Accelerating social and environmental change raises pressing questions about how existing institutions can be reformed to mount a more effective response. In this context, goal-based governance has been widely adopted in order to mobilise existing bodies to agree shared goals and develop common purpose. Increasingly employed in sustainability governance at the international scale, goal-based governance concerns setting pan-organisational goals and mobilising to deliver them. There is growing recognition that this approach needs to be downscaled to the local level in ways that can increase democratic engagement in order to realise significant change. This paper examines the opportunities and challenges involved in doing this in Cornwall, UK. We draw on collaborative research with representatives from statutory organisations as well as civic and civil society to highlight: (1) the significance of institutional structures, culture and relationships; (2) the need to adopt innovative participatory methods to engage and enlist civic and civil society organisations in goal-setting; and (3) the importance of ensuring delivery. The paper explores the extent to which local institutions can engage in goal-based and collaborative governance to respond to the challenges of sustainability in ways that reflect specific geo-political and cultural contexts as well as responding to international demands for greater sustainability. The findings provide insights that have relevance for other contexts as local leaders experiment to better recognise, reflect and respond to the social, ecological and political challenges of our time.