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12 board and the chief executive. The self-assessment process board counsel or with an external auditor. A former board may be administered by member may be suitable as well. If the board has decided to keep the assessment confidential, the person or persons · A member of the board or staff; selected should determine whether assessment documents · An advisor to the board, such as the board counsel or that he or she retains would be exempt from sunshine or Free- auditor; or dom of Information Act (FOIA) applications. The advantage · A consultant or other member of the national transit of a local confidant is that he or she would be sufficiently community willing to be the consultant for the board. familiar with the board members and the community issues that the policymaking oversight body faces. There may be The key determinants of who should administer the self- alternative resources available to the transit board from other assessment are the desired disclosure, confidentiality, and trust. policymaking oversight bodies. For example, banks have The individual selected must be committed to the process, long fostered training and self-help for directors. Similar including the intended level of disclosure or confidentiality, resources from other nonprofit policymaking bodies (such as and should not be susceptible to being compromised by other hospitals) may seem remote to the functions of a transit parties. If confidentiality is a concern, the board should deter- board, but they do exist and can be sought among networks mine whether the candidate's documents developed for the of other policymaking bodies and directors. For an example, project would be subject to the laws governing public records. refer to www.boardsource.org. The administrator is not asked in this process to make signifi- cant judgments concerning board effectiveness: the process is Consultants or members of the national transit commu- one of self-assessment. Training in the process is not neces- nity willing to consult with the board. Within the transit sary, although familiarity with the process, with transit boards, community, there are individuals familiar with the nuances and with policy board processes would be helpful. Discus- of policymaking and oversight boards. Generally, these per- sions of each type of administrator of the self-assessment sons have served as confidants or advisors to transit boards, process (board/staff member, board advisor, or consultant) often on sensitive issues such as the employment of chief are provided below. executive officers and so forth. Consequently, these individ- uals usually are very astute about confidentiality and the A member of the board or staff. Agency personnel who application of public records laws to their situations. More- could administer the assessment would be the board chair, over, they are often very cognizant of the issues surrounding the chair or member(s) of a standing committee or ad hoc and related to board and director performance assessments. committee of directors, or an individual director. The most Transit board consultants and advisors often have diverse trusted, discreet individual(s) serving on the board will vary, interpersonal relationships with a wide range of political as will the reasons for using one person or a small commit- leaders who have been either appointed or elected, including tee of two or three persons to compile the results. In general, the board members. These individuals can provide valu- if agency personnel administer the process, any nuance in the able insights when addressing the sensitivity of board self- way the person administers the process may be interpreted as assessments, particularly where there may be substantial reflecting an interest that conflicts with the overall agency diversity of opinion among directors. and board interests. Board members may be able to resolve such apparent conflicts, but staff members are not at an orga- WHAT LEVEL OF DETAIL OF BOARD nizational level that enables them to defend themselves and SELF-ASSESSMENT SHOULD BE USED? to resolve the issues, so asking staff to administer the process is not recommended. Sometimes there is a staff person desig- Board assessments may take different forms as well as nated to support the board who could administer the assess- having different levels of detail. The Handbook provides for ment evenhandedly. Alternatively, the board could use a staff three levels of self-assessment that focus on six categories of person if the board has access to these resources for the pur- board performance. The difference between the levels of poses of distributing and collecting the self-assessment instru- assessment is in the degree of detail addressed for each of the ments. Under most circumstances, compilation of the results six categories. Each successive assessment level includes would be best performed by the board itself or at least under and expands on the performance aspects from the prior level. the review of the board or its designated administrator, in Level I has 13 performance aspects. Level II adds nine per- order to preserve confidentiality. formance aspects to those from Level I, for a total of 22. Level III adds 9 performance aspects to those contained in Advisors to the board within the community. Within the Level II, for a total of 31. local community there may be trusted persons sufficiently The most appropriate level of assessment with regard to familiar with the board and its membership to handle the detail and depth will vary by board, depending on several fac- administration of the self-assessment process with diligence tors: (1) the board's interest, directors' commitments, and the and discretion. Some boards have such relationships with their resources available; (2) the life cycle of the board and the
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13 objectives of the self-assessment; (3) trade-offs between more pragmatic determinants such as the time required and the per- detail in the assessment and time; and (4) the risks of obtain- ceived benefits of accumulating more detail on the six per- ing too little or too much detail (particularly for first-time formance categories. The assessment level should reflect the users). These four factors are discussed in more detail below. board's collective perception of the appropriate time invest- ment and expected level of detail in information returned. If Board interest, directors' commitments, and the resources the directors' self-assessment time inputs are linear with the available to devote to the assessment, in terms of per- number of responses, a Level II assessment (22 statements) ceived correlation between inputs (time) and outputs will require nearly double the time input of a Level I assess- (feedback). The level of detail used for the assessment ment (13 statements). A Level III assessment (31 statements) should be congruent with the board's collective expectations will require nearly two and a half times the time input of Level about what is to be gained from the assessment and balanced I. Although there are some fixed time costs for all the assess- by individual directors' time commitments and the time avail- ment levels (time required for board discussion and director able to devote to the assessment. Choosing the most appro- participation), typically the incremental inputs for succes- priate level of assessment will likely take into account the sively more detailed assessments will be weighed against the willingness and ability of the most encumbered directors, or expected outputs, including board review and discussion. least interested directors, to fully participate in the process. There will need to be strong board interest in, and commit- Also germane to the level of assessment are the resources ment to, the assessment (both inputs and outputs) to spend up available to the board for administration, including compila- to twice as much (or more) time on a Level II or Level III tion and possible board review of the informal or formal assessment (compared with the time required for a Level I results. Where administration resources are limited or poten- assessment). tially constrained by other concerns, such as confidentiality, the level of assessment may be limited to Level I or II, and The risks of obtaining too little or too much detail in the the formality of the process may be limited as well. assessment, in terms of the board and individual director commitments required to meaningfully execute the The life cycle of the board and the objectives of the self- process and assess the results. The level of detail selected assessment instruments in identifying changes in board for the assessment has to be weighed against the likely level policymaking and oversight processes. The level of detail of board participation from all directors. Too much detail for an assessment will be affected by the life cycle of the will probably result in less than full participation, as individ- board and its membership turnover, as well as by the per- ual directors decline to devote the time necessary to execute ceived need to use the assessment to help identify possible the entire self-assessment instrument. By choosing a level of changes in board processes. Relatively young boards or assessment that is greater than the minimum (Level I), boards directors (with regard to tenure) may be more comfortable are assuming that all directors will fully participate in the with a shorter assessment that can be a preamble for a future, higher level of detail; the risk is that they will obtain more more detailed assessment. Older boards (with respect to detail from fewer fully participating directors. The level of length of directors' tenure) may be more inclined to use a detail should be appropriate to the level of full participation more detailed level of assessment, based on their greater that the board expects from individual directors. There may be familiarity with the workings of the board and the policy- some directors who will not fully participate in a meaningful making oversight duties of the board and its constituent way even at the least detailed level of assessment (Level I). directors. For a comprehensive board assessment, all directors should fully participate. The use of a particular assessment level that Trade-offs between more detail in the assessment and directly affects director time and input will require director time devoted to the inputs and outputs of the process. The buy-in; otherwise, the board is explicitly risking less than full choice of an assessment's level of detail can be influenced by participation by all directors.