Policy Governance®

Principles of Policy Governance®

The following document was produced by Govern for Impact in consultation with John Carver and Miriam Carver.



Why a Source Document? 

A “source” is a point of origin. A source document is a “fundamental document or record on which subsequent writings, compositions, opinions, beliefs, or practices are based.” (Websters)

Without a simply expressed clear point of source, interpretations, opinions, writings and implementations may intentionally or unintentionally diverge from the originating intent and ultimately be undifferentiated.   The point of source (“authoritative source”) is John Carver, the creator of Policy Governance, with Miriam Carver his fellow master teacher.

Without a simply expressed clear source document, Policy Governance is not reliably grounded and not transferable as a paradigm of governance.  It is left vulnerable to interpretation, adaptation and impotence.  This document has been produced by the International Policy Governance Association and approved by John and Miriam Carver as being true to source.

What is Policy Governance?

Policy Governance is a comprehensive set of integrated principles that, when consistently applied, allows governing boards to realize owner-accountable organizations.  Starting with recognition of the fundamental reasons that boards exist and the nature of board authority, Policy Governance integrates a number of unique principles designed to enable accountable board leadership.


What Policy Governance is NOT! 

  1. Policy Governance is not a specific board structure. It does not dictate board size, specific officers, or require a CEO. While it gives rise to principles for committees, it does not prohibit committees nor require specific committees.
  2. Policy Governance is not a set of individual “best practices” or tips for piecemeal improvement.
  3. Policy Governance does not dictate what a board should do or say about group dynamics, methods of needs assessment, basic problem solving, fund raising, managing change.
  4. Policy Governance does not limit human interaction or stifle collective or individual thinking.



Principles of Policy Governance 

  1. Ownership: The board exists to act as the informed voice and agent of the owners, whether they are owners in a legal or moral sense. All owners are stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are owners, only those whose position in relation to an organization is equivalent to the position of shareholders in a for-profit corporation.

  2. Position of Board: The board is accountable to owners that the organization is successful. As such it is not advisory to staff but an active link in the chain of command. All authority in the staff organization and in components of the board flows from the board.
  3. Board Holism: The authority of the board is held and used as a body. The board speaks with one voice in that instructions are expressed by the board as a whole.  Individual board members have no authority to instruct staff.
  4. Ends Policies: The board defines in writing its expectations about the intended effects to be produced, the intended recipients of those effects, and the intended worth (cost-benefit or priority) of the effects. These are Ends policies. All decisions made about effects, recipients, and worth are Ends decisions. All decisions about issues that do not fit the definition of Ends are means decisions. Hence, in Policy Governance, means are simply not Ends.

  5. Board Means Policies: The board defines in writing the job results, practices, delegation style, and discipline that make up its own job. These are board means decisions, categorized as Governance Process policies and Board-Management Delegation policies.

  6. Executive Limitations Policies: The board defines in writing its expectations about the means of the operational organization. However, rather than prescribing board-chosen means - which would enable the CEO to escape accountability for attaining Ends, these policies define limits on operational means, thereby placing boundaries on the authority granted to the CEO. In effect, the board describes those means that would be unacceptable even if they were to work. These are Executive Limitations policies.
  7. Policy Sizes: The board's decides its policies in each category first at the broadest, most inclusive level. It further defines each policy in descending levels of detail until reaching the level of detail at which it is willing to accept any reasonable interpretation by the applicable delegatee of its words thus far. Ends, Executive Limitations, Governance Process, and Board-Management Delegation policies are exhaustive in that they establish control over the entire organization, both board and staff. They replace, at the board level, more traditional documents such as mission statements, strategic plans and budgets.

  8. Clarity and Coherence of Delegation: The identification of any delegate must be unambiguous as to authority and responsibility. No subparts of the board, such as committees or officers, can be given jobs that interfere with, duplicate, or obscure the job given to the CEO.
  9. Any Reasonable Interpretation: More detailed decisions about Ends and operational means are delegated to the CEO if there is one. If there is no CEO, the board must delegate to two or more delegatees, avoiding overlapping expectations or causing confusion about the authority of various managers. In the case of board means, delegation is to the CGO unless part of the delegation is explicitly directed elsewhere, for example, to a committee. The delegatee has the right to use any reasonable interpretation of the applicable board policies.
  10. Monitoring: The board must monitor organizational performance against previously stated Ends policies and Executive Limitations policies. Monitoring is for the purpose of discovering if the organization achieved a reasonable interpretation of these board policies. The board must therefore judge the CEO's interpretation for its reasonableness, and the data demonstrating the accomplishment of the interpretation. The ongoing monitoring of board's Ends and Executive Limitations policies constitutes the CEO's performance evaluation.           


All other practices, documents, and disciplines must be consistent with the above principles. For example, if an outside authority demands board actions inconsistent with Policy Governance, the board should use a 'required approvals agenda' or other device to be lawful without compromising governance.

Policy Governance is a precision system that promises excellence in governance only if used with precision. These governance principles form a seamless paradigm or model. As with a clock, removing one wheel may not spoil its looks but will seriously damage its ability to tell time. So in Policy Governance, all the above pieces must be in place for Policy Governance to be effective. When all are brought into play, they allow for a governing board to realize owner accountability. When they are not used completely, true owner accountability is not available.    


Policy Governance boards live these principles in everything they are, do and say. 

Produced by Govern for Impact in consultation with John and Miriam Carver, 2005-2007-2011-2015-Feb 2021 

Policy Governance® is a registered service mark of John Carver. Used with permission. 

Copying permitted if attributed to source. If referenced as source document, must reference entire document and, if copied, be copied in its entirety.  

Policy Governance® is an internationally registered service mark of John Carver.  Registration is only to ensure accurate description of the model rather than for financial gain. The model is available free to all with no royalties or license fees for its use. The authoritative website for Policy Governance is www.carvergovernance.com.

Reference: Carver Guides, 2nd Edition, 2009.