New Dates: Dialogic Core Concepts Training

The Dialogue Community of Practice offers Core Concepts training, where we focus on Dialogic Principles. Dialogue is an effective way to hold discussions and approach difficult situations in the workplace. It can help to get to the root of complex issues and allow people with differing opinions to think and work more effectively together.

The Dialogue approach can create a better understanding of perspectives. It requires individuals to know and share their own views clearly and importantly, understand and work with other people’s points of view. The balance struck can lead to new and innovative solutions being co-created. Dialogue and emotion are inextricably linked. Dialogue helps you notice reactive patterns and impact these have in the workplace allowing you to work more effectively with emotion.

We are excited to announce that Donata Caira will be facilitating two sets of Dialogue Core Concepts workshops during 2019/2020.

  • Cohort 1: 17th December 2019 and 14th January 2020.
  • Cohort 2: 6th February 2020 and 19th March 2020.

Both sets of workshops will take place at the Scottish Health Services Centre, Crewe Road South, Edinburgh, EH4 2LF.

Booking will be available via the Workforce Community of Practice Website from Monday 28th October 2019.

For further information please e-mail Mark Johnston ( ) or visit our website here.

Deep Perseverance for Collective Leadership

What does it take to lead in times like ours? Deep Perseverance.

How do we respond to the global climate emergency? How do we create a more successful country with opportunities for all that increases the wellbeing of people living in Scotland? How do we recreate our public services so children grow up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential?

Scotland’s ambition for its future, as set out in the National Outcomes is inspiring. We know that doing more of the same but quicker and smarter is no longer the solution going forward but how do we change our engrained patterns of behaviour? When the scale and complexity of the challenges can feel overwhelming, how do we look after ourselves and others in a way that allows us to take positive and perceptive actions?

Part of the answer is that we require a very different kind and quality of skills, experience and mind-set to persevere in our work without succumbing to exhaustion, overwhelm, cynicism and despair. Through the Collective Leadership for Scotland initiative we have recognised the need to take system change work to a deeper level to enable leaders to prepare themselves for the difficulties and challenges they face, particularly where those systems are failing and require transformation.

The ability to persevere in those most difficult of times requires intensive and deep personal work that can be difficult to attend to sufficiently. In particular, the need to cultivate the skills and practices to:

  • use systems thinking to explore relevant interconnections and potential consequences of policies and actions when working collectively on complex problems
  • maintain composure and stay present in difficult situations
  • maintain a stable mind that enables less reactivity and wiser responses
  • act with compassion and insight
  • deal with situations of high conflict, polarized positions and strong emotions.This will be the theme of this two-day event. It will be experiential, stretching and perhaps challenging at times but it is designed to help sustain you in your important system change work. Throughout the event, you will work on your own challenges and questions and also hear from colleagues and peers on how they have been making changes within their systems. More details will be released over the next few months. Spaces are limited so book yours now here:

If you have any questions, please contact Keira at

Collective Mindfulness Network – Reflection from Gita Sharkey, Rights and Participation Team, Scottish Government

For anyone who is interested in exploring mindfulness there is a new collective mindfulness network initiated by Workforce Scotland. At our first meeting in May we started to discuss some big issues around what a mindful nation would look like (including national minimum income, connections with rights based approaches/equality, whether education was fit for the changing world – automation – and what the workforce might look like in the future, how to breach social divides – we didn’t come up with all the answers!!), a mindfulness charter, mindfulness in the context of self-preservation and in how we treat one another etc.

I found it really interesting and thought provoking.

The description of mindfulness on the NHS website can be found here:

You may also be interested in the work of a Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group. Two reports were published based on their work.

Mindful Nation UK (October 2015)

The Mindful UK Report, the first policy document of its kind, seeks to address mental health concerns in the areas of education, health, the workplace and the criminal justice system through the application of mindfulness interventions. The recommendations in this report are evidence-based, sourced directly from experienced implementers, who report notable success in their respective fields and urge policymakers to invest resources in further pilot studies and increase public access to qualified teacher trainers.

Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace

This publication is primarily intended as a resource for those developing a business case for mindfulness training within their own organisation. It provides an updated summary of the research evidence, narrative rationales addressing different organisational needs, case studies and a range of toolkits to help with programme planning, implementation and evaluation.

The document has been developed by a volunteer working group convened by the Mindfulness Initiative and made up of champions from private sector companies including BT, EY, GE, GSK, HSBC and Jaguar Land Rover, supported by leading workplace mindfulness trainers and researchers. In response to the findings and recommendations of the Mindful Nation UK report, the group has tried to address the lack of publicly available information about implementing best-practice mindfulness training in the workplace, and encourages organisations to evaluate their programmes in order to develop the evidence base. It will be iteratively developed over time as capacity allows.

Current version: 1.1 (October 2016)

The next meeting is on 30th October, and open to anyone across public services who is interested in how we can become a more mindful nation:

Gita Sharkey Scottish Government

Play and procurement: reflections on Fire Starter 2019

This year’s Fire Starter Festival ran from 28th January – 8th February. It’s a Scotland-wide celebration of learning events hosted by organisations across the country, from large public services to smaller groups, such as social enterprises and community organisations. Why does the festival have a fire theme? Well, the festival celebrates that creative, innovative energy that transforms who you are, how you work and the changes you spark among your colleagues or communities to help our public services change for the better. It might be a spark, glowing embers that fade and light up again, or a roaring hearth.

Last year’s Fire Starter got us buzzing about Year of Young People 2018 and soon after, our thinking cogs were whirring about how we could contribute in 2019 for the festival’s focus on Scotland’s National Performance Framework. This year we created a workshop using our tabletop Higher or Lower game to build a conversation around the framework’s strands about poverty and inequalities, communities and education. Read on for our thoughts and reflections on how it all went.

                                                         Fire Starter Festival

The event took place on 7 February, with colleagues at Bridgeton Library. Festival goers and local citizens were invited to play our Higher or Lower game, the aim being to test their knowledge and build a conversation about how we really understand what’s happening in our communities to achieve positive changes and reduce inequalities.

Fire Starter Festival Image 2

What we got was a fantastic, intergenerational audience of local children and adult festival participants. The conversation was captured by a team member using graphic facilitation skills, who noticed that young people in the audience clearly knew a lot about Bridgeton, and when it came to their local knowledge, they often knew more than the adults. Children seemed to get a confidence boost that their knowledge about Bridgeton often matched official statistics and they went beyond the numbers to discuss examples of how and why their daily lives mirrored or contrasted with trends. It was an eye-opener for the whole group and highlighted the importance of intergenerational learning for understanding communities.

It was a surprise for us to discover that the game works so well with a mix of ages. We think that the reason it works is because the game encouraged young people and adults to have a conversation about their neighbourhood that they might not otherwise create. We are using this learning to think about how the game can be played with other intergenerational audiences as part of our work.

Fire Starter Festival image 3

During the festival, Janet Robison, our Office Manager also attended Kindness – The Human Aspect of Procurement. Here are her thoughts:

“There are many ways organisations can put kindness into practice throughout their procurement stages. Many smaller/medium-sized organisations experience frustrations which include a lack of understanding of processes, with little or no human interaction – more often, communication is done via email and online systems. This approach places unnecessary barriers for small/medium organisations who don’t understand the functions of a larger organisations. My take-away messages were that the GCPH can contribute to kindness within procurement interactions by ensuring that all organisations we work with are aware of each stage of the process. Also, we need to be mindful when using words and terms that may not be widely understood outside our organisation.”

So, wherever you are in Scotland and whether you are a first-time festival goer or a seasoned participant, we’d encourage you to apply to host an event next year and support your colleagues to attend. We found hosting an event surprised and challenged us to think about how we develop our resources, like the Higher or Lower game. Whatever you get up to, in the spirit of Janet’s reflections, let’s be kind and speak to our colleagues in person where possible.

Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners


Would you like to be part of a team of Collaboration and Transformation Partners, working together across public services to support transformation for sustainable public services, influencing the future of Workforce Scotland and creating excellent learning opportunities?

What does Workforce Scotland offer?

Workforce Scotland was developed through the Scottish Leaders Forum (SLF) as a collaborative network which works with public services to collaborate on complex, systemic issues in service of wider public service transformation. The Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services (Christie Report 2011) contained strong themes of collaboration and participation and these have been prominent drivers in our work since our inception.

Our delivery model works on the basis of identifying the skills and capacity we already have in public services, identifying together where these can best be applied and working together to provide opportunities for learning and development. We recognise that leadership occurs at all levels across our public services and very deliberately seek to offer opportunities which respond to this, thinking beyond the hierarchies and structures to focus on systemic issues of transformation.

We have developed our offer building upon relevant theoretical concepts, such as complexity, action inquiry, group dynamics, systems and relational leadership and these elements permeate our work.

How does Workforce Scotland work?

The principles of co-design and co-delivery sit at the heart of everything we do and there has been ongoing, regular interaction with public service colleagues and organisations through our growing suite of offers, our Steering Group and our events.

Workforce Scotland is supported by the Ingage Division within Scottish Government, with resources offered through a variety of routes, e.g. expertise, time, capacity, from across public service partners in service of shared development outcomes. The work we do takes various forms, but always has the opportunity to be initiated and led by partner organisations, responding to particular development needs or identified policy priorities, in the broad context of public service transformation.

Some of our Current Work

  • Collective Leadership – a structured 3-year programme to build capacity for Collective Leadership for Scotland
  • Facilitation Networks in Glasgow and Edinburgh – drawing together colleagues involved in facilitation to share and develop practice
  • Firestarter Festival – curating an annual Festival of Innovation and Creativity across Scotland
  • Dialogue Community of Practice – supporting theory and practice of Dialogue in service of more effective conversations
  • Scottish Coaching Collaborative – creating opportunities and a mechanism to share our coaching capacity across public services
  • lab (with MIT) – Prototyping a u.lab movement in Scotland for Social Change
  • Breakfast Clubs and Conversation Cafes in locations across Scotland
  • Mindfulness practice – Exploring how we can embed mindfulness practice in our leadership work
  • Leadership Exchange – a mechanism for brief exchanges to experience different perspectives

Workforce Scotland also creates a focus for thinking and learning about collaboration across public services, working out-loud and sharing our stories as we go, through reports, blogs, tweets and events and connecting with a wide range of diverse development activities offered through partner organisations.

What next for Workforce Scotland?

We have learned a lot over the last six years about collaborative development across public services and are poised to build from this learning. We are also currently experiencing a high level of interest in our work, with the potential being seen to build from what we have achieved with Workforce Scotland to create a stronger and more sustainable model for the future. We are very keen to continue to engage with our colleagues and partners as we begin to imagine the possibilities for what Workforce Scotland can be next.

Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners

At this important point in our development, we are keen to draw together a team of Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners from across our public services. We are determined to make sure that the next stage of development for Workforce Scotland responds well to the needs across our sectors and that we take whatever opportunities we can to connect well and pool our resources and talent around key themes for delivery. The Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners will play a key role in enabling this to happen.

The Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners will remain employed and paid by their current organisation, but will be invited to offer time and capacity to support Workforce Scotland, in recognition that this will ultimately have benefits across our public services. The amount of time and capacity available may vary and will be confirmed on an individual basis. In the past this has ranged from near full commitment to a contribution of a set number of days per month or an offer to deliver a strand of work on an ongoing basis.

The Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partners may contribute in the following ways:-

  • Direct participation in multi-partner development activity for Workforce Scotland, with the opportunity to influence the future programme of work to create strong alignment with what is needed to support transformation across and within sectors
  • Leadership of particular development themes or strands of work, drawing in partners for co-design and delivery as appropriate
  • Hosting elements of Workforce Scotland engagement activities and identifying new opportunities to connect within and across sectors
  • Support for the development of new business models which would be compatible with the work of Workforce Scotland and which would help to support future growth and development
  • Active participation in Workforce Scotland national events.

 We recognise that this could represent a significant commitment, but also that this is an exciting point in our development work which provides a range and depth of learning opportunities for everyone who becomes involved.

If you would like to find out more about the Workforce Scotland – Collaboration and Transformation Partner role, please contact 


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.


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  –

Fires, Fishbowls and Faith – A Week of Leading Dangerously

Fires, Fishbowls and Faith – A Week of Leading Dangerously

Guest blog from Clare Armstrong, Academy Project Manager, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. The Health and Social Care Academy is a programme of the Health and Social Care Alliance (the ALLIANCE) and is a cross-sectoral platform for transformational change in health and social care using the voice of lived experience.

The Academy is holding a series of events in 2018, around the theme of unleashing courageous leadership at every age, and the next event will take place on April 24 from 5-7pm at the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh. If you would like more details, or to find out more about the Academy and our work, please email .

Faith in people. It’s not a theme that surfaces a lot these days. With all the political turmoil at home and abroad it’s easy to sink into despair at the world; unable to see beyond the next story or scandal. By the Year of Young People’s definition I am apparently still a young person, however I must confess that with each new news alert on my phone I feel like five years is added to my age!

IMG_0258But this is what made the Fire Starter Festival this year such a welcome breath of fresh air. The past weeks have been an opportunity to step out of this familiar bubble of gloom and have a little faith in the world. Not cautious, tentative faith with footnotes and caveats – but a bold faith that always sees the best in people and demands that their voices be heard and listened to. Themed around young people, this series of events has not skipped over the challenges that the future holds for all generations, but has placed faith in our collective ability to empower one another and make a difference.

The Festival started in Kelvingrove Museum, with a quote by Megan Whitley that perhaps best summarises my takeaway from the week overall:

“Sane leadership is the unshakeable faith in people’s capacity to be generous, creative, and kind.”

Later, as I wandered around the museum listening to a series of speeches through a pair of headphones, I reflected that this was certainly the type of leadership on display here. Whether it was Johanna Holtan recounting a challenging time in her youth when her mother had asked her “So what are you going to do about it?”, or Katie Slavin reminding us to “always, always be humble”, these were leaders that believed in the people they were helping, and saw themselves not as heroes swooping in to save the day – but enablers standing shoulder to shoulder with others and trusting them to help themselves.

IMG_0253The next day, my team at the Health and Social Care Academy had our own experiment in taking a leap of faith, at our Unleashing Courageous Leadership event. Having heard speeches from five inspiring young people, we had opened up the discussion to the audience through a “fishbowl” format (something completely new to us!), with four chairs in the middle for those who wished to speak – always with one free chair so that other participants could swap in and out of the discussion throughout. We held our breath slightly, hoping that the audience would want to share their views… and were rewarded with a stimulating and enthusiastic discussion around what courageous leadership really meant. In fact, we were so overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to share their views that we didn’t even get around to answering our last question!

IMG_0248After worrying that our fishbowl might be met with awkward silence, the event was a necessary reminder of the importance of trusting people and giving everyone a platform to voice their opinions. In the words of our speaker, Rachael McCully, “if you help young people be leaders, you’ll learn more from them than the other way around”. Well, I certainly learned a lot, and look forward to continuing this conversation at our next Courageous Leadership event in April.

My Fire Starter experience was wrapped up a couple of days later, as I headed to the ‘When Open Government Met Co-production’ discussion. Knowing nothing about Open Government beforehand, it was encouraging to hear of the steps being taken to build “an outward looking government which is more open and accessible to Scotland’s people than ever before”, and the progress that has already been made elsewhere. Who knew that in Norway, 1 in 70 people will hold public office in their life, compared to 1 in 3000 in Scotland?! Clearly we have much further to go, but the passion of the speakers and the examples of co-productive decision-making closer to home gives me confidence that we can get there.

No doubt, Scotland and its young people face huge challenges, and this Fire Starter week did not shy away from the tough decisions involved in pushing for progress. But the overwhelming message was not to let these challenges stop us from having unshakeable faith; in others, in our communities, and ultimately in ourselves. The best vision of our future involves more fishbowls, more fire-starting, and more faith in each other. So, whatever the challenge is that we’re facing, let’s all have a quiet, determined voice in our head saying – what are you going to do about it?

Fire Starter Festival in Orkney

As part of Fire Starter Festival, the Scottish Health Council held Voices Scotland workshops across the country. Today’s guest blog is from Gerd Peters, Local Officer at Scottish Health Council Orkney.


Under an angry grey sky on an icy January morning in Kirkwall my colleague Kevin Ward and I carefully pick our way into fierce headwinds towards the Pickaquoy leisure centre for today’s Fire Starter taster session. We’re looking forward to the day, feeling slightly apprehensive now that this weather might well persuade some in our audience to stay away.


Our aim for the day is to inspire a diverse audience with a shared interest in health and social care to work and learn together in a supportive environment. Besides, Kevin and I are determined to make the most of the potential for team based interactive learning that is the hallmark of Voices Scotland, and with luck ‘spark’ new ideas as to how the public and services can work together well in Orkney.


By 1pm Karen from our Stromness office has arrived and we’ve finished setting up the venue for the session. As Karen welcomes our first guests, we can see others arriving through the panoramic window that looks out over the car park and Kirkwall Bay. By 1.30pm the sky is brightening up with the sun pushing through the clouds, and there are now 11 attendees in the room seated café style around three team stations. Among them volunteers and staff from Orkney College/University Highlands & Islands, the Health & Social Care Partnership, NHS Orkney, Third sector and community groups.


Working from the Voices Scotland course template, Kevin and I had decided to focus on three activities, including working with emotional touch points; thinking about what is effective public engagement; and working together with members of the public and health and social care professionals. This, we figured, would allow everyone to contribute on their terms whilst enjoying themselves and learning something new.


voices 1Keeping our introduction to a minimum, we begin the session by inviting individual participants to reflect on a recent experience of health and social care. Together with saying a few words about themselves, participants are asked to choose an emotional touch point card, and using this as a prop, share their experience with the group. Everyone does and at the end of the exercise a degree of familiarity among participants has developed that sets the mood for the entire session. It also makes everyone aware that beyond our respective roles, occupations and background we are all users of health and social care service in our own right.


voices 2For our second activity we call on the groups to lend support as Kevin charts the organisational structure of health and social care in Scotland on the wall. For this he uses a comprehensive set of logo cards with concise explanations on their flip sides. With the professionals in the room momentarily identifying their place in the structure, the activity inevitably develops a competitive element, which draws everyone into the excitement. Looking at the completed chart we all become aware of the complexity of the Scottish health and care landscape, and there isn’t one among us who hasn’t learned something new.


Our third and final activity consists of a brainstorming session. For this we split into three groups again, each group in turn identifying traits they believe separate health and care professionals from public representatives, and naming benefits and barriers of working together. The task is soon accomplished and the results shared. With participants having worked together so well throughout the session in spite of their differing backgrounds and interests, it now doesn’t take much for everyone to realise that looking out for differences and obstacles is mostly dealing in presumptions and preconceptions.


Calling this into focus we wrap up the session to laughter and an unexpected round of applause!

voices 3
We have achieved what we set out to do: demonstrating the potential of Voices Scotland to empower people who have experienced health and care services to become contributors to making services better


When we say our farewells, the message seemed to have taken hold. Everyone clearly has enjoyed the content and interactive nature of the session, and we have our first taker for the full Voices Scotland session.