My first week with Pioneer… Exploring new territory

My first week as Programme Manager for the Enabling Collaborative leadership Pioneer Programme draws to a close so I thought I’d share some thoughts in the spirit of inquiry!

My initial thought –that’s a long title job title that leaves people confused even before I get to the end of it.

Need to think of something shorter! Suggestions very welcome

For those not familiar with the Pioneer programme, it’s about testing out and learning about new ways we can collaborate more effectively in public services.

It’s been an exciting week with periods of high energy, making connections and generally feeling very welcomed by my hosts at NES Education and fellow Workforce Scotland colleagues.

As I am also part of the Workforce Scotland team at Scottish Government, with its aspiration of transforming public services by working collaboratively with Scotland’s communities of place and interest, this raises questions that I’m looking forward to getting to grips with about the nature of teams, belonging and connectedness.

Traditionally I have belonged to one team in one department and organisation and yet I think many of us have a sense that there is a new model of teams based on non-traditional networks emerging, which relies more on issues, themes, and strong connections to others, where there is a common sense of purpose and shared values.

It raises interesting questions about where we feel most valued and what circumstances allow us to contribute and learn?

But, if we are transient, do we miss a sense of belonging to a particular space?

Having come from a role and position that was very action orientated, with a focus on programme design and delivery, as well as managing creative networks, and an education festival, I like a sense of being busy, and I like a sense of achievement of tasks.

So I am aware that I’m holding a space where there are tensions around traditional programme delivery and learning, and something that is ‘pioneer’ – testing out of new models of learning though action inquiry. It would be more comfortable for me to devise a programme and deliver it to leaders, facilitators, practitioners from across public services, but that isn’t pioneering – these already exist.

Part of being a pioneer is to have courage, not to do things the familiar and comfortable way, but to stay in space of uncertainty and disruption, stay present with what is there, explore the unfamiliar and try to name the habits of mind, the patterns and conditions that keep our thinking and practice from changing.

Of course, this isn’t innovation for innovation’s sake , but stems from the  reform agenda started with Christie, and  given a boost by current momentum around co-design, co-production and democratic renewal.  It’s clear that what exists doesn’t work for many, but in creating the solutions we need to think differently, listen deeply and create something new collaboratively.

Emporium of Dangerous Ideas

In saying that, I also bring the excitement, energy and unorthodoxy of the Emporium of Dangerous Ideas, a future orientated education festival that goes beyond traditional boundaries and invites participants to be agents of change. See my animated intro to this here.

I’m currently reflecting on how the energy and diverse evident in the  collaboration with the  creative arts community in the creation of the Emporium  can influence how we can reimagine  public services and how we engage all in co-creation and design.

Throughout the week I have more aware of the crucial role of narrative, storytelling and visual and graphic methods will be in  both gaining different perspectives; but also how they can help simplify the complex.

karenpic2My own graphic interpretation of the challenges and opportunities inherent in redesigning public services collaboratively.

I’m  curious about how these creative approaches influence the development of collaborative leadership and how this  pioneering work aligns with the work around theory U and U-labs (for more information please click here )as well as my own studies and practice in mindfulness.  What’s also been helpful in getting to grips with theory U is reading Otto Scharmer’s Leading from the Emerging from the Future in preparation for my colleague Nick Wilding’s book group, and reflecting on when I have experienced moments of disruption, and what I noticed about my own process of prescencing or abscencing. But of course, I finish my week with a long To Do list including a Pioneer Newsletter, several meetings to be arranged, updating of information about Pioneer (things I can tick off), and huge gratitude that our new administrator Sharyn has also started this week. If you are interested in the Pioneer Programme or want to share your experiences of collaboration in public services, please contact me:  


  1. Karen – looks like a very productive start to your exciting new role!

    I can see that the DYW strategy is going to need much better collaboration among all the agencies with an interest in developing new pathways for young people to enter the workforce – colleges, CS/CDN, SDS, SG, SFC, Local Authorities, ADES, COSLA, Chambers of Commerce, ADES, schools, third sector organisations, SCVO, DWG regional Groups (formerly IIY Groups). So all that your pioneering can offer to us as we try to make sense of the many initiatives and routes will be more than welcome!

    I have been working with a collaborative group to improve e-assessment practice and policy in Scotland. This is a partnership of SQA, JISC, CDN, Colleges, TQFE institutions, NUS, sparqs. I would like to infuse this group with more collaboration (we do a lot of “sharing” at the moment) so I will welcome your ideas

    If you are office-based I can pop in sometime for a chat (and a coffee)

    Best wishes and every success on the pioneer trail!

    Walter Patterson

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