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Governance Action Group

Governance Action Group lead, Lorna Jarvie shares the findings from the group

Good governance for reaching our greenhouse gas goals

I had the privilege this year of chairing the SSN Governance short life Action Group. The Group brought together a range of SSN member representatives from across the public sector and also brought in external voices including Scottish Government representatives and Dave Gorman, Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. Dave’s contribution in particular struck a note with all participants. You can get a flavour of that input from EAUC interviews with Dave Gorman and with Former Director of Finance, Phil McNaull. Based upon Dave’s comments, the Group compiled the Top 10 Tips to Build Effective Governance and Decision Making.

Group participants quickly found that while each of their own organisations had different governance structures, everyone agreed on the importance of clear governance to enable decision making and leadership on climate change and sustainability. There has never been a time when this has been more important. With the Greta effect, Extinction Rebellion and declarations of Climate and Ecological Emergency, climate change is rising up the agenda this year with an increased need for action and robust yet flexible governance frameworks to provide for this.

Organisations need good governance structures to respond to the rapidly advancing agenda. This means dedicated structures for governance on sustainability and climate change, clarity on how these structures link to the wider organisational decision making and communications as well as with broader local and national government arrangements, external partnerships and projects. An understanding of how decisions are made and communicated and how change will be driven is important for those directly implicated as well as the wider organisation including staff, decision makers and broader community. Only then can we all understand the gravity, urgency and need for action – and indeed, the need for change.

Reflecting on our own organisational governance

Participants found it useful to reflect on the question of leadership within their own organisation in their annual climate change reporting, providing a useful springboard to consider and review their own organisational governance. The Group set a suite of questions for self-reflection in a flow chart which you can now download. This is intended to help SSN members and others to think though the governance structures they have for sustainable development and climate change, to assist when governance is being reviewed or new governance structures are proposed. The flow chart has been tested by a number of SSN Steering Group members who found it to be a useful point of reference, be it in terms of their own organisation or indeed wider partnership and project structures. It is less about putting concrete answers in the box and more about consideration and self-reflection. We hope it will be of assistance to SSN members.

Future plans

There is no ‘one size fits all’ governance solution, but clarity of connections, linkages and responsibilities are all key for good governance. The Group noted that there are many common challenges which relate to governance going forward. A greater degree of clarity regarding interdependences across the layers of the national, regional, local policy and strategy landscape is needed in order for good governance within and between public sector bodies to be able to support delivery of our ambitious emission reduction targets for Scotland. The Group have agreed to meet again in a year to take stock of progress and reflect on the challenges and contributions we can make at that point. Given the pace of change, we expect progress to be significant and hope that good governance will be evident when we meet again, with further lessons to be learned and examples to be shared at that time.

- Lorna Jarvie, South Ayrshire Council, Governance Action Group lead

With thanks to all group participants:

Louise Cox (Scottish Borders Council), Kate Dapré (NHS Scotland), Alison Hunter (Skills Development Scotland), Jenny Jamieson (Scottish Funding Council, EAUC Outcome Manager), Rebecca Petford (EAUC) Annika Schwochow (Skills Development Scotland), Charlotte Wallace (Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park), Kelly Wiltshire (Nestrans)


With thanks to Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC) & the University of Edinburgh. Further resources include: Sustainability: Key to long term institutional success, A guide for members of governing bodies, and Making the business case for sustainability, A guide for sustainability leaders