27 – Risk farming or good governance? How some executives avoid accountability.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          400 words

What do I mean by ‘risk farming’? It is the practice of spreading risk around so that your responsibilities become so diffused amongst various individuals and groups that you can’t be held accountable for them. There will always be someone else sharing accountability. So, how is it done?

You start by taking every matter before the Executive. This is often done on the pretext of ‘visibility’ – the apparent need for the Executive to know about anything that is going on that could be contentious, difficult or resource intensive. On the face of things, why not? Even though this seems to happen when the Executive is struggling to get through their agenda and their meetings are becoming longer and more frequent. Once the matter has been raised with the Executive, they start to share responsibility. They know about it.

Next, you invite  audit scrutiny. Let the auditors have a look around and take a whole lot of recommendations before the Audit Committee. It might be a bit of a nuisance, but for the ‘risk farmer’ it is worth it. Once the Audit Committee accepts the recommendations and starts to request regular updates, you have successfully shared the risk with them. They also know about it.

Setting up project control or steering groups is also common risk farming activity. This is usually done in the name of ‘good governance’. Get a bunch of other council officers involved in a group that has oversight of the matter but no control and let them accept some of the responsibility and risk. Sometimes a matter is so important that it needs a steering group and a project control group. The more the merrier for the risk farmer. They all know about it now.

In expert examples of risk farming, there will also be a community ‘reference group’. Once the community is involved, there is no holding an officer accountable, no matter how senior they are because everyone knows you can’t control the community.

The reference group, the steering committee, the project control group, the Audit Committee and the Executive become part of the chain of responsibility. Coordinating any decisions by the various groups is difficult but unnecessary for the risk farmer. The more uncoordinated, the less likely it is that they will ever be held accountable.

You might read this and say, ‘isn’t this just good governance practice?’ Well is it?