Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Derek J. Allison


The purpose of this inquiry was to investigate the meaning of the concept governance in order to answer the central research question “can school boards govern?” While the importance of the governance of organizations is widely acknowledged in the literature, the governance of local school boards has seldom been a central focus of research. The duality of governing and being governed experienced by school boards is not characteristic of board governance in the private and nonprofit sectors and so made school boards an exceptional area of governance research.

The method of inquiry was to subject the central concept of governance to a conceptual analysis. The analysis drew from a spectrum o f normative and academic literatures, from governance in broad political and organizational contexts to board governance in private, public, and nonprofit organizations. It then focused on the evolution of school boards in Ontario with attention to shifts in how school board governance was understood including conflicts over power, authority, areas of competence, and responsibility for the public good.

Three central themes emerged. First, that governance, although described and discussed in different contexts from a variety of critical perspectives, has a number of consistent and essential characteristics or features. These are power, authority, and fiduciality, and legitimacy, governance as political and oriented toward public good. Second, governance is subject to internal and external conditions, constraints, and circumstances. These internal and external influences are treated as contingent

features. Finally, board governance is a social practice. As such, the activities of

board members in the act of governing contribute to the outcomes of governance, both positive and negative.

The analysis provides a point of reference for understanding and discussing school boards as governing bodies. Essential and contingent governance features afford a language for school boards (and other governing boards) to assess their practice and facilitate reasoned conversation about roles, responsibilities, and ethical issues.

The inquiry concludes that school boards in Ontario can govern and identifies implications for the practice of school board governance.



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