Here we've provided the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Voluntary Code:
The Sport and Recreation Alliance played a pivotal role in pulling together representatives from: Birkbeck, University of London; the British Olympic Association; the British Paralympic Association; SkillsActive; Sport England; and UK Sport to support the development of a Code for our sector.
The Code was discussed and developed further through the Sport and Recreation Alliance Governance Stakeholder Group and a final version was agreed and published in 2011. The final draft of the Code was based on feedback received from 81 organisations, of which 85% said they would sign-up to the Code and over 60% felt that the principles captured the essence of good governance in the sector.
Whilst no changes have been made to the substance of the code, this refreshed second edition now contains case studies looking at how the code has been applied by organisations across the sector since its introduction in 2011. It is also accompanied by a range of new resources to help organisations implement the code, and a detailed impact study carried out by Birkbeck, University of London on behalf of the Alliance.
The Voluntary Code was launched in 2011 in response to a large body of evidence that suggested the sport and recreation sector would benefit from a single model of good governance. In leading its development, the Alliance was able to bring together the whole of the sector, not just publicly funded organisations, to create a code of good practice that reflects the diverse needs of over 300 bodies.
A significant amount of public and Lottery money is now invested in sport and recreation, and it is right that these funds are protected. By setting governance standards as part of the funding agreement, Sports Councils can ensure their investment is being properly managed. However, a number of organisations have preferred the voluntary approach as this enables greater buy-in from members and stakeholders, and highlights their own commitment to improvement, not just meeting funding requirements. In doing so, they have met all the required governance standards of Sports Councils but with far greater impact due to the internal drive for good governance.
In 2014, the Alliance commissioned Birkbeck University to carry out an independent impact of the Voluntary Code since its launch in 2011. The findings were significant with 95% respondents stating the Code had been effective or very effective in assisting good governance. Moreover, 3 out of 4 respondents said implementing the Code had had a positive effect on their whole organisation. Whether in receipt of public funds or not, organisations that sign up and take action have shown the Code can make a difference to their organisations.
Signing up to the code is not restricted to Alliance members. Any national or regional organisation with sport and recreation as its core purpose, or which uses sport and recreation to achieve community or social enterprise aims, can sign up.
Organisations can be unincorporated associations, charities or companies of any form operating in the voluntary, private or public sectors. However they must have control of their own affairs, as set out in a constitution or similar. Otherwise many of the Principles could be inapplicable and they will be unable to take the actions necessary to implement the Code.
Individual clubs should seek sport-specific governance guidance from their own governing body. This will provide a more detailed coverage of any administrative requirements made upon clubs, as well as covering any specific requirements of NGB affiliation. Some governing bodies have started the process of applying to their region and clubs, as this enables consistent application of good practice within their sport or recreation.
Signing up to the Code is a commitment to improvement. You are aiming to bring to life the Principles of the Code in a unique way that suits your organisation. It is an aspirational sign up that is driven by your own desire to be a well-governed organisation. Sport is not a regulated sector and, as the role of the Alliance is to support and guide sport and recreation bodies, you will not be subject to monitoring or inspection by a regulator. The Alliance may ask you for examples of how you have implemented the Principles to share with other organisations and we will be available to provide support if you need it.
Signing up to the Code is a commitment to using the Principles as benchmarking tool – assessing how well you are doing against good governance practice; and a planning framework – what steps you will take to address gaps and create positive change. There is no timeline for implementation and signing-up is a statement of intent which your members, partners and stakeholders will expect to be followed by constructive action.
The Code was designed with the intention of helping organisations in three ways. First, by signing up and taking action the sector will reduce the risk of external regulation and legislation – in other words the specificity and autonomy of sport and recreation will be protected and you will continue to be guardians of your future. Second, good governance is fundamental to sustainable development as you put in place systems and processes that underpin good working practice and make your organisation more efficient. Third, the Code will give you credibility with participants, funders and commercial partners building their confidence in you and strengthening the relationships.
In order to sign-up to the Code you should undertake the following:
1. Discuss the Code at a Board meeting and achieve Board approval that you will sign-up and examine the Principles in terms of what they mean for your organisation
2. Include the Code as an objective in your strategic plan
3. Select an individual in your organisation to take responsibility for the Code
4. Contact the Alliance to confirm commitment to working on implementing the Principles throughout your organisation
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Signing up to the Code is not an indication that everything in the Code has been achieved. Neither is it an indication that you will put in place a plan to achieve everything that is listed in the Code. Governance should not be about ticking a list. The Code includes Principles which each organisation must first review and against which it should benchmark itself before priorities.
Implementation is what works best for you. The practical considerations are suggestions of the ways each Principle can be implemented and are not to be regarded as a checklist of what needs to be done. Signing up to the Code is a statement that says your organisation is prepared to think seriously about governance and to bring the Principles to life in a way that suits your organisation.
Signing up to the Code is signing up to all of the Principles. It is not signing up to all of the practical considerations. The practical considerations are presented as ways in which an organisation may want to implement the Principles. If the practical considerations outlined under one Principle do not fit with your organisation then you should be asking why they do not fit. Is it because you do not practice the Principle or is it because you practice the Principle in a different way? You will certainly want to prioritise Principles within a structured action plan, whilst remembering that the Code as a whole, and all seven Principles, represent best practice.
Achieving the Principles is about making them work for your organisation and it is the process itself which is important whether this is a facilitated Board session, consultation with stakeholders or strategic reviews; each step can engage people in a brighter future through good governance.
Governing bodies and Individual Board members can also access tailored training developed by the Alliance with sector leaders such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), National Council of Voluntary Organisations and others. Workshops and training sessions are held throughout the year which focus on individual Principles and the issues organisations have highlighted as important.
The Code is developed as a self-regulatory tool. It is not presented as a checklist and therefore it is not appropriate or possible for an outside organisation to audit performance. The Code relies on self-assessment allowing each organisation to determine how well it is performing against each of the Principles and outline where it will focus attention and resources. The Alliance may ask for case-study examples of practices that can be shared with other organisations as ideas for implementing the Code and, equally academic institutions may want to develop research and evidence projects to indicate how well an organisation has embraced the Code. Essentially, compliance with the Code will be measured by the organisation itself.
In total, 105 organisations have signed up, representing a mixture of funded and unfunded organisations across a range of activities.