The membership is the RCN: together we make it work
A guide to the decision-making framework
RCN boards are the voice of the members. They are a vital link between Council and
members locally, especially branches and other local networks and representative
groupings. They also play a critical role in policy formulation and implementation.
This leaflet explains how boards fit into the governance structure of the RCN and
how they work in that structure. It shows how decisions are made and explains the
role of boards as well as how they work with Council, accredited representatives,
branches, local networks and representative groupings and members individually.
What are our objectives?
to give members a stronger voice in the RCN.
to achieve good two-way communication and robust ways of working which
build strong connections between members and the different parts of the
decision making structure
to ensure decision-making is clear, timely, well-informed and effective
to ensure UK developments influence local activity, and local developments
influence overall RCN direction
to be responsive to the views and concerns of members and member
networks and representative groupings at local, country, regional and UK
How will we do this?
Our governance structure will be reflective of all our members.
We will have clear, transparent decision-making processes informed by members’
views and those of member networks and representative groupings.
Our new scheme of delegation sets out clearly what decisions will be taken by
Our new ways of working will ensure we have strong effective two-way
communication and consultation processes in place.
Our governance structure
We have three membership categories – Nurse Members, representing our
registered nurse members, Student Members, representing those undertaking pre-
registration nurse education, and Health Practitioner Members representing our
health care assistant and assistant practitioner members. These three categories
form the basis of our governance structure.
All three categories are represented on RCN Council by two members from each
country and England region, two student members and two health practitioner
Boards should be reflective of the membership of the country or region.
Nursing and midwifery students and HCAs/APs have their own UK representative
committees which report direct into Council.
In addition there are UK representative committees for accredited representatives
(stewards, safety representatives and learning representatives) and for forum
members which report into the Membership and Representation and Nursing
Practice and Policy Committees respectively.
How the decision-making structure works
RCN Council is the governing body of the RCN and sets the strategic direction and
priorities of the organisation.
Council committees have responsibility for practice and policy development and for
identifying and deciding how the strategic priorities of the organisation within their
areas of accountability are met.
They are overview and scrutiny committees with a commissioning and assurance
role. They set up task and finish groups to carry out priority work which are made up
of representatives from the parts of the membership with an interest in the particular
In future all parts of the governance structure will feed into these committees and
have the opportunity to influence the annual priorities and outputs. The Council
committees will be accountable for consulting all parts of the structure on all major
policy and practice positions/changes and it will be particularly important to develop
new strong working links between those committees and boards.
The Nursing Practice and Policy Committee (NPPC) sets the priorities for the
RCN’s clinical practice, research and education agendas. It commissions work in
these areas as appropriate and makes recommendations to Council on nursing
practice and policy.
In future the Committee will be responsible for ensuring that all nursing practice and
policy work is informed by members with the particular knowledge and expertise and
takes account of the concerns of members on the ground.
The Membership and Representation Committee (MRC) supports, oversees and
makes recommendations to Council on matters affecting the RCN membership and
their representation. This includes pay, terms and conditions, health and safety, and
In future the Committee will be responsible for ensuring that all membership issues
are informed by the views and experience of members on the ground and our
networks and representative groups.
Council sub-committees advise Council on those areas of activity which are
relevant to all parts of the governance structure. We currently have Diversity,
International and Ethics Committees. They have reference groups and networks of
members informing their work.
RCN boards will be responsible for governance in their country or region in line with
RCN strategy and policy and will be accountable for ensuring that the priorities set,
and decisions taken by Council are implemented. Boards will, in future, be
accountable to their members for having effective communication and consultation
mechanisms in place which will enable them to seek the views of members,
branches and local networks and representative groupings and ensure they are
taken into account in local decision making and are communicated to Council.
They will also play a critical role in policy formulation and implementation in
accordance with the principles established by Council.
In other words the boards will be the key conduit for the majority of RCN members to
influence action taken on country/regional issues and the decisions made by
UK representatives and forum committees are vital in informing Council and the
Council committees about the concerns and views of our accredited representatives
and forum activists and ensure they participate in and inform the priority work
streams led by NPPC and MRC. To do this there will also need to be strong working
links developed between the UK representative committees, forums committees and
How do we make this work?
We will ensure that members in the countries and regions inform the RCN’s work
and influence decision making at UK, country and regional levels by changing the
role of the boards and the way they work.
Boards will work best when there is timely two way communication with active
members and accredited representatives and strong working links with its branches
and other local professional and trade union networks.
We will also need strong working links between accredited representatives and
forum members on the ground to inform the work of the UK Committees and Forum
In part this can be achieved through a robust decision making and reporting
framework. But we also have to ensure that all our members receive effective and
timely information and communications and have the opportunity to feed back their
thoughts and concerns in the way and at the time that is easiest for them.
Local professional and trade union networks will take a variety of forms including
short term task and finish type groups, fixed term and ongoing networks. Some parts
of the UK already have established professional or trade union networks to inform
board thinking; others have time limited task and finish groups on a particular issue.
For example a health visiting group looking at the delivery of children’s services or a
stewards or health and safety network that informs both board and UK working.
As part of the Legal and Governance Review we are looking at how we can ensure
these networks work more effectively in the future by improving our systems and
using a range of existing and new ways of workings and technology.
We have also been told by the branches we have met that the role of the chair of the
board is extremely important and we will be preparing a role descriptor for the Chair.
It is the chair who holds board members to account and ensures they meet their
obligations as a board member.
It has also been suggested that there should be a standard format for board
meetings with an open and closed session and a section of the open agenda
reserved for discussing issues of concern to members and membership groupings
and networks in the country/region.
There is no chapter and verse on board size.
The thinking is based on the concept of the board as a team. The optimum size of an
effective team is widely recognised as being between eight and twelve members.
Good practice indicates that, in governance terms, smaller boards work more
effectively and there has been a move in recent years across all sectors to decrease
the number of board members. It is widely agreed that a board should not exceed
The best approach is to relate board size to board functionality. This means to ask
first what the purpose and function of the board is then to align this to the roles to be
undertaken by the board and assign the recommended size to this.
As part of this work we have clarified the purpose of the board, emphasised its
governance role and the way it should work differently in future to ensure that it is the
voice of all its members and takes strong decisions.
With this in mind, it has been proposed to have a maximum board size of 15 with an
election model that supports this thinking.
How will the new election model work?
The “voting with constraints” model enables countries and regions to agree what the
membership of their board should be to reflect the membership of the country or
region and the roles to be undertaken by the board, and the country or regional
priorities at the time. The composition just has to meet the principles set down by
It was suggested to us that the attendance of existing board members should be
published in the election paperwork.
This model opens up the election to all members in the country or region
All members in a country or English region will vote for all members of the board and
any member can propose or second a member to stand for their country or regional
Because Boards will in future be part of the governance structure all members will
have to be on full payment plans.
Once all the votes are cast a series of restraints are put in place to ensure that the
Board is a team of members from the country or region which is reflective of the
membership of the country or region, the different roles to be undertaken and the
current priority issues. This might be achieved on a geographical basis but it could
also be based on sector interests or protected characteristics such as age ethnicity
This system also means that all the vacancies on a board are filled by election.
The example below demonstrates how it would work. It is based on a board of twelve
with six places due for election.
There are twelve members of the Board. Six places on the Board are due for
The constraints used in this election will be:
The highest ranked candidate from each of six geographical areas or branches of
the region shall be elected until the Board is fully elected.
If no member stands from a particular area (branch) then the next highest ranked
candidate, from each area in turn, will be elected.
The following is an example of a possible vote outcome. The candidates are ranked
in order of the number of votes they received from all members.
Vote ranking Area Result
Candidate 1 Area/Branch A ELECTED
Candidate 2 Area/Branch D ELECTED
Candidate 3 Area/Branch B ELECTED
Candidate 4 Area/Branch D ELECTED
Candidate 5 Area/Branch B
Candidate 6 Area/Branch E ELECTED
Candidate 7 Area/Branch B
Candidate 8 Area/Branch C ELECTED
The top five candidates from Area A to E were elected. No-one stood from Area F so
candidate 4 from Area D is also elected
Currently members can stand for a maximum of two terms of four years with a gap of
four years before they are eligible to stand again. We will be looking again at the
request of some of the branches we met at whether or not these arrangements
should be reviewed.