Public boards of directors face challenges in demonstrating effectiveness and return on investment. Health care boards in particular operate in a high risk service and political environment, where both patient safety and financial sustainability are paramount. The motivation in this article is to make sense of the conflicting and competing theories which explain the purpose of boards, and the sometimes weak and contradictory evidence for effective board practices. The main contributions of the study are, first, the use of a realist approach to understand underlying assumptions behind the main theories for health care boards, and, second, practical suggestions in relation to board composition, focus and behaviours, according to circumstances. Amongst its conclusions, this review indicates that board size should be limited, especially for newer organisations, physicians on boards are associated with better quality of clinical care, and choosing to operate diligently with a focus on strategy and on monitoring, a close grip on the business, and strong support for executives are all important.
- board composition
- board dynamics
- corporate governance
- health care boards
- public and non-profit governance