Reporting provides regular updates for you to assess progress towards objectives, and whether this is within risk tolerances. The reporting process should routinely provide consistent information on the measures identified in the planning process.
One of the biggest complaints of board members is about the information they receive. Common themes are, “I get too much information”, “I don’t have enough time to review it”, I don’t get enough information”, or “this isn’t the information that I wanted!” Most board members hold staff responsible for these problems, but it’s the board’s responsibility to give staff a clear sense of your expectations of the information you’d like to see, when and in what format.
To be truly useful to you, information requires analysis, using statistics, ratios and trends, often being presented in visual and “dashboard” formats, all aligned with, and reporting against, the strategic plan. You should seek a balance between accessing reporting for adequate oversight without being overloaded with information.
Consider the following questions in accessing reporting:
- What do we need to know to provide effective oversight?
- When do we need to know it?
- In what form should it be presented?
By following key principles, you can evaluate the quality and quantity of strategic information you receive, and give useful input and feedback to staff:
- Materiality: meaning that, at the end of the day, the board needs to focus its scarce time and meetings on what matters, the most significant information in the context of strategy and risk. For example, if the board has determined that improving student retention rates is an important goal, the board will ask staff to collect annual (or semi-annual) data relating to student retention. The board might ask for other kinds of data as well. For example, information from students about factors that make it easier for them to stay in school and factors that contribute to dropout will put statistics into context and provide direction for the development of programs.
- Reliability: the board should continually be assessing its confidence in management, as well as engaging external resources to verify and validate management’s information when called for.
- Breadth: that is to make sure that the strategic information is balanced and reflective of the organization’s business model and key stakeholder groups.
- Depth: seeking results-based outcome and impact performance measures, not just inputs and activities.
- Continual assurance or frequency: meaning that a board needs to receive strategic information at times on an irregular and more frequent basis. For example, incident or event reporting on safety or security incidents. This involves setting levels of materiality and thresholds, criteria or triggers.
- Benchmarking or comparisons: to standards, targets, over time, and most importantly to peer comparators.
- Transparency: meaning the ability of the board to see clearly into the entity, into the business model and how effectively strategy is being achieved.
By applying these principles, better informed decisions will be made about the content, level, frequency and scope of strategic information for the board.
Reporting must be accurate, timely, relevant, and from a consistent source to facilitate “apples to apples” comparisons. You use this information on an ongoing basis to identify, measure, and actively monitor trends. In some cases, trends can take years to fully understand.
You will see and use different types of reports:
- Financial reports: these are reviewed in the next section of the Handbook;
- Performance reports: these are explored next;
- Compliance or exception reports: these are used for management to confirm that policies are being followed, or to seek exceptions if they are not (e.g. safety, security, incident and event reporting, fraud, theft, fire, insurance).
Most of the time, management prepares these reports for the board.
Financial and performance reports are prepared regularly each period, usually every three months (quarterly). Exception and incident reports are prepared whenever actual events happen, and may be sent to the board right away if they are urgent, or grouped and reported at the next regular meeting if they are less so.
Sometimes, the board will ask an outside professional to review or even prepare a report in an area of higher risk or uncertainty, or if management has less expertise in this area. Financial audits are the most common example, as are air quality and safety assessments.
In gathering information, the board should consider that a more accurate picture of performance may be gained by incorporating the views of several groups. For example, the board, senior management, School Community Councils, staff members and the public.
Sometimes, board members will conduct a site visit to confirm or probe reports – this is a sensitive area, since you could unintentionally signal a lack of trust in management, so should be done in collaboration with management.
You will find a tool on Evaluating the Quality of Monitoring Reports in the Supplemental section of this Handbook.