Workforce Scotland – Where is that ‘kaftan of weirdness’ now?

Janet Whitley, Head of the Workforce Scotland Team at The Scottish Government, shares her reflections on the journey of Workforce Scotland.


JW profile

Very often there are things that happen in our lives that cause us to look back and reflect, reset our priorities and bring new energy around these. Some colleagues will be aware that I was away from work for a spell last year with breast cancer and that is certainly one of those triggers to think over what is important, what brings me energy and what is it that I enjoy doing.


Exploring Collective Leadership

“Transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems”

Peter Senge

We know that we face a number of complex, wicked issues in Scotland, such as poverty, an aging population and climate change, and we know that no single organisation or agency will be able to tackle these alone. We understand that we must work collaboratively to affect change, and that this work is often complex, messy, unpredictable, and can be difficult to achieve. We know that creating the time and space to work collectively can be challenging. The day to day work can override our best intentions, and we can get stuck in our traditional habits and ways of thinking and doing.CL 2

In response to this identified need, Workforce Scotland has launched a Collective Leadership offer, building on our established Pioneering Collaborative Leadership programme. Collective Leadership is offered to cross organisational groups who are grappling with a complex issue and are open to learning and doing things differently. This offer includes:

  • Skilled facilitation to work with the group of leaders
  • Individual and team coaching
  • Opportunities to develop and share learning

We have been running a few information (taster) sessions about Collective Leadership so we can engage more widely with those interested in collectively tackling ‘wicked issues’ in public services. We’ve had lots of interest from a diverse range of colleagues: those in leadership roles grappling with very complex issues; those interested in how we can develop the facilitation capacity which is central to the Collective Leadership Offer; and those interested in our burgeoning faculty – who will help us develop a systemic model of learning and evaluation.

CL 1

To get a flavour of what it’s like to be involved in this collective leadership work, we have modelled our approach through weaving in the theory with the practice. At our information and taster sessions we invite participants to:


  • use the theories and concepts to critically evaluate whether they are trying to address a complex rather than complicated issue;
  • try out formulating strategic questions which help us develop a sense of inquiry into their complex or ‘wicked’ issue;
  • think about who is part of the collective leadership around this challenge?

Our sessions are planned for a couple of hours but we have found that the interest in the work means that we are often staying on a little bit longer, exploring opportunities and next steps.

If you are interested in finding out more about this Collective Leadership Offer, please join us at one of our upcoming taster sessions:

21 May Glasgow –


20 September Dundee  –

What I Now Know About Lighting Fires

The Fire Starter Festival 2017 drew to a close last month after 35 events which attracted around 1500 participants. Over the coming months we’ll reflect on the evaluations, and have many conversations about what went well, what could have been better, what inspired people, and what actions have been taken to light some small fires of change.  As the inspiration for the festival came from the Seven Steps for Lighting Small Fires of Change, I thought I would share seven things I now know about lighting fires and what it takes to light a Fire Starter Festival.

Public Service Facilitators Network – facilitating the emerging future

We had the first of our public service facilitators network events on Wednesday 18th May, to test out whether there’s an appetite for such a network and what could it look like.

Facilitating a room full of facilitators from across diverse areas of public service is quite an energising thought! However from the outset both my co-facilitator Dot McLaughlin and myself were clear that we were providing a structure for the day and relying on the wealth of talent, interest and enthusiasm of those in the room. This was very much co-production and co-delivery in action!

 facil pic

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.

Dangerous Ideas and Starting fires…

‘Days of Danger’ have come to Scottish Government!

I’m sure every day, is a day of danger for someone in Government but these particular days were created to stimulate and identify ideas that could challenge our thinking and orthodoxies of working in a large organisation, such as the Scottish Government. We asked “What is your dangerous idea for the Government as an organisation that we work in?”

Why a Day of Danger? What is a Dangerous idea?

Pioneer Peer Learning Network – 30 November 2015

A major element of the Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme is sharing the learning from the Pioneer Sites through a Peer Learning Network which is programmed to meet three times during this year of learning.

The first Peer Learning Network meeting happened in June 2015. Our focus was hearing stories from people who helped develop the initiative. Those who came also generated lots of questions, which we grouped into themes which began to show the hot issues that many of us are eager to delve into together as we learn about ‘what works’ in collaborative leadership.

On 30th November, you are warmly invited to come along to our next Peer Learning Network, from 1.00pm – 4.30pm, at Victoria Quay, Edinburgh.

Our intention is to build on the buzz, and themes of our first gathering, in ways that welcome newcomers, share recent news and thinking. This will hopefully help us all to then delve into some of those hot or tricky issues by learning directly from the experience of people working in pioneer sites. As before, our focus will be on stories – sharing our own, hearing others, and practising story-telling as a practice of action inquiry. Expect a content and networking-rich event – sign up soon to secure your place. We will be hearing from Pioneer Sites, like the Musselburgh Total Place Project on how Enabling Collaborative Leadership has helped them so far.

The Musselburgh Total Place Project have been actively inquiring into families experiences of receiving public services. Using a variety of methods they have been considering two key questions:

– What is like to “me” in this family? What does it offer me?
– What is like to be a practitioner working with this family?

At our Enabling Collaborative Leadership Peer Learning Event on 30th November we will be hearing from members of the Board, and the Project team and the facilitators about what it’s like to be part of the Pioneer Programme and what difference this has made. By working collaboratively what ideas have emerged and what might they do differently?

This is a fantastic opportunity to hear about their learning journey and engage in conversations with peers about pioneering work in working collaboratively.

To register for the Peer Learning Network please click the button below.


Collaboration, Curiosity and Creativity – My first month with Pioneer

Thanks to everyone who got in touch about Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme and also to share their stories about collaboration.

It’s now a month since I started as programme manager for Pioneer, and an apt time (as any) to reflect on what I know now, or rather what I have begun to inquire into.

Collaboration lies at the heart of the programme and I don’t think anyone would disagree that in these complex times, with less public resources, and a desire for a fairer society and better outcomes for all, that’s it’s not a good thing.