Join the Breakfast Club

Quote from The Breakfast Club: we're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all

Are you trying to do something different within your current system, whatever system that may be? It could be your organisation, the education system, the healthcare system, or you’re starting a new social enterprise.  Are you trying to work in a new way or start something that will disrupt how things are traditionally done?

Being in this space can be exciting, inspiring and challenging. But it can also be frustrating, tiring and, at times, a bit lonely, because others might see you as a bit weird. So how energising is it when we discover others who are in this space too?

If you’re looking for a place where people understand that you’re trying to do something different and can give you moral support, and possibly practical help, the Fire Starter Breakfast Club might be it.

Open badges for workforce development

Big achievement for me the other day. I was awarded my TripAdvisor ‘Senior Contributor’ badge for writing my twentieth review on the site.


Hell yeah!


And it felt significant that that review came courtesy of an overnight stay in Glasgow to attend the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) ‘open badges external stakeholder group’.

I was very skeptical about ‘open badges’ when I first came across them a few years ago, dismissing them as ‘gamification’ by another name. They were usually explained using a scout badge analogy. Which didn’t help me ‘get it’ at all, as I was never a brownie or girl guide.

Then I wrote my first TripAdvisor review. And got a badge! And with that badge came an invite to gain another badge if I wrote a further four reviews. Well, you can see how that went.

So, I began to think there might be something in this digital badge lark. And then a few months ago, Rob Stewart from the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) came to talk to me and some colleagues. Rob told us how the SSSC has successfully adopted badges as part of their suite of digital learning tools for the social care workforce.

Rob’s story was pretty compelling and prompted us to start exploring the potential of open badges.

Hey, back up a bit! What the heck are ‘open badges’?

Well, they’re a bit more interesting and complex than TripAdvisor’s auto-awarded badges.

Open badges are an open digital standard that recognises and verifies learning. Sometimes known as a digital credential, an open badge is an image containing embedded data. The data describes who earned the badge, how, where and when they earned it and who it was issued by. That data can be viewed by anyone wishing to review someone’s credentials.

Badges can link to award criteria and supporting evidence. They can be collected from an increasingly diverse range of organisations. And they can be displayed on social networking profiles, websites, job sites, etc. Open badges enable an individual’s learning or achievement to be represented as a network of connections, rather than a static, paper-based CV/portfolio.

Badges can be ‘stacked’, to build upon each other. In this way they can support learning pathways – with ‘micro credentials’ motivating users to ‘level up’ to a more comprehensive badge.

Badges can be displayed in ways that are appropriate in different contexts. You might not want to display your belly dancing course badge on your online CV (depends on the sort of jobs you’re applying for, I guess…), but you’d probably want to display badges awarded by your professional body.

From an organisational perspective, badges can support better matching of job requirements against applicant skills and abilities. And provide data which can help organisations see what skills they have available or need to cultivate.

Hang on though, surely ‘rewards’ can sometimes have a negative impact on learning?

There is a lot of skepticism about open badges, particularly around the motivational claims made for them. But, as Professor David Theo Goldberg says ”badges in short are a means to enable and extend learning. They need not be behavioral lures so much as symbols of achievement, expressions of recognized capacity otherwise overlooked. As with any means they can be mistaken for ends in themselves, but there is nothing intrinsic to badging that will inevitably make them so. And dismissing them out of court because they just might motivate learning for questionable reasons, […] is to do so at the peril of a good deal of learning they do well to prompt, promote, even proliferate” (Goldberg, 2012).

But, for sure, not all learners are going to be drawn to badges, or find them awesome. Some are going to be down right turned off by them.

So, we’re taking an exploratory approach – with small scale tests across a number of different programmes, learning what works as we go.

OK, fair enough. So tell me a bit more about what you’re doing. 

Here’s a taster:

  • Within the Scottish Government, a number of us are exploring options for badges or are already actively testing badges. These initiatives include:
    • using badges to recognise different phases of a mentoring relationship.
    • using badges to signify the different roles people take in communities of practice.
    • displaying badges on staff profiles on our intranet.
  • We’re also testing badges across a number of Workforce Scotland workstreams, including the Fire Starter Festival and the Dialogue Community of Practice.
  • We’re working with SQA, SSSC and others to develop a national open badges event, that we’re hoping will be part of the Fire Starter Festival in January.
  • Rob and I are talking about our badge experiences at the Mozilla Festival (the world’s largest festival for the open internet movement) in London at the end of October.

But what about the bigger picture? Surely for open badges to work there needs to be widespread adoption?

If the SQA open badges external stakeholder group meeting I mentioned earlier, is any indicator, we may be approaching a bit of a tipping point with open badges in Scotland. There seems to be a lot of activity happening across all educational sectors.

The SQA itself is investigating the opportunities presented by open badges to support learners across Scotland and is encouraging its partners to do the same.

Right, you’ve got me interested, I’d like to find out more.

OK, there are loads of open badge resources on the web. These should get you started:

Great, I’d like to get involved please!

Look out for badges coming to a learning opportunity near you, soon! We’ll post updates and highlight opportunities to get involved here, on the Workforce Scotland blog.

Rob has set up an ‘open badges in Scotland’ LinkedIn group where we’re sharing our experiences of developing badge programmes.


Goldberg, D. T. (2012). Badges for Learning: Threading the Needle Between Skepticism and Evangelism. DML Central Blog 6 March 2012. Accessed on 12 September from:

Supporting online facilitation

In my last blog post, I promised to say a bit more about the projects I’ve got on the go. So let’s kick off with one that’s been brewing for some time, but is starting to get somewhere.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 19.18.32

So, what’s this project all about? Be brief!

Along with colleagues, I’m exploring how we can support people doing online facilitation and/or online community management.

OK, why is this needed? What problem are you trying to solve?

This is my train of thought. I’m making some assumptions here, but I don’t think they’re unreasonable.

1. As technology and real-life interactions converge, the online-offline blur is transforming how we experience the world.

2. In public services, we’re going to find ourselves doing more and more of our engagement activity online (any kind of activity, for that matter).

And we’re going to have to get better at integrating the online and the offline stuff.

FJoitske Hulsebosch talks about ‘amphibian facilitators’ who move comfortably from online to offline facilitation and back again (2012).

3. Online facilitation is a different beast.

Facilitators in face-to-face situations tend to have established roles: providing focus, stimulation for group interaction, team building, refereeing, dealing with problems, timekeeping and so on.

These roles are also needed in online interactions. But the digital space brings an additional set of challenges. These challenges – or, rather, these opportunities – include:

  • Social presence manifests in more subtle and layered ways in online environments.
  • This is further complicated by the way our identities can be and are expressed online across a range of sites and media.
  • We lack the physical communications cues we depend on in face-to-face communication, for both conscious and unconscious responses.

4. The skills needed to facilitate online are different.

A straightforward translation of offline facilitation tools and techniques to online settings, won’t cut it. The skills needed to successfully facilitate online interactions are very different to those required for face to face interactions.

5. People need a bit of help with this.

There is an argument that online facilitation is more of an art than a science. The technical administration functions of the role can be taught. But good online facilitators bring another dimension to the role, ie empathy with, and understanding of, human behaviours and personalities. This comes with experience and can’t be learnt in a course/workshop/whatever.

I think that’s a bit of a cop out, actually.

I’ve done quite a bit of online facilitation over the last few years. I’m reasonably good at it, I think. Some of that may be down to my personality. And it probably helps that I’m quite passionate about the potential of technology. But I have also benefited immensely (and continue to benefit) from the support of other online facilitators. Online facilitation is still a relatively young field, so we’re all learning together.

So, I think we can, and should, offer support to those who are tackling facilitation in the online space. Support that goes beyond toolkits and hints and tips or webinars or workshops. Although, there is certainly a role for those.

What I’m not sure about, is what that support should look like. Exploring that is where I’ve got to with this project.

What are your intended outcomes for this project? What are you hoping to achieve?

The overall outcome for my workstream is something like: “we are effectively and creatively using digital technologies to engage and collaborate.”

For this specific project, I’m hoping that we can get more people exploring online spaces for engagement and collaboration.

That all sounds great. Can I get involved?

Yes please!

Along with some like-minded colleagues, I’ll be hosting a wee slot on online facilitation at our Facilitators Network get together on 28 September. Come along, chip in.

If you can’t make the workshop, get in touch directly. Or join the conversation in our Knowledge Hub group.


Hulsebosch, J. (2012). Social media for trainers: think differently! Joitske Hulsebosch blog. Accessed on 12 August from:

Working out loud is hard. But *so* worth it.

“Our new found ability to share thinking and insights so readily using our online tools is key to solving some of our biggest challenges. Our problems are too big for single individuals or isolated organisations to deal with…we have to get better at working things out together. The hard bit is that this involves working out loud which can feel scary and challenging” Euan Semple (2014).

Working out loud, as defined by one of it’s early proponents, John Stepper, is “…making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities” (2014).

But there are challenges to sharing your work as you do it.

Working out loud doesn’t come naturally to us. We’re generally rewarded for being competitive and for presenting something ‘finished’.

Sharing work while it’s still rough, while we’re still making mistakes, when it never gets finished or goes anywhere, is hard.

But working out loud isn’t about being perfect. It’s about making progress towards some bigger goal or purpose. Imperfection, messiness and getting it wrong are part of the journey. This is how learning happens. As Seth Godin recently said, “we find our way by getting lost” (2016).

And once you get going and build up a bit of momentum, working out loud gets easier and starts to feel more natural.

The more you do it, the more you see the benefits. You start interacting with a broader range of people. They provide useful feedback, connections or other things that make your work better. You collaborate with them and that collaboration becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts.

I was pretty good at working out loud, back in the day. It led to all sorts of interesting collaborations.

Then I stopped being so good at it. Not sure why. I lost confidence in what I was doing, maybe. Became unfocussed, perhaps. I still do it, a bit. Mostly internally. Not very consistently. And I’m not seeing the opportunities or making the interesting connections that I used to.

trello board

It wasn’t that easy to find public service types sharing their work when I started, but that’s changed and lots of my colleagues are working out loud (in fact, you can find some great examples of that here, on this website). I’m benefiting from that generosity, immensely.

Working out loud is becoming a bit of mantra for our team and it’s a key part of ‘SG2020’ – our approach to organisational transformation. I’m always telling others that they should be doing it.

Talking about what we’re doing is more important now than ever.

So, no excuses, I need to get my working out loud strategy sorted.

Here’s a small first step. I’ve recently started using Trello to track my projects. And I’ve gone ahead and made my Trello board public, so you can see what I’m working on.

In subsequent (regular!) posts, I’ll provide more detail about those various projects.

In the meantime, check out the Trello board and get in touch if you’d like to know more about any of the projects. Or if you fancy collaborating on something!


Godin, S. (2016). The second time you create that breakthrough. Seth’s Blog. Accessed on 14 July 2016 from

Semple, E. (2014). Working out loud. The Obvious. Accessed on 14 July 2016 from 2014/5/12/working-out-loud

Stepper, J. (2014). The 5 elements of Working Out Loud. Accessed on 14 July 2016 from

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.

Performance Bonfire

“Performance management feels like something that is done to us – with no benefit for us”

We need the courage to create, permission to innovate and feel like it is ok to fail – above all reward curiosity.”

Chris Bruce, from the Joint Improvement Team, blogs for us about our the first event of the Fire Starter Festival, a ‘Performance Bonfire’, which arose out of a feeling that we need to show what could work as a ‘Scottish Approach to ‘performance’.

Danger Café

Last week as part of our Fire Starter Festival we convened a ‘danger café’.

What was our intention?

To convene a conversation about the need for dangerous ideas to transform public services.

Who came along?

A really good mix of people from Scottish Government, local authorities, third sector organisations and others. It was a self selecting group, so made for interesting conversations.

How did we start the discussion?

The aim of the Fire Starter Festival has been to ignite and share innovative ways of doing things in public services. How might we look at something from a new perspective? How can we become comfortable with uncertainty? How might we navigate complexity?

What happened next?