The Power Behind Organisational Integrity

The Power Behind Organisational Integrity

The recent Charity Governance Code‘s revised Integrity Principle represents an important step change for boards. Trustees must not only address power dynamics in the boardroom, but also in the charity’s purpose, practices and its people’s behaviour. [1] 

To support charities, a group of us aim to develop an open-source Power & Organisational Integrity community of good practice and sharing. This blog shares the emerging thinking.


What do we mean by ‘organisational integrity’?

The word integrity has two meanings 1) honest/principled, and 2) whole/unbroken.
This double meaning captures the whole system approach that is needed. Ethics can often be viewed as within a department or a single part of how an organisation works. Integrity applies to all aspects of the organisation.

Organisational integrity is not limited to mitigating and addressing individual behaviour. It is about understanding and addressing overt, hidden and invisible biases as well as power dynamics that perpetuate inequality and harm. It also requires articulating and implementing responsible, accountable, and positive use of power by the organisation and its representatives.

Integrity & Oversight: What do boards need to know?

Three key steps to enable  more holistic, coherent and effective board oversight of the multiple aspects of organisational integrity:

  1. View integrity issues as interconnected and requiring a ‘whole systems’ approach. (thoughts and a framework in this blog)
  2. Know which oversight questions can enable the organisation to move from a patchwork to a holistic and coherent approach (suggestions in this & the next blog)
  3. Understand and feel comfortable using power analysis through shared language and frameworks. (proposed frameworks in the next blog) 

These complex dynamics can be better understood by drawing on the significant work on power by charities in their campaigns and programmes. However, the application of power analysis to charities is relatively new and, as highlighted in my previous blog post, is often myopic, occurring in clusters or silos. This incoherent and fragmented application by the board and executives undermines the organisation’s aims from the start. It can result in potential harm and risk going unnoticed, and ineffectiveness caused by different issues competing for precious resources and prioritisation. It can harm those it seeks to support.

What are integrity issues?
Integrity issues stem from the unequal, irresponsible use and/or abuse of power at individual, organisational and wider levels.  For example, slavery and sexual abuse are a result of broad systemic power imbalances which are exploited by individuals, gaining power from the very same structures that have made others vulnerable to that abuse. To mitigate harm, charities need to not only put in place controls to reduce the possibility of abuse, but also understand the interconnectedness of safeguarding and anti-slavery with deeper power imbalances around race, gender and other inequalities. These same power imbalances manifest in the charity sector as a lack of leadership diversity, pay gaps, and other forms of discrimination and unequal power.

Power analysis does not assume that all power is negative and problematic. By openly discussing power dynamics, charities can address the negative and encourage positive, accountable and transformative use of power.

Which aspects of the organisation need to be addressed?
Charities’ aims and activities naturally fit into three areas: Purpose, Practices and People. Power analysis of these three areas can show how integrity issues intersect across the organisation.

Purpose: Power analysis at this level considers the wider context within which the charity works.  It questions the charity’s aims, legitimacy, theory of change and approach. Responses need to involve and be accountable to those with less power.

  • Core integrity issues include: diversity and inclusion, structural inequality, leadership style, and culture.
  • Oversight questions for the board to ask: How might the charity be perpetuating inequality and causing harm, despite its intention to do good?  How should responsible and accountable use of organisational and individual power be articulated, encouraged and held to account?

Practices:  Power analysis here considers the charity’s activities, partnerships and supply chains. It supports the charity to align and inform its policies and processes across a wide range of issues.

  • Core integrity issues include: Pay equity, diversity & inclusion, human rights, leadership style, culture, social and environmental impact etc.
  • Oversight questions for the board to ask: How can the charity ensure non-discrimination and inclusion in its activities, partnerships and supply chains and be held accountable for it? What leadership behaviours should be set from the top to ensure that there is no abuse of power arising from/inherent in the charity’s practices? How are integrity issues embedded within practices?

People: Power analysis in this context is of behaviour, conduct and culture that shapes how power manifests and is used. It helps organisations understand when power may be abused, and to implement controls or adjustments to mitigate it .  It also enables the organisation to articulate and incentivise people’s responsible and accountable use of their power. 

  • Core integrity issues include safeguarding, anti-corruption, anti-bullying, culture etc
  • Oversight questions for the board to ask: How is the charity learning from its work to address misconduct to challenge existing practices that may enable that abuse? How is the charity actively taking steps to clarify, recruit for and incentivise behaviour? How is it supporting skills and leadership styles that align with the organisation’s view of responsible and accountable use of power?

Anti-slavery, safeguarding and safe programming: an example of a  3P approach

For many organisations, modern slavery strategies sit in procurement teams as this is where they perceive the greatest risk.  Safeguarding, on the other hand, has evolved from the operational side of the organisation to address staff behaviour. Safe Programming, which addresses exploitation of beneficiaries by non-staff members, will often sit in yet another part of the charity. Focus on who does the exploiting rather than who is exploited results in a fragmented approach that is reported through siloed channels to the executive and trustee level.

Alternatively, if charities, took a holistic view of systemic power and exploitation they would more likely identify modern slavery risks with daily agency workers for emergency response work, office cleaners, or domestic staff. A power analysis approach would also help organisations to respond to modern slavery incidents with the same sensitive survivor-centred approach employed by safeguarding and safe programming teams.

Applying the 3Ps to enable a coherent approach on these and related integrity issues

Purpose – An articulation of organisational integrity and responsible use of organisational and individual power will enable a steer to understand, identify and mitigate risk of exploitation.

Practices – Charities look at how safeguarding, safe-programming and anti-slavery intersect with issues such as race and gender, and how those issues manifest in the charity as forms of discrimination, shape its culture and for example recruitment practices etc. Practices are revised in the context of a systems thinking/ whole system approach to mitigate harm and enable positive, accountable use of power by the organisation and its representatives.

People – Once viewed in terms of power dynamics, it becomes clear that to mitigate potential harm, the three issues need to be addressed in a more coherent a

This is a simple framework but it requires a fundamental shift that will require ongoing commitment, self- reflection, and support from donors. We hope that donors will align with the Charity Governance Code’s approach by recognising integrity and providing the resourcing and funding required.

The potential for harm is high with the existing patchwork approach. Undertaking such a significant shift may seem daunting, but it will be less stressful than the current fragmented approach – and more effective. Holistic organisational integrity will enable charities to move from reactive to proactive, responsive to transformational and a gain in supporter confidence, efficiency and impact.

To support organisations in this journey, we aim to establish a Power & Organisational Integrity community of good practice. We invite people to join as we develop an ‘open-source’ approach, building on existing work to support action learning and iterative development.  We want to create a simple approach that accommodates both complexity and nuance. If you are interested to learn more, please get in touch


[i] Charity Governance Code – Integrity Principle Outcome 3.5

‘No one person or group has undue power or influence in the charity. The board recognises how individual or organisational power can affect dealings with others’

Abridged Integrity Principle Recommendations 3.2 and 3.4

  • Regularly check for inappropriate power imbalances in the board or charity.
  • Where necessary, address potential abuse of power to uphold the charity’s purpose, values and public benefit.
  • Larger organisations to have policies and procedures to ensure the charity has regard to the proper use of power and acts in line with its own aims and values
Using the Lens of Power Analysis to Bring INGO Governance into Focus

Using the Lens of Power Analysis to Bring INGO Governance into Focus

In the past two years, INGOs have faced some hard truths about potential harm in their work.  As the former Head of Ethics and Compliance for Oxfam GB, appointed following the safeguarding crisis, and more recently working independently with boards and executives, I believe that INGO integrity is only achievable by putting robust power analysis at the heart of its governance, aims and behaviour.

It’s therefore a welcome first step seeing the  Charity Governance Code refreshing its Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and Integrity Principles. These now explicitly call for boards to understand and address power dynamics. Only by looking at the very core of how organisations work, can we begin to achieve the deep and effective change needed across the sector.

Power analysis[1] seeks to identify and understand overt, hidden, and invisible power dynamics that can perpetuate inequality. As we know, the people who have power may not be aware of the many ‘norms’ and privileges that determine how they are treated – or how they might treat others. Yet the same ‘norms’ are painfully visible to those who are negatively affected.

There is an irony that while INGOs apply power analysis to highlight inequality elsewhere, they rarely apply it to themselves to expose their own inequalities or the ones that they might cause. Thankfully, a much-needed shift has started to emerge. Diversity and inclusion, safeguarding, ‘shifting the power’, and work-culture are gaining unprecedented momentum and being prioritised by the sector. Power analysis is key to actually making this happen.

Currently, if power analysis is used, it is often applied in silos rather than being placed at the heart of how organisations are governed and led.  This siloed approach will likely result in narrow changes, limiting any impact in the face of obstacles within the wider organisation. However, if boards and executives use power analysis to inform not only their representation, but also ‘how’ the organisation works, I believe that an inherent coherence and integrity can emerge. Honesty about where power sits, how it is used, and which imbalances need to be addressed, can bring about deep organisation-wide change. Creating a space for the board to understand and develop this approach would send a strong message that it is a priority and would enable a fresh perspective that can inform and reshape organisational scope, priorities, culture and perceptions of risk.

A couple of examples to illustrate:

Addressing staff misconduct through power analysis

Underlying all forms of misconduct (whether fraud, sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination, modern slavery etc) is abuse of power.  Oxfam GB is beginning to communicate and organise itself based on this insight – resulting in a clearer understanding of misconduct, the relationships between its various forms, greater coherence and efficiency of investigations, and increased confidence from donors. This approach builds on the National Council of Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) Charity Ethical Principles reference to ‘abuse of power’ by adding  corruption and financial misconduct.

For many organisations, misconduct (sexual, financial, discriminatory, and other forms) is addressed in separate parts of the organisation and escalates to separate executive and trustee level committees. This risks potentially disconnected oversight, resulting in a fragmented approach with information falling between the cracks, duplication, and inefficiency. Separate investigations, databases, and oversight structures for addressing sexual abuse, modern slavery or corruption will not see patterns in perpetrators, opportunities for power to be abused, or failing control measures. If the executive and trustee levels view misconduct holistically through a power lens, they would not only have a joined-up picture and steer accordingly, but they could also identify blind spots and be more ready to prevent and address previously missed power abuse issues.

Addressing the unintended negative impacts from an INGO’s activities

As INGO workers, our passion to support the mission drives the strong motivational energy underpinning our work.  This can result in resisting committing to resource-heavy ethics because it diverts precious resources from delivering on the mission. Lack of a board-level steer can result in ad hoc, inconsistent, and confusing applications of ethical principles. This can cause harm and threaten the aims and reputation of the organisation.

A power lens enables organisations to see the connection between issues so that what is delivered is done so responsibly, safely and effectively.  Gender and ethnicity pay gaps, diversity and inclusion, leadership style, culture, human resources, inductions, retention, safeguarding, etc need an integrated approach because they are all part of a mutually reinforcing organisational system. Likewise, coherence is needed across the INGO’s activities – from investments, corporate partners, funders, implementing partners, to suppliers. Power analysis can enable a more joined-up and coherent view of these areas, the INGO’s negative impact and subsequent responsibility in how it achieves its mission.

Power analysis at the heart of governance – the key to greater organisational integrity

Having seen the benefits from this approach, I believe boards can use power analysis effectively to minimise the harm their organisations do in their work, enabling them to be truer to their aims.

As INGO boards integrate the Charity Governance Code’s revisions, I hope they consider power structures both within and outside their organisation. It is a challenging commitment but, I believe, a necessary one. Only by being honest about where power sits, how it is used, whether it perpetuates harm, and which imbalances need to be addressed, can we see a comprehensive shift towards greater integrity, producing a sector that can genuinely build back better for everyone.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is an independent organisational ethics specialist who is exploring putting power analysis at the heart of organisational governance. Do get in touch if you are interested to connecting on this issue and help to develop the approach. She can be contacted at

[1] for a useful summary and guide for applying power analysis is on page 17 onwards