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My organization is in the process of formalizing its shared governance model. What are some important aspects we should consider while we begin to discuss bylaws?


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Bylaws may be either descriptive or prescriptive. Prescriptive bylaws set the rules upon which an organization will evolve, while descriptive bylaws describe the organization's already in place. Many groups prefer descriptive bylaws.

Organizational structure is established based on the design and implementation plan with each part of the structure in place. The bylaws, then, simply define the structure once the implementation process begins. Once that occurs and is far enough along to give evidence of the operating structure that the participants want, then address the issue of bylaws.

Here are a few important things to remember:

  1. Professional governance. Bylaws are not always present in all shared governance structures. They are usually present when professional nurses govern the structure and processes of the organization and disciplines have a set of principles that are applied to the organizational system.
  2. Participation. Bylaws demand that everyone involved participate. By the time you are discussing bylaws, the shared governance structure will have settled into form and be operating successfully.
  3. Accountability. Bylaws need to be accountability-based to exemplify the accountabilities in a defined structure. Set the rules to ensure that those accountabilities are carried out where designated.
  4. Relationship to roles and practice. Bylaws also should be specific to the governing councils. Each council needs its own set of rules and regulations unique to its own operations. Where appropriate, the rules and regulations for individual councils can be applied to the article of the bylaws as a whole, because they affect the division as a whole.
  5. Dynamic. Bylaws describe the dynamic nature of the changing realities present in the organization. Generally, they will be adjusted annually.
  6. Objective and consistent. Make sure that the bylaws address the reality of the organization. Formalize them so they can be used as tools to learn how the organization works, and follow the processes of decision-making identified through shared governance.

Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, CS, APRN, BC

(July 2010)