10 Five S’s of Governance: Wearing your Scrutiny Hat.

Many years ago, Julia Unwin (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) did a talk at which she introduced her “5 S’s of Governance”. These are five ways or ‘modes’ in which boards/committees or even individual trustees can act or behave.  I’ve started calling them the five ‘hats’ – you can put on a different ‘hat’ each time you want to operate in a different mode.

Here is her description of all 5 S’s (as a .pdf).

It’s worth thinking about each of the 5 S’s in depth.  You might find your board tends to function in a limited number of these ‘behaviours’ and ignores others. Or maybe a particular trustee is strong in one way of thinking but not others.

My suggested technique is to learn about all five and then ensure that each board meeting ‘chooses’ a ‘hat’ to wear for a part of that meeting.  The questions and discussions that arise whilst ‘wearing that hat’ may help you to learn or uncover something or other.  Or perhaps assess your own skills and approach against the 5 S’s.


The description (from Julia):

Boards in scrutiny mode examine the propositions put to them, challenging them and
holding them to account. Scrutinising boards say:
But this really doesn’t make sense. We can’t change our services in this way.
Have you thought of the implications of doing this?
I don’t think you have made the case that…

This is actually quite a common way for boards and some trustees to work.  They review paperwork, facts and figures and ask questions.  But it’s something that can be applied in many additional situations.

Acting as ‘devils’s advocate’ is an approach to scrutiny.

The Charity Commission explains in the Essential Trustee that all trustees should be “prepared to challenge and be challenged in a constructive way”.

Scrutiny plays a part in principle 4 of the “Charity Governance Code” – “Decision making, risk and control”.


This guide is just an introduction to Scrutiny at this stage. The guide will be updated with more relevant information over time and it’s an opportunity for you to suggest your ideas or ask questions to help us grow this knowledge bank.

But for now, put the Scrutiny ‘hat’ on regularly to ensure you operate in the right ‘mode’.