Lessons from Wester Hailes in Collaborative Leadership

Professor James Mitchell FAcSS, FRSE


A conversation amongst key community leaders in Wester Hailes on Friday 30th October at the WHALE Arts centre raised a number of key points about what matters.

  • Relationships are key
    Inter–personal relations are more important than institutional relationships and structures. Good personal relationships can overcome poor institutional design. Key to this are trust, openness, shared values and vision. Much of this comes from the practice of collaboration.
  • Community empowerment
    Community empowerment is key – and this means more than listening to the community but empowering the community. There was a very clear sense that the paid staff were on the same side as the community – sometimes this came from having a common common foe.
  • Common space may be a necessary but insufficient condition
    Operating under one roof or bringing people together for joint meetings is not enough though may be necessary for collaboration. Far more important is a commitment to work together – the biggest silos are those in our heads.
  • Boundary blurring
    Institutional structures and professional specialisms are important but we need to blur the boundaries between institutions and professions. Community empowerment is relevant here. The distinction between the community and people working for public and third sector organisations needs to be blurred. This creates meaningful community assets. Ultimately, the message is that teachers, civil servants, fire officers or social workers are all primarily public servants and also citizens/members of the public.
  • Vision and mental space
    Despite the pressures and demands in the delivery of public services in many communities, it is important to find time to think, set agendas and deliberate. Agendas are set locally though there is awareness that KPIs/targets must be met. This allows for a more outcomes-focused approach than often exists.
  • Finding solutions flexibly and taking staff with you
    The focus is on finding solutions and, where necessary, discarding time-honoured but unsuccessful practices. This was illustrated in how we engage with communities. It is important in the process of radically overhauling existing practices to engage continuously with everyone to ensure maximum impact.
  • There are impediments that need to be addressed
    There are impediments in the way of good practice that remain and need to be addressed – more time needs to be spent considering the part played by KPIs, targets, measurements, limited understandings of evidence, institutional arrangements, and attitudes towards risk.
  • What counts can’t always be counted
    While obliged to take account of targets and KPIs, often what really makes a difference cannot be counted or measured.

Thanks to Gillian Russell, Scottish Government, for facilitating the discussion and contributions from Sean Bell, Dr. Peter Cairns, Anne Crandles, Allan Farmer, Eoghan Howard, Inspector Bob Innes, Gordon McLean, Dr Helga Rhein, Veronica Wright

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