This seminar discussed some of the key concepts that underpin collaborative leadership in public service settings and reflect on what this means for practitioners.

The Scottish Approach to public service reform places significant emphasis on partnership and collaboration. Successfully reforming public services therefore calls for a kind of leadership that fosters and promotes partnerships and collaboration within, between and beyond individual services.

Angela Leitch, chief executive of East Lothian Council, speaking at the seminar

Angela Leitch, chief executive of East Lothian Council, speaking at the seminar

Participants in this seminar discussed some of the key concepts that underpin collaborative leadership in public service settings and reflected on what this means for practitioners. They explored the evidence to learn / understand how leadership affects change around public service reform (PSR) when working within the complex dynamics of public services.

Building on short inputs by leading thinkers, policymakers and practitioners, participants engaged in group discussions that aimed to rethink the future of public service leadership in Scotland.

The seminar took place on Tuesday 10 October 2017 at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.


Introduction and research perspectives

The event was introduced by Professor Chris Chapman from What Works Scotland and Policy Scotland and Professor Nick Bland , formerly of what Works Scotland, with a presentation about research perspectives on public service leadership (PSL).

Chris Chapman looked at both theoretical and empirical perspectives about what works in leading public service reform. Drawing on some emerging findings Chris explored the relationship between the move from traditional cultures served by bureaucratic public services to systems underpinned by partnership and collaboration with the capacity to improvement themselves. He highlighted the leadership necessary to support this transformation and some of the issues, tensions and dilemmas we are likely to experience as we move forward.

Nick Bland described an approach to supporting collaborative leadership practice. Pioneering Collaborative Leadership is an experimental development initiative from Workforce Scotland. It offers advanced facilitation to support collaborating groups to reflect on their active experience of working together, both as individuals and collectively. The presentation illustrated the approach with a short case study and identified wider lessons for collaboration and leadership practice.

Views from the field

Angela Leitch, Chief Executive of East Lothian Council, on collaborative leadership.

She looked at how the necessity of local authorities to work with others to address the needs of local communities has become more of a priority within the current context. Working in partnership to deliver results has to, and does, take place at many levels and with a diverse range of stakeholders. Making things happen in collaboration with others requires a skillset that challenges the traditional characteristics of leadership requiring greater appreciation of the ability to see issues from the perspective of others, a willingness to compromise and a determination to “stay with it.”

Sue Brookes, former governor in the Scottish Prisons Service, currently on secondment to Education Scotland.

She gave an overview of work undertaken in HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont over the last five years to develop a Learning Environment for young people in custody. It reflects on:

  • why change was needed
  • what action was taken
  • what was learnt about change management in a complex and high risk environment
  • what worked in practice, and
  • how strategic partnerships contributed.

She also reflected on her experience as she moved from the Scottish Prison Service to a cross-sector secondment with Education Scotland and the potential opportunities for shared organisational learning, including potential operational and strategic implications and next steps, underpinning issues for the education system in respect of the equity agenda and the implications for partnership working towards equity.

The presentations were followed by a facilitated carousel group discussion tackling the following questions:

  1. What are the key messages you took from the inputs and how do they resonate with your experience as a leader in Scotland?
  2. What are the key barriers and enablers to developing collaborative approaches to leadership practice in Scotland?
  3. What systems and structures are needed to promote authentic collaborative leadership in Scotland?
  4. Should communities play a role in public service leadership?  If so, what should this look like?
  5. What are the key professional learning needs of public service leaders? How best might we build representative (e.g. gender, ethnicity) leadership capacity at all levels within Scottish public services?

The responses to these questions will be used to inform a future publication from What Works Scotland on public service leadership.

The round-up and concluding remarks were by Professor Nick Watson.


Related resources

What Works in Public Service Leadership: Exploring the Potential

This literature review aims to provide an understanding of the forms of leadership that are necessary for the future of Scottish public services. It presents an overview of key concepts that underpin collaborative leadership in public service settings and reflects on emerging themes identified by What Works Scotland that support change around public service reform.