Further reflections on Workforce Scotland

Anna FowlieToday, Anna Fowlie, CEO of SCVO shares her reflections on Workforce Scotland, inspired by last weeks blog by Janet Whitley. Anna chaired the Workforce Scotland Steering Group from 2015-2018.


Janet’s thoughtful reflection gave me pause to think back on my involvement in Workforce Scotland and the progress we’ve made over the last few years.

My involvement started with the unfortunately named “Colloquium” and then the first steering group, chaired by the inimitable Justine Curran, then chief constable of Tayside Police. Justine described it as knitting fog. While we weren’t totally great at concrete actions, some things did happen around collaborative learning, Skilled Workers, Skilled Citizens and Employee Engagement. And we were united by a determination to change things.

My determination has always been to get people working in public services, whoever they were employed by, to feel they were working for the people of Scotland first and foremost and to sign up to a set of shared values (preferably those on the Scottish mace). We’ve yet to crack that nut.

How we’ve gone about things has always been a bit unorthodox, and I for one have always found the “kaftan of weirdness” a wee bit itchy and ill-fitting. It didn’t always sit well with colleagues across different sectors, but there were always a brave few who were prepared to give it a try. And that’s what we have relied on – people giving stuff a try. If it worked, great; if it didn’t, learn and move on.

Things are in a different place now. We might not have fully implemented the Christie Commission’s recommendations but we now have a much clearer focus on the citizen and an acceptance that the workforce has to be right at the heart of reform, not an afterthought. That’s got to be a good thing and I look forward to seeing more progress.


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.


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 http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/07/the-second-time-you-create-that-breakthrough.html

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

Stepper, J. (2014). The 5 elements of Working Out Loud. JohnStepper.com. Accessed on 14 July 2016 from http://johnstepper.com/2014/01/04/the-5-elements-of-working-out-loud/