What tools does a Fire Starter need?

Day 5 of the Fire Starter Festival was an opportunity for colleagues from across public services to come together and try out some of our Workforce Scotland tools. Janet Whitley, Workforce Scotland lead, blogs for us about two of those tools: the Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme and the Dialogue Community of Practice.

We began with a taster of the Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme, which is an offer to work with collaborative teams (‘Pioneer Sites’) across public services on real work issues where there is a need to find different kinds of solutions to complex challenges. The approach is built around a core model of action inquiry, supported through a team of facilitators and a shared commitment to learning as we go.

For me, hearing some of the stories from the collaborative teams that we have been working with really brings the programme to life. This approach has made a real difference to how they have worked and the outcomes they have achieved.

Colleagues from the Musselburgh Pioneer Site shared some of their experience of working with families who were intensive users of multiple services, beginning with the questions: “What is it like to be in this family?” and “What is it like to be me as a practitioner working with this family?” This approach has really changed how they’re thinking about this work.

We then undertook a brief listening exercise, trying out speaking uninterrupted and listening intently. This helped us bring some focus to the importance of listening to inquiry and to collaborative leadership.

There were people from a range of different backgrounds and contexts in the group and the taster seemed to resonate with the questions about collaborative leadership they brought. I was delighted that we even had a couple of participants who were interested in joining our facilitation pool and in exploring the possibility of becoming Pioneer Sites.

The session on Dialogue built from this, exploring with the group how the nature of our conversations and the roles and patterns that we adopt can make a real difference to the results that we achieve. We talked about our use of advocacy and inquiry in conversations, all recognising situations where too much of either element could lead to some very frustrating results!


We then had some practise conversations in groups, observing the roles and stances that we were adopting and recognising the elements that could get us stuck, or that could really help us to have productive conversations.

As with all of the Workforce Scotland events, the real joy is the opportunity to meet colleagues from a range of different sectors and to explore together how each of us can influence public service transformation.  This session didn’t disappoint on that score.

Janet Whitley


  1. Janet Thank you for these notes on a couple of sessions I had initially registered for, but then had to miss. I now have a much better feel for what was covered, and I’m rather sorry to have missed what I anticipate were pretty juicy conversations.

    Feeling into points about the Enabling Collaborative Leadership session I would have appreciated the deep active listening practice… it is a way of better noticing or sensing the ‘inner-goings-on’ that connect to the ‘out-comings’, and if it is then scaled up from the individual to the collective it can facilitate what I call ethos-making. Collaboration, it seems to me, benefits from not only some good institutional ethos-making, on the outside, but also from some good culture-making on the inside – what one of my influencers (Ken Wilber) would term ‘an intersubjective accord in the noosphere’. All of this could be framed in terms of good ‘work-place-making’.

    In terms of the Dialogue session, I’m guessing I’d also have been exploring the placemaking connection (placemaking involves, at the outset, the design of a good space for dialogue, where shared meaning-making is facilitated, en route to framing collective action). How can we best transform a dialogue space to a dialogue place? Perhaps by seeing ourselves as being in the space-place transformation business, attuning to the people-in-place, and to the placemaker in us.

    Advocacy and Inquiry would have triggered some generative exploration on my part. Having taken part in Nick Wilding’s Thursday workshop, on story-telling, I might have wanted to try some reframing of advocacy in such terms… beginning with an interest in one’s story, and then with a curiosity around our story… and expecting that any ‘advocacy’ – and probably much else besides – would get incorporated somehow. This would potentially yield more understanding, and possibly even more insight on related over-standing, inner-standing and outer-standing in each of us.

    Inquiry for myself has become a touchstone whenever I feel I’m being drawn into too quick judgment of a person or situation. At some point in my life I was given the advice to shift from judgment to curiosity in such situations. I think this then calls for a focus on good honest open questioning – to better understand (or overstand). I now often work through a continuum of sorts when it comes to ‘inquiry’ – beginning with cynicism, which I can’t abide, but which may be where folks are at – so I will probably want to encourage a shift to skepticism. And this is when the scope for curiosity really opens up. And when curiosity is flowing well there may be an opening to wonder… wondering as the portal to wider, deeper, higher realms of consciousness.

    Hoping these thoughts/observations are of interest. Thanks for stimulating them. Now I’m curious… :)

  2. They were indeed fabulous and thought provoking sessions – leaving me wondering: Given that change happens one conversation at a time, are we paying enough attention to the quality of the conversations we’re having in our organisations? And what might become possible in the partnership / integration space if we treated the ability to have great conversations as the No. 1 leadership skill and invested in our leaders accordingly??

    The sessions certainly lit a few sparks in my thinking – thank you!

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