'We have to dance, sing and juggle, often at the same time - and now we need more proof we are accountable'

How intelligent is your board? Do you have some good debates and a couple of sparky non-execs? But do you also dine out off your organisational performance and think you're doing a good job?

I have been chewing over the recent Intelligent Board report and we have been thinking about a mental health, learning disability and children's services dashboard.

As a sector, can we discharge four important board roles ' in the use of information and intelligence, to set strategy, to know that strategy is on track, to monitor and be assured about performance ' while being able to look at the dashboard and keep our eyes on the road'

As public sector leaders, we have to dance, sing and juggle, often at the same time or in fast sequence - and now we need more proof that we are accountable. The Intelligent Boardreport from Dr Foster is excellent and, with Monitor's draft foundation trust code of governance, offers a challenge as well as an audit instrument to help judge gaps and progress and get into new territory.

The concentration on information governance is key. This is often a weakness in the mental health sector. I think that measuring role clarity, current and desired engagement, a focus on future and business critical tasks, systematic gap analysis on teams and individual development needs are key, too. Business guru Nadler and others suggest the importance of the social system of boards: power, influence and relationships are all key.

Finally, let's throw in a measure of being innovative, having an appetite for risk and being connected (the relevance of the board to frontline activities) just to make it a little wider. Complexity is such fun'.

There is a real need for structured service user and customer insight and trends. Stay strategic, though.

So, what should be on a mental health dashboard to stimulate, warn, assure, guide and inspire board discussions' Perhaps four dials:

Dial 1: Keeping the base safe: this must include a balance of the activity, the dosh, the care guarantee (and breaches of care) - and include a productivity quotient.

Dial 2: Telling it like it is: views and trends in service user, partner and commissioner experience.

Dial 3: Pushing on with developments: innovation, delivery of new ideas, choice and service models in new settings.

Dial 4: The learning and knowledge stuff: the ability and reflexivity of the organisation to learn, grow and use knowledge.

I dare say there should be some warning indicators to alert to productivity dips, patient choices not available, rising risk scores or GPs referring to St Elsewhere.

Once your board has got all this intelligence and information, does it seek further assurance, look to performance ratification measures or eyeball the chief executive in new and uncomfortable ways' I would suggest it should recognise and feedback on good performance, too.

The board could scan the environment, look for the best opportunities and arrange the best fit of services and people. It could self-assess and benchmark to build organisational fitness, resilience and adaptability.

The first line of regulation - that's what boards need to do, to be and to assure. What do you watch? What are your vital signs? How are they looking to you and others? Questions to which you are no doubt developing answers.

Mike Cooke is chief executive of South Staffordshire Healthcare foundation trust