Dr Gregory Borne
South West Life Long Learning Network Response to HEFCE Sustainable
Development Consultation 2005
Appendix 7: Background to the Competencies Lexicon and indicative
project with One Cornwall
Rapid changes in facilitated by processes of globalisation are fundamentally
altering governance structures world wide (Beck 2006; Borne 2009a). These
processes are having profound effects on organisational structures United Nations
through to more localised public sector organisations. Recent government
reports (Leitch 2006; Lyons 2004; Stern 2007) as well as more overarching
governmental policy documents (DCLG 2006; HMGOV 2005) are beginning to
translate these rapidly altering global processes into concrete political
The changing context from within which public sector organisations need to
operate directly effect the types of skills, educational needs and general
competencies that are required to operate successfully and efficiently. The role of
competencies within organisational structures is increasingly being identified as
an important component of organisational dynamics. Whilst competencies are an
integral part of the operational framework of public organisations. They are
however variously perceived and diversely implemented. In order to identify the
competency requirements and educational needs of public sector organisations a
research programme was designed and implemented that focused on extensive
employer engagement. The following will briefly outline the research process.
The primary Aim was to engage with employers to identify and document the
‘Core Competencies’ and associated behaviours required by the Public and Third
Sector in the South West to meet the challenges of 2015 and beyond.
In order to achieve this aim an exploratory qualitative methodology was
employed. This proceeded in three stages. The first, explored the growing
literature base that exists on the role of competencies both nationally and
internationally. The second involved an analysis of documents concerning
competencies provided by the organisations concerned. The third, the analysis of
in depth interviews conducted with each organisation.
To ensure that the total spectrum of knowledge on this subject was used in the
final analysis, a broad literature review was conducted. The plethora of academic
and management books and papers on his topic covers a considerable time
frame. To ensure that the documents written on this topic were relevant and up-
to-date the researchers limited the back ground reading from 1979 to 2006.
Stage Two: Supporting Documentation
Identified organisations were asked to provide supporting documentation when
visited. Such documentation ranged from comprehensive competency frameworks
to vague indications of the role or competencies within their organisations.
Stage Three: Interview Procedure
In-depth interviews were conducted with participating public sector organisations.
It was necessary to select a broad range of public sector organisations. Relevant
organisations were identified and contacted, firstly by email and secondly by
telephone. The majority of organisations contacted were willing to take part in the
project. The programme of employer engagement interviews had to be carefully
managed so group and individual interviews could take place across this large
geographical area. Whilst the interviews remained qualitative and in-depth a
thematic guide was developed in order to elicit the relevant information from
interviewees. The following outlines the questions that constituted this guide.
● Does your organisation have a set of competencies?
● What are the key competencies in your organisations?
● How are these Competencies integrated into your recruiting, appraisal and
● What and where do you document and capture this information?
● How did you select your set of competencies?
● Do you use competencies to drive your organisations performance
● How do you monitor these competencies?
● Do these cascades throughout the organisation?
Participating organisations provided unique insights into the importance that
competencies played within their organisational frameworks as well as in the
public sector more broadly. The table below displays the core competencies
identified by participating organisations. As the research progressed a set of
generic competencies were identified. The following table outlines these
A Partnership H Performance
B Management I Policy
C Leadership J Political
D Interpersonal skills K Project Management
E Communication L Finance
F Managing Ethnicity M Centrality
G Sustainability N Management of the environment
Building on these 14 competencies broader competency elements were developed
along with associated behavioural factors. The resulting competency lexicon is
designed to achieve a number of goals. Firstly, it highlights some generic
competencies and associated behaviours. Secondly, it stratifies these
competencies through levels of organisational structure across the public sector.
And thirdly, it draws together specific competencies that relate to the
requirements of the sustainable development agenda. Issues of sustainable
development and sustainability were found to be an issue that was particularly
required in organisational frameworks. It was found however that there was a
significant competency gap with the regard to sustainable development. In order
to address this issue the lexicon provides competencies on this subject from two
primary sources Firstly, it identifies existing competencies and behaviours that
can be utilised for achieving a sustainable development. Secondly, it draws on
extensive literature consultation to offer supplementary competencies that can be
applied laterally across organisations and vertically throughout the organisation.
In sum the lexicon provides a multifaceted tool, assisting public sector
organisations to respond to contemporary political dynamics as well as offering an
information source for higher and further education institutions for the effective
development of curricula. A significant advancement of the above mentioned
research programme has been an initiative that aims to understand the training
and educational needs of all Parish councillors and associated workers in Devon
and Cornwall. The following section will briefly outline the Cornwall component
of this exercise.
Understanding Parish and Town Council Needs for a Sustainable Cornwall
The project ‘Understanding Town and Parish Needs for a Sustainable Cornwall’
has three primary aims. The first is to understand the educational and training
needs of parish council members, with the goal of developing more relevant
courses and training that will benefit parish council members and the wider
community. This aim focuses very much on the notion of work force development
and responds to the changing needs of public sector workers.
Secondly, The project is designed to help understand what active members of the
parish governance structure feel their needs are within the changing local
government framework. Importantly, parish councils are becoming front runners
in achieving sustainable communities and form a front line vehicle for the efficient
and effective allocation of resources. Results and recommendations from the
project will aid in a more synergistic policy environment between the global and
local levels of government.
Thirdly by understanding issues around sustainable development and
sustainability the project will provide a crucial resource in the development of
higher and further education curriculum that emphasise the importance of
sustainable development in Higher Education (HEFCE 2005, 2008). Furthermore,
the public sector and local government are a significant employer in the South
west as well as across the country as a whole and the identified needs for
increased sustainable development knowledge at the local level need to be more
effectively understood. Significantly, this project will create a higher education
environment that is capable of responding, in a timely fashion to the needs of the
Fourthly the research results will be integrated into the overall competency
lexicon framework creating a robust tool that can be used as a medium for;
Identifying the needs of public sector organisations; Developing curriculum in
Higher and Further education; and the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning
The research methodology utilises both qualitative and quantitative
methodologies. An extensive literature review is carried out that relates to the
areas of theory, policy, practice and implementation providing a comprehensive
and multifaceted overview of the research area. A comprehensive survey is
dispatched to all parish and town councils (as well as parish groups). A
significant numbers of interviews with parish councillors and associated staff will
also be carried out to complement survey data. Using discourse analysis and
grounded theory a robust analytical framework will be used that will address the
From the outset partnership has been fostered with the relevant organisations.
Close ties have been maintained between the South West LifeLong Learning
Network, Cornwall County Council, Cornwall Association of Local Councils and the
Society of Local Council Clerks. All parties have agreed to a Terms of reference
for the project.
The process of employer engagement and curriculum development facilitated by
the South West LifeLong leaning Network will contribute significantly to the work
force development within the public sector in the South West. Continued work in
this area, in partnership with local government and non governmental
organisations will facilitate a review of current skill needs and offer future insights
into the skills and educational needs in the public sector across the region.
Beck, U. (1999). World Risk Society. Malden Mass, Polity Press
Borne (2009a) Sustainable Development: The Reflexive Governance of Risk New
York Edwin Meller Press
Department for Communities and Local Government (2006) Strong and
Prosperous Communities - The Local Government White Paper
Higher Education Funding Council for England (2005) Sustainable Development in
Higher Education http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2005/05_01/ 24/09/05
Higher Education Funding Council for England (2005) Sustainable Development in
Higher Education http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2008/08_18/ accessed
HMGOV (2005) Securing the Future - UK Government sustainable development
strategy/index.htm, accessed 04/08/06
Leitch, S., (2006) Leitch Review of Skills, Prosperity for all in the global economy
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Lyons, M., (2004) The Lyons Review: Independent Review of Public Sector
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Stern N., (2007) Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
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