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.

Fire Starter Festival: stoking the small fires of change

“We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness. ”  Charles Handy 

Recent research and reports (21st Century Public Servant, and Rethinking Pubic Services) indicate a paradigm shift in public service: one characterised by services co-designed with citizens and with a far greater emphasis on experimentation, improvisation, cross boundary collaborations, and where public service workers “engage with citizens in a way that expresses their shared humanity and pooled expertise” (Needham & Mangan, 2014).


Does this resonate with you and your experience of public service? Whilst there may be consensus on a more human service, the transition can be fraught and small fires of change can be extinguished before they have the chance to burn brightly. However, we also know that there are lots of small fires that are having a positive impact on public service: fires worth spreading.

The Fire Starter Festival provides an opportunity to explore this shift in paradigm. It is unique in that it is being co-produced by services themselves, illuminating the ways in which we are already changing: the small fires that have been kindled; the learning about how these are impacting on professional identity; as well as considering the bonfires of practices and procedures that no longer serve us well. The aim is to inquire into what is happening, as it happens, with openness and curiosity, and a willingness to use the learning to shape the future of public service.

The festival launches on the 23rd January with an exploration of what is emerging for the 21st Century Public Servant and public services – a more human service?  There will be an opportunity to hear about the underpinning research from the authors  of the report and from many services who will be sharing the creative, disruptive and innovative ways in which they are transforming themselves.


Who better to help us launch a Fire Starter Festival, than the Chief Officer for the Fire and Rescue Service, Alasdair Hay, who will be sharing how the service responds to the diverse needs of communities, from engaging with street gangs to homework clubs.

There are still opportunities to contribute and be part of this self-organising fire starting  movement.

Contact Karen Lawson or Kirsty Merriman for information. Or check out our Fire Starter Festival page.


Needham & Mangan. 2014. The 21st Century Public Servant.


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:

How do you light your fire?

This is a question that seemed to dominate my holiday with my new (to me) camper van as my partner and I weaved our way through the Highlands.

Lighting fires isn’t just a lovely addition to a camping holiday, it’s a necessity to ward of the millions of midges intent of eating campers alive. However it is my favourite pastime, and one that I have been giving a lot of thought to both in terms of the practical skills needed to light fires but also metaphorically in relation to public service transformation and leadership and what it takes to create and sustain change: the underpinning aim of the Fire Starter Festival.

There were several things that occurred to me when walking around camping sites and beaches about fire starting. Everyone has their own techniques in terms of preparation – the styles of laying the foundations for fires are diverse and somewhat related to future purposes. Is it a fire that lots of people will be sitting around, or one for cooking, hence the use of flat stones or one where the stones will be used later on for warming up the inside of a tent (my own personal tip for wild camping)?  There was also a much admired technique of building a wall of slightly damp wood around the fire that both acted as a shelter and a means of drying out the wood. Neat. So, having a sense of what purposes your fire may serve is essential but also recognising that these can change over the course of an evening – keep it going to ward of midges.

Workforce Scotland Newsletter – Fire Starter Festival

The latest Workforce Scotland Newsletter is now out! Click here to sign up for the newsletter, or read below to catch up on all our latest events and offerings.

rainbow stripe

Fire Starter Festival 23 – 30 January 2017

Between 23rd and 30th January 2017, Workforce Scotland will be hosting and supporting the Fire Starter Festival, a week-long festival of collaborative learning events, illuminating creative, disruptive and innovative ways in which we can all transform ourselves, our organisations and the wider system.

fire picThe First Minister has provided a clear commitment to empowering individuals and communities to become involved in designing public services. Many people across Scotland are currently lighting their own small fires by exploring genuine, participatory methods of engagement, creating innovative and transformative changes.


The Revolution will be improvised

Recently the stewardship of the Workforce Scotland work streams transferred to a new team at The Scottish Government, and along with it my role as Programme Manager for the Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme and Chief Fire Starter for the Fire Starter Festival.

Now seemed a good time to share a bit of what we are learning on this journey into collaboration, co-design and co-production, and highlight a couple of upcoming events that have grown out of that learning.

What is abundantly clear is that we are all  working in a rapidly changing and complex landscape.  A revolution in public service is underway, but  is there more of a sense of improvisation rather than a well-orchestrated dismantle or restructure?


improvisation 3

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?