Heard the one about the foundation trust applicant that didn't get enough candidates for its governor elections? No, it's not funny.
Four years after the first foundation trust governor elections, it seems that democracy and the NHS still have a haughty relationship. Failing to get a decent field of candidates has several negative implications: as the process is smack bang in the middle of your Monitor assessment, it sends the message that all the brave rhetoric in your integrated business plan about high levels of engagement by staff, service users and the public belongs in the fiction section. It will also mean that your governors, with all their potential power, will in effect have been composed on a first-come first-served basis.
So, based on our experience in Camden and Islington of persuading over 80 brave innocents to put their names forward, here are a few ideas on how to mitigate this risk.
Anyone experienced in elections will tell you that there is no point waiting until the last couple of weeks to sort everything out. Just like DIY, the preparation is as important as the execution. However early you are in the foundation trust process, it is not too soon systematically to think about getting a good field of candidates.
As a default, assume zero knowledge on the part of your members about what foundation trust governors are. Get your communications right and remember that you will need a package of measures to reach your target audience: meetings are important, but some good candidates will just want a clear written briefing. For others, it will be important to ensure that they can easily speak on the phone to someone who is knowledgeable about the situation.
Monitor is very interested in how representative your membership is, and you need to take equal care with the governors. Tap into the networks that can help you to reach the breadth and depth of your local communities.
Develop a clear role description, setting out the sort of activities in which your trust expects governors to be involved.
Set up a good induction plan: potential governors want to be assured that they will not be left to sink or swim.
Be clear about the time expectations: the CV improvers need to understand that it is more than a couple of meetings a year, but you also need to assure those with busy lives that it is not the same as being on the local council.
While you are doing your superb outreach with public and service users, don't forget your staff. Among other tacks, we ran a session with someone talking about the experience of staff governors in schools - not the same, but plenty of similarities.
Alternatively, you can always leave the governor nominations to chance because you're too busy with "more important" components of your foundation trust application. But such suggestions have no place in a Good Management column.