An Examination of Governance Structures in the Voluntary Intellectual Disability Sector in the Republic of Ireland

(20 Oct 2011)

Corporate Governance is an area that has attracted increased interest recently following on from various corporate scandals in the early part of the 21st century and the banking crisis of the last two years. Whilst there has been considerable research on the subject in the private sector, the nonprofit sector has not attracted the same levels of academic interest, particularly in the Irish context. The voluntary intellectual disability sector in Ireland provides services to over 22,000 people (85% of all services in the State), it employs 15,500 staff through Government funding which in 2009 totalled some €1.6 billion. Obviously given the scale of the sector and the public funding involved, governance arrangements in the organisations that comprise the sector have a significant influence on the delivery of such services and warrant research in terms of structure, effectiveness and theoretical framework.

This study examines the governance arrangements of the 62 member organisations of the Federation of Voluntary Bodies, the umbrella organisation for the sector. The aims of the study were first to map the sector as a whole in terms of the scale, scope, structure and origins of the organisations, secondly to ascertain the effectiveness of the governance arrangements, thirdly to explore the relations between CEOs and their boards and finally to identify the theoretical underpinning of the arrangements in place. The findings would indicate a substantial sector in economic and social terms, mature with well developed structures and governance arrangements as a result of funding security over a period of time. The area of efficacy is in broad alignment with studies conducted in other jurisdictions in terms of board composition and diversity. The findings around board effectiveness would suggest solid structures, but a need to focus on self evaluation and training. The CEO-Board relationship whilst balanced, particularly for those CEOs with longer tenure, identifies a nuanced influence on behalf of the CEO to ensure areas such as strategic planning and policy formation remain high on the agenda.

The theoretical framework for governance arrangements in the sector surprisingly suggests that the application of the stakeholder theory is not significant, but that elements of agency and stewardship predominate.


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