ICSA research into board packs

Of interest to – all working with board papers

One of the essential functions of the company secretary is to ensure the board has the information and support necessary to operate effectively. To support this function, ICSA is working on a research project, in association with Board Intelligence. 

This follows on from our guidance on minute taking and looks at the information that goes to the board. The objective is to help organisations make their board packs more useful to directors, addressing concerns that board packs are too backward looking, internally focused and operational to enable board members to engage in forward-looking and strategic conversations. 

On 19 December, we published ‘Challenges to effective board reporting’ the first output from this project, which demonstrated that concerns about the usefulness and usability of board packs are not purely a factor of the size or complexity of the organisation, but are shared to some degree by the majority of organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

We are now moving onto the next phase of the project. Some of you have already provided some invaluable input to the ‘cost calculator’, which will enable organisations to quantify how much time and money they spend on producing this information and which we plan to launch in May. We are now starting work on the planned guidance, which we intend to publish in July, together with an evaluation tool that will enable organisations to assess the length and balance of their board packs and identify ways they can be improved.

The guidance will cover all aspects of producing and preparing board packs, including:

  • Planning – agreeing the agenda and identifying the information the board needs
  • Commissioning – setting deadlines, specifying content and format and briefing authors
  • Writing – making sure the issues and decisions needed are set out clearly
  • Reviewing – agreeing appropriate sign-off procedures
  • Collating and distributing – timing, format and security.

We hope the guidance will be useful to boards, management and governance professionals in all organisations. To make sure that happens, we want to draw on your experience and that of others involved in producing board packs. In the guidance we plan to include examples of innovation and changes that organisations have introduced that improved the content of the pack or the production process, along with any other ‘handy hints’.

We have already written to some of those who have contributed so far, but I thought this subject too important not to open this consultation to the wider membership – so apologies if you end up effectively getting this message twice. We have set up a new email account to cope with what we hope will be an avalanche of great suggestions. If you are able to contribute, please contact us at betterboardpacks@icsa.org.uk by 30 April 2018 and let us know about:

  • Any actions you have taken to improve the quality of your board papers
  • Any actions you have taken to make the process of preparing and distributing the board pack more efficient
  • Who within the organisation helped to implement these improvements.

The team thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the many suggestions that we received when we consulted on our minute taking guidance. The experience of those who, between you, have serviced literally thousands of board meetings will be of enormous help and we look forward to hearing from you.

Peter Swabey FCIS
Policy and Research Director

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