I have been privileged in my career to have served on several non-profit boards and committees. Each of these experiences has been rewarding and, through them, I learned a lot about governance practices. One key lesson is that the most impactful work of a chairperson is performed outside the boardroom.
Most recently, I served as Chair of the Advisory Council on Deep Space Healthcare, a task force of the Canadian Space Agency. Our Council had been established by the CSA to provide advice on a potential healthcare role for Canada in space exploration. In the coming years, several space-faring nations and private companies will be partnering to explore deep space (i.e., the Moon, asteroids and Mars). Visionary stuff! Canada wishes to be a major player in this venture.
The work of our Advisory Council was founded upon that of a previous CSA task force that had already addressed the ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions of deep space healthcare. Our Council now was to propel the initiative forward by advising the Agency on the ‘how’ and ‘who’ issues.
Council membership included 15 impressive national leaders who generously devoted their time and effort to the task. I, as chairperson, was determined therefore that Council processes should match the level of excellence and productivity that exemplified our high-performing membership and their home organizations.
In advance of meetings (we met 12 times), I worked with the Council secretariat (known as the Health Beyond team) to develop agendas that were strategic and pertinent to our mandate. Meeting materials were reviewed to ensure they were concise and conducive to group discussion. Some of the more critical meeting items were rehearsed in advance by the secretariat. These trial runs allowed us to fine-tune presentations and workshop activities before engaging the Council members.
Following meetings, the secretariat and I met to debrief. We incorporated lessons learned into the planning of subsequent meetings and followed up with individual members on action items.
All of this preparatory work was done well and, consequently, meetings ran smoothly and the Council made progress. And for me, the chairing of the actual meetings became straightforward. (In the astronaut culture, we say that a soft landing is always preceded by a smooth approach.)
With last week’s publication of our report to CSA president Lisa Campbell, the mandate of the Advisory Council on Deep Space Healthcare is now complete. Hurray! Our report, entitled Health Beyond, advocates for a national alliance of space, healthcare and innovation partners to pursue audacious goals – to elevate Canada’s capability as a leader in deep space exploration and to improve the delivery of healthcare to underserved regions of our nation.
Working with the Health Beyond team on this endeavour and getting to know the Council members have been gratifying. While not all members had backgrounds in space or healthcare, they were all quick learners and adept at grasping the big picture. I recall one of our early meetings when a member enthusiastically exclaimed, “What we are doing here is not only about space exploration. This is firstly and most importantly about nation-building.”
The Health Beyond report is admittedly lengthy and detailed. However, if you have an interest in the exploration of deep space or in addressing issues of access, equity and healthcare outcomes, then you may wish to glance through it. Everything that the Council proposes in our report is based on principles of collaboration – collaboration across disciplines, cultures, sectors, regions and international borders. And if you are really limited for time, then I’d recommend reading just the Foreword and Executive Summary.