignoring its most important ideas, with disastrous consequences for Scouting.

What is the Carver model? John Carver is a governance theorist who described Policy Governance® in various publications including “Carver's Policy Governance® Model in Nonprofit Organizations” (Carver 2001). Except where noted, quotations are from that article.

Simply put, the Carver model describes the role of the governing board in an organization. Under the Carver model, the board is responsible for creating policy and the organization's staff are responsible for carrying out that policy. The board decides on the ends, which are what the organization should be doing. The staff figures out how to best achieve these ends.

Central to the Carver model is the idea that all organizations have owners and that the board's role is to represent those owners. Carver writes,

The Policy Governance® model conceives of the governing board as being the on-site voice of that ownership. Just as the corporate board exists to speak for the shareholders, the nonprofit board exists to represent and to speak for the interests of the owners.…

Who are the owners of a nonprofit organization? For a membership organization, its members are the owners.

The Carver model calls for the very thing that the World Organization of the Scout Movement prescribes in its document The Essential Characteristics of Scouting (1999:27; emphasis in original):

A voluntary movement depends upon participation of all its members, male and female, young as well as older, at all levels, in the decision-making process. As part-owners, or “stakeholders” in the Movement, they must be actively involved in managing its affairs in a democratic manner.

How does the board fulfil its role of being the “on-site voice of that ownership”? The Carver model demands that the board cultivate a relationship with the owners/members.

Traditionally, boards have developed their relationships largely inside the organization that is, with staff. Policy Governance® demands that boards' primary relationships be outside the organization that is, with owners.

Does Scouts Canada's board develop relationships with Scouts Canada's 100,000 owners (the members)? Can you name any member of Scouts Canada's board? When was the last time you:

In reality, Scouts Canada's board is a distant and anonymous body with no effective relationships with the owners that it purports to represent. Scouts Canada's owners are not even allowed to contact board members. The chair of the board has decided that all communication with board members must be filtered through the Chief Executive Officer, a staff member. Since the CEO is also the person responsible for carrying out board policy, the CEO is in a conflict of interest. The CEO cannot be expected to pass on to members of the board any communication critical of the CEO or his staff.

Openness and transparency are key components of the Policy Governance® model. Carver writes:

For community boards, with rare exceptions meetings would be open—not to please the law, but because [of] a board commitment to transparency.

Scouts Canada's board meetings are closed to all except the members of the board. Board meeting agendas and minutes are secret documents unavailable to the owners. Scouts Canada's board is the opposite of open. Scouts Canada's board has failed, indeed has not even tried, to create

a systematic linkage between the organization and the ownership. This is not public relations. The board connects with the ownership in order to ascertain the range of ownership values about the purpose of the organization. If the board is to make Ends decisions on behalf of the owners, it must know what the owners in all their diversity think.

Scouts Canada's board does not serve as the “servant leader“ envisioned by Carver who states that

the board is first servant, before it is leader. It must lead the organization subject to its discoveries about and judgments of the values of the ownership.

The central idea of the Policy Governance® Model is to ensure that those carrying out the work of the organization are doing what the owners of the organization want them to do. Scouts Canada took the Carver model and threw out the parts about servant leadership and about the board representing the ownership. In doing so, they threw out fundamental ideas that make the Carver model successful for so many not-for-profit organizations.

The resulting weak governance has led to a weak organization. Scouts Canada's membership continues to decline, program quality suffers, finances are extremely precarious, and the mission of Scouting lies largely abandoned.

Our Founder, Lord Baden-Powell (1921), wrote,

if the proportions of the ingredients in a prescription are not adhered to you can not well blame the doctor if the medicine doesn't work.

Since Scouts Canada disregarded the core of the Carver model, it is not a surprise that the reformed governance has failed to make Scouts Canada better.


Baden-Powell, Lord Robert
1921. “Baden-Powell's Outlook”, November, 1921. Accessed 2007-04-07.
Carver, John and Miriam Carver
2001. “Carver's Policy Governance® Model in Nonprofit Organizations” on Accessed 2007-04-07.
World Organization of the Scout Movement
1999. The Essential Characteristics of Scouting. Accessed 2007-04-07.