On Fundamentalism and Policy Governance

Donald Kreis’ article, “Policy Governance Fundamentalism and What’s Wrong With It,” (Cooperative Grocer #127, November/December 2006) is a frustrating mixture of good advice and bad polemic so intimately intertwined that it is difficult to tease out the one from the other. Even on repeated readings it remains unclear whether by fundamentalists Kreis refers to those who fully support the Carver standard or those who seriously misinterpret it, or both.

Kreis rightly dismisses such fictions as the so-called “paper bag rule,” but then in apparent contradiction of his own point offers the odd assertion that a board member having a conversation with an employee “would give John Carver an aneurysm.” Condemning as fundamentalists those who take Carver’s writing “literally,” Kreis proposes a comparison with the fanatical exegesis of ancient and arcane religious texts. This analogy is about as distant from the actuality as it is possible to be. The body of Policy Governance writing emanating from the Carver organization over the last twenty years or so is a straightforward, coherent description of a well-reasoned, practical and comprehensive system of governance which boards of organizations such as cooperatives can employ to advantage if they so choose. There is no “extreme” application of Policy Governance principles: one either applies them badly, or well, or not at all.

John Carver has been particularly consistent in clearly identifying those requirements of the system which should not be modified by individual boards if they wish to achieve the desired results. In this respect Carver is not only entitled to comment explicitly on the kinds of tinkering that will, in effect, void the warranty; he is in fact, by any responsible standard, ethically obligated to do so. Carver’s quoted comments on misinformed critiques of the model are entirely consistent with that obligation. Cooperative boards that wish to gain the exemplary benefits of Policy Governance would be well advised to take seriously such commentary from its author.


James Morgan is a design professional and is a board member of Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, N. Carolina ([email protected]).

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