The final report of the Making Responsibility Visible pilot project unifying the central government’s responsibility reporting practices sheds light on the challenges of sustainable development reporting within central government. Attention has been given to different aspects of responsibility for a long time now, but there has been no centralised promotion and reporting around the issue.
The final report presents a plan of moving forward with the central government’s responsibility reporting. The State Treasury of Finland guides the presentation of state-level finances and operations in the form of financial statements and annual reports. In autumn 2020, the State Treasury will provide guidelines on the preparation of a responsibility report to complement annual reports. Reports on 2020 activities will be drawn up in accordance with the guidelines in spring 2021.
The purpose of the guidelines is to help agencies identify the key impacts their operations have on the promotion of sustainable development. Government agencies are instructed to view responsibility from the perspective of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The views of accounting units will also be heard before the guidelines are published during the autumn.
“The State Treasury aims to expand its annual reporting guidelines to also cover responsibility reporting. Another aim is to support agencies in developing their reporting and encourage agencies to adopt extensive cooperation networks in responsibility reporting. I believe that this is a great step forward. However, implementing sufficiently unified reporting that is obligatory to agencies and departments, and collecting this data at the state level, also requires statute amendments,” emphasises Head of Division Lasse Skog.
During 2020, the focus is on initiating the work that can be developed further later. Due to the broad nature of the responsibility phenomenon, there is no single correct way to report on responsibility. As the final report states, responsibility can be approached from several different angles.
Responsibility creates added value in the future
The next stage of the pilot project examines which responsibility meters could be spread out across all agencies. It is also examined to what extent the existing responsibility reporting frameworks, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Reporting Initiative GRI Standards, can be utilised in the central government’s responsibility reporting.
The assessment of the central government’s responsibility reporting carried out as part of the Making Responsibility Visible pilot project shows that the potential of responsibility is not being fully realised. For example, this is evident in that responsibility is at the core of few agency strategies.
Although many agencies report on responsibility, either as a separate publication or as part of their annual report, the responsibility linked to the agency’s core operations should be studied in a more analytical way. It would help citizens, companies, third sector operators and investors better monitor risks and impacts linked to other than purely economic operations.
Comparison enabled by unified reporting practices
The responsibility reports produced by pilot agencies have allowed the State Treasury to assess the amount and quality of required guidelines. In order to compare responsibility efforts across government agencies and administrative branches, we need to implement a sufficiently harmonised reporting framework that will account for the varying and operating environments of the relevant organisations.
The responsibility report does not in itself solve sustainable development challenges or global issues. However, it can be a valuable tool that encourages organisations to act and examine how the shift towards a more sustainable society can be promoted in different areas of society.
At the initiative of Director General of the State Treasury Timo Laitinen, the Government Finance Administration, Information and Working Life Management division started the Making Responsibility Visible pilot project in January 2020. Expanding responsibility reporting at the state level allows Finland to strengthen its pioneering position in responsibility and encourage the European Commission to report how the EU budget and policy contribute to achieving the objectives of sustainable development.
Katri Kanerva, tel. +358 (0)295 503 364, katri.kanerva(at)valtiokonttori.fi
Henni Purtonen, tel. +358 (0)295 502 017, henni.purtonen(at)valtiokonttori.fi