AGU’s September board meeting: a focus on governance

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By Rick Murray, AGU board member

September’s board meeting was a special one. It was the first official board of directors meeting since Randy Fiser joined as AGU’s CEO and Executive Director. To get to know Randy, we all were asked to create one slide that captured our “new normal” during the pandemic – be that from our work, science, personal life or otherwise.

I personally found it very interesting to see how this “new normal” is affecting each and every one of us.

Like AGU staff, the AGU board was also given a copy of the book, “What if I say the wrong thing? 25 habits for culturally effective people.” The book, by Verna A. Myers, tackles how to approach, in a culturally effective way, commonly encountered situations. The board’s conversation about the book highlighted what a truly global organization AGU is and that many of the situations in the book are not unique to the U.S. but affect everyone around the world, and how important it is to learn how to approach and talk to each other in an effective way.

The board also revisited governance, which is a topic we come back to time and again. We were fortunate to have AGU past presidents Tim Grove and Carol Finn join us and provide some history. They explained how AGU created its current governance model, including what led to the change from AGU’s previous governance structure and why it was needed, and how they restructured the organization, developed a strategic plan and rewrote AGU’s bylaws.

For those of us who were not around at that time, it was invaluable to have Tim and Carol give us their insights.

The board also invited Glenn Tecker, one of the world’s foremost experts on association and nonprofit leadership and strategy, to talk about the roles, responsibilities and structure of governance at organizations like AGU. He was careful to tell us that there is not a roadmap for governance, which when you open up blocks your view of your windshield and where you are going. We also discussed our views of AGU and its maturity as an organization. When we thought about how AGU is taking on a new strategic plan and pivoting in the face of the current pandemic, we realized we were both fortunate and in such a position of strength. Glenn’s presentation and the discussion that ensued was incredibly enlightening and set a really nice tone for the entire meeting.

We also jumped into AGU’s new strategic plan and its implementation. We started off by writing our own headlines for how we’d know we successfully implemented the new strategic plan. It was interesting to see the commonalities and subtle differences we all had. While all 15 headlines were different, there were themes that emerged, like:

  • “Expanding our community in the context of diversity, equity and inclusion”
  • “Objective discovery- and solution-based science”
  • “Ambitious science goals for making our planet more sustainable and environmentally safe”

We were also asked whether we felt the new strategic plan was too ambitious or not ambitious enough, with the general consensus being that it was spot on for where we want AGU to go in the next decade. AGU staff, board and council will work on refining the key outcomes that we want to come out of the strategic plan over the coming months, and are targeting April for coming out with an implementation plan.

The board also discussed AGU’s FY21 budget, followed by a dynamic open mic discussion covering transparency and the intersection of science and politics.

We ended with a thoughtful conversation about the board’s role and the role of AGU’s council. The board agreed both leadership committees must avoid becoming an echo chamber. We all realize the importance of governance and not resting on our laurels. Planting a shrub is not sufficient, it still needs water, nurturing and pruning.

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