Governance & Management

From the outset of a Geopark’s creation, it is extremely important to consider governance and management in the context of UNESCO Global Geoparks, being mindful of the fact that getting governance and management right is the spring from which a successful Geopark flows.


  1. Introduction
  2. What is meant by “Governance”?
  3. No perfect model
  4. What is meant by “Management”?
  5. Management plans
    1. Start at the end
  6. Action plans
  7. Staffing
  8. A wider “Geopark Partnership”
  9. Things to consider
  10. Case Studies

1. Introduction

There are some fundamental things that every UNESCO Global Geopark needs – World Class geological heritage is an obvious one, as is a clear and logical boundary based on geological or topographical territory. A clear strategy is necessary for using geological (and other) heritage to support sustainable development. It’s perhaps less exciting, though no less important, to have a legal entity and a framework to provide governance, and a management structure in place to deliver the work on the ground.

2. What is meant by “Governance”?

Governance might be defined as ‘the system by which an organisation makes and implements decisions in pursuit of its objectives’.

Good governance is the platform for all successful major initiatives and there are some well-established principles that Geoparks can follow. Good governance should be:

  • Participatory – promoting active engagement of its members;
  • Consensus oriented – seeking consensus over command and control;
  • Accountable – having clear lines of responsibility for its actions;
  • Transparent having systems which are clear and it is open and honest;
  • Responsive – being able to adapt to risk and opportunity;
  • Effective and efficient – functioning well, and also being focused on sustainability;
  • Equitable & inclusive – having processes which are fair and just; with broad membership;
  • Follows the rule of law – being compliant with legislation and regulations.

The above should underpin the governance of a Geopark. Examples of practical governance functions include things such as ensuring compliance with national and regional legislation and with UNESCO rules/criteria; setting the setting strategic direction for the Geopark; ensuring financial stability and managing risk.

There should be a clear and uncrossable dividing line between the governance and operational functions of a Geopark management body. Those charged with governance – Directors, Trustees, Board members etc. should focus on those kinds of governance functions outlined above and not step into the realm of day to day operational matters – such matters are the responsibility of officers / staff.

3. No perfect model

There is no ‘one size fits all’ perfect model for a Geopark governance and management structure. Similarly there are no “right” or “wrong” structures. There are, however, some typical kinds of underpinning structures used by established Geoparks which may be appropriate for your Geopark, and these include a Geopark:

  • governed and managed through an existing National Park or Nature Park structure;
  • governed and managed through a local or regional Government authority structure;
  • managed through a charity / third sector structure;
  • managed by creating a new business / partnership structure.

Of these the first three are more common, as they have the advantage of being able to draw on established organisational structures, and in some cases, existing staff and other resources. The fourth option is the least common and may be the hardest to set up. There may be upfront costs of incorporation and establishment, and the income streams may be more commercially oriented.

Third sector / charity governance bodies have legal status appropriate to the country in which they operate. They all have a guiding document (e.g. Memoranda and Articles of Association) that sets out their purpose and how they will operate, who can be involved, how members will be recruited, their policy for managing finances, how complaints are addressed etc.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all structures, so aspiring and new Geoparks may need to consider some of the “pros and cons” and adapt structures to their own national requirements.

Some things you may need to think about as you develop your governance structures:

  • Some organisations, such as governmental bodies, may not be able to draw down certain funding streams or obtain tax advantages.
  • National Parks / Nature Parks may need to establish a separate Geopark Committee or Partnership, which may be separate from the existing Committees in place.
  • If a new Geopark is “piggy-backing” on another designation, such as a Nature Park, it can be difficult to separate the two organisation structures, and there is a risk of the Geopark message being “lost” in the wider organisational responsibilities. However, working with an existing designation boundary can be an advantage as it reinforces the “special” importance of the territory.
  • Charity / third sector-led structures may have a higher reliance on volunteers.
  • Charity / third sector and business-led structures may be able to offer “membership” to partners with a paid annual subscription – a useful income stream.
  • Government / public body-led structures can ensure a guaranteed level of annual income to support Geopark activities through their annual budget.

Remember: All governance structures should have a strategic document that outlines where they want the organisation to get to and how they will get there; a dynamic risk register – updated over time – as a process for managing and mitigating risks to the organisation; other documents as appropriate, e.g. a communications strategy, and interpretation strategy etc.

4. What is meant by “Management”?

Management might be defined as ‘What a group of people, such as those forming a Geopark, does to plan, organise, staff, communicate, direct, motivate and control an organisation to deliver its purposes’

The kinds of things that are management functions are those that deliver the organisational purposes of the Geopark, and include:

  • Creating and supporting the implementation of a management plan for the Geopark.
  • Day to day management and delivery of activity, including conservation, education, tourism projects etc.
  • Raising and allocating resources.
  • Managing and deploying staff.

Good management in your Geopark is going to be underpinned by good governance and good planning. The elements of good governance are outlined above. Aspects of good planning that are essential for a Geopark include:

  • A management plan for the Geopark as a territory – something many partners can deliver.
  • A strategic plan for the organisation – how it will develop.
  • An activity plan for how the geopark team will support both of the above.

5. Management plans

All Geoparks should have a Management Plan for the Geopark as a territory. It is a plan for the area, not a work programme for the Geopark management body or team, and many partners can share ownership of it and its delivery.

There is no set format for a Geopark Management Plan but it might reasonably include:

  • What’s special about the place, including a summary of its geological heritage and other natural and cultural heritage;
  • The policy context including the legal framework;
  • The operating context, including the forces for change, trends etc.;
  • Common principles – e.g. not bringing about one environmental benefit at the expense of another;
  • Who is involved in delivery and how;
  • Vision;
  • Desired Outcomes;
  • Actions (ideally costed, with timescales, priority ranking and responsibilities for delivery);
  • A Monitoring, Reporting and Review process, including success indicators.

Management Plans are not static, they should be kept under review to ensure that they remain relevant, up-to-date and continue to deliver the requirements of the Geopark Networks and, as just as importantly, continue to benefit the territory through sustainable economic development. The cycle of Geopark revalidation provides a useful timeframe to review any Geopark Management Plan, as short term actions are completed and longer terms actions come to the fore.

5.a Start at the end

Too many plans start out with people saying what they want to do – after all, everyone is excited by action on the ground in their communities. However, people should not then be surprised that their actions, good though they may be, do not lead them to a place they would like to be.  So in developing a Geopark Management Plan, it is important to ‘begin at the end’ – start by outlining your vision or goal for your Geopark; from there, identify what needs to be in place to achieve that goal – the “Outcomes”; you can then identify the actions that need to be taken in order to deliver the outcomes and reach your goal.

6. Action plans

An Action Plan is a detailed plan outlining actions needed to reach one or more goals. The Action Plan is usually developed from or within the Management Plan to define the “sequence of steps that must be taken, or activities that must be performed well and completed, for a strategy to succeed

An Action Plan considers details, may help limit-setting for an organisation (e.g ensuring budgets are kept to), and is efficient in that it saves resources over trial and error. A written Action Plan also serves as a benchmark for an organisation’s accountability. Setting goals gives the possibility of your Geopark’s ideas and prospects being brought to life. It creates motivation as it shows progress towards final delivery and provides you with a certainty that the final outcome will be worthwhile, preventing any wasted time and effort. For Action Plans to succeed, everyone needs to be “signed up” to the Action Plan and recognise the structured approach used to accomplish the goals.

Another advantage of Action Plans is that it enables Milestones to be set on the road to final delivery of a project. Milestones can be reaching a certain point by a certain time, such as delivery of the first component of a multi-phase project. For example, preparing all the text and images for a new interpretation panel or leaflet, prior to layout design and then final production.

Delivery milestones also enable the Geopark management to analyse progress, solving issues and making any necessary changes. Finally, on completion of the project, the Outcome can be examined in terms of process, cost and timescale to ensure future similar projects can be successful.

To be successful, it is suggested that Action Plans have the following:

  • Ownership: one person must be responsible and accountable for tracing the progress, keeping team informed, ensuring timely action steps are occurring and adjusting the actions.
  • Action steps should be clear and actionable versus vague ideas or thoughts.
  • Responsibility: each action step needs to have one person responsible.
  • Support: For each action step, determine who will support the person responsible. This can be multiple people. The key is that they are not responsible for the action or final outcome.
  • Informed: keeping the right people in the communication loop for each action is critically important. Key people might need to understand the state of progress around your actions to see how they affect other actions and objectives.
  • Metrics and budget: each action step must have a metric that tells us that the action is complete. For example, if you needed to survey your customers and don’t have the internal resources to run the survey or want to protect anonymity, using an outside resource will require money that might not be included in your current operating budget.
  • Milestone date: date the action step needs to begin.
  • Completion date.

Action Plans can be extremely valuable management tool, creating new relationships as individuals from multiple partner organisations are brought together to create new teams to deliver a project. It provides the team with the appropriate foundations on which to work, therefore prioritising the amount of time spent on each task. This will then prevent any side-tracking that may occur. Lastly, it creates a bond within a team, as each member is aware of their individual role, as well as providing necessary information to ensure success of the project.

However, individuals may find it stressful if they are expected to deliver on a certain task by a certain time. So, management support, team reviews and an acknowledgement that external factors such as budgetary changes may cause changes of deadlines or alter the final outcome or “deliverable” should always be borne in mind.

Many Geoparks find it useful to develop Action Plans based around the four-year revalidation cycle. It enables Geoparks to prioritise and deliver on issues which may have been identified during the first revalidation, so they can demonstrate completion over a four-year period. It also allows for shorter and longer term goal setting.

7. Staffing

There are many different staffing structures in Geoparks, and a wide range of staff capacity. But every UNESCO Global Geopark needs basic staffing – you cannot manage a UNESCO designation with volunteers alone.

Big teams, e.g. in National Parks can deliver a lot of work directly, (conservation, tourism projects, education etc) but they still need to act with partners and communities.

For small teams there is an even bigger need to create Partnership Agreements focused on shared objectives (in the Management Plan). Those leading and managing such teams need to look around their area and see which organisations operating there share your values, and your objectives and create formal links with them. It is always worth remembering that it’s easier to work with organisations who do different things than you, for the same reason with the same values, than it is to work with organisations who do the same things but for a different reason.

In forging these essential alliances with others, it is important to be clear what those partners are doing to deliver Geopark objectives – it is important to make sure partners report regularly on activity to deliver the Geopark Management Plan. Whilst the staff team may be small, the partnership (and therefore the budget dedicated to Geopark objectives) may be large. Having Partnership Agreements in place to deliver the management plan is crucial, with clarity over ‘who is doing what’.

With an agreement in place to act together, with partners using the branding and referring to the Geopark in their work, and agreeing to uphold the Geoparks charter on geological material, the whole investment that can be identified as being the Geopark budget, and what constitutes Geopark activity, becomes much bigger.

8. A wider “Geopark partnership”

Allied to both governance and management, there is significant value in having a wider ‘Geopark Partnership’ as part of your structure. This is an advisory consultative body, not a decision making one. It would meet perhaps every 4-6 months, with the purpose of keeping a wider group of stakeholders informed of progress and allowing partners to report their successes. Such a partnership helps to monitor implementation of the Geopark Management Plan and, crucially, generates wide ownership of the Geopark.

9. Things to consider

In seeking to establish a Geopark, and in operating one successfully, Governance and Management may not seem like the most exciting things, but everything else stands or falls on the basis of its effectiveness.

It is important that you find a governance model that works for you and that follow the principles of good governance. Having a clear strategy for the organisation and a management plan for the Geopark itself, is vital.

Directors / Trustees / Board members’ role is governancethey are not there to perform an operational function. Once Management Plans are agreed, staff (the executive part of the organisation) decide on operational matters and deliver those plans.

Avoid too much authority being in the hands of too few people.

There is no perfect management structure – find a model that works for your Geopark, but you do need your own staff working directly for the Geopark.

Working with partners, ideally through partnership agreements to deliver a Management Plan, will greatly increase your capacity and the effectiveness of your Geopark.

10. Case Studies

The case studies showcase how different Geoparks operate different Governance and Management structures. You can use aspects of these examples in your own Geopark setting by adapting to practical and cultural norms.

  • Case Study 1, shows how a Geopark is managed through an existing Natural Park structure in Italy.
  • Case Study 2, shows how a Geopark is developed utilising existing Local Authority government structures in Poland.
  • Case Study 3, shows how an Irish Geopark has developed with a Community-led structure.

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