Tag Archives: learning

Save Scottish Public Administration

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Interview with Steven McCabe, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student.

This post first appeared on the QMU website: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/student-stories/steven-mccabe-master-of-public-adminstration-20180518/

I was looking for a course that would build on my previous qualifications and work experience, as well as increase my understanding of the issues facing public sector professionals and how to best overcome these and deliver high quality public services. This was part of my continuing personal development through my job, but I also wanted to study a course that would allow me to progress in my career as well. Initially I considered studying an MBA, but the direct relevance of the MPA to my work, along with the course focus on social justice and equality really attracted me to study at QMU instead. The fact that the MPA was a taught course, with weekly classes where students could learn from each other’s experiences and engage with each other was a major factor in me choosing to study the MPA at QMU. The programme leader’s knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the public sector was another reason for making this course selection.

There is a level of commitment required to study the MPA, and the workload at times has been quite high, especially as I’ve been working full-time as well as studying. It has been stressful at times, especially when I’ve had really busy periods at work and there’s been assignments due for the course, however, it’s never been completely overwhelming and the level of support, from both tutors and other students, has been fantastic. There’s a real togetherness and camaraderie between students on the course, with the part-time students especially understanding the pressures we’re all facing whilst juggling full time work with study. Through the course we’ve all supported each other, ensuring that we’re all coping with the demands of the course. We regularly chat outside of university if we have anything we’re unsure of. The course really has been a great way to network and make new friends!

The tutors on the course are all extremely knowledgeable and happy to spend time with you if you have any additional questions or need help or support.

This will be my third university degree and the overall learning environment on the MPA at QMU has by far been the most supportive, engaging and inclusive that I’ve experienced.

The course is constantly evolving and improving, with the tutors and the course director especially taking a real interest in the thoughts and needs of students. There have been numerous changes to the course in the two years that I’ve studied the MPA that have been made after suggestions or comments from students. There are regular tutor/student meetings to discuss what could be improved upon or what’s working well, and feedback is always well received and fully considered. Students on the MPA have a strong voice and can directly influence how the course is delivered.

There is also the opportunity for students to go on a fully-funded (well, apart from beer money!) field-trip to Brussels, as part of the MPA. This really brought students and course tutors together as a group, and had a real positive impact on how we supported each other and learnt from each other. There was an important practical element to the trip as well, with it being a great opportunity to see how the things that we’ve been taught in class were being applied in the European Parliament. The field-trip definitely enhanced the engagement and understanding I had of the concepts that we learnt about during classes.

The course has absolutely equipped me with additional skills and knowledge which have been directly applicable in my job. The course also has a focus on improving students’ leadership skills, with students undertaking a leadership exchange through ACOSVO as part of this. I feel, quite strongly, that my performance at work was improved by studying on the course, and becoming aware of wider issues in public administration that I perhaps might not have been aware of prior to studying the MPA. I’ve also been lucky enough to have progressed to a new job while studying on the course, and have just started a job as a Policy Manager with the Scottish Government. I can honestly say that the MPA definitely helped me develop my career and played a part in me getting the job.

 

You can find out more about the MPA on our course page here: www.edinburghmpa.co.uk

 

Make sure to LIKE our Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/EdinburghMPA

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Practising What We Preach

The current academic literature on public administration is full of research on collaborative governance, integrated services and community participation. This research reflects a reality where boundaries between public, private and Third Sectors are increasingly blurred and where services are being redesigned to better meet rising public expectations at the same time as facing the challenges of austerity and Brexit. These themes are all discussed in modules such as ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ on our MPA programme.

From the earliest discussions in developing the MPA programme I knew that I wanted to include the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme as part of our postgraduate degree. There were some important reasons for this: 1) I knew that ACOSVO was an excellent organisation that reflected many of our values; 2) I felt it was important that a public services degree has a strong link with the Third Sector; and 3) I wanted to ensure that the MPA had an appropriate blend of theoretical content and practical application.

All of this was in line with the aims of our MPA programme to enable learners to:

  • Build on their professional experience by engaging critically with, and reflecting on, themes and issues in public administration in order to better shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.
  • Critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration as a tool for public service improvement.
  • Be critically reflective leaders who contribute to the social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve.

Having been through the first year of this programme I am delighted with the results. Firstly, it has been a pleasure to work with ACOSVO. As part of the development of the programme I went on a leadership exchange myself and found the experience invaluable. Some of my colleagues have since done the same and have reported similar valuable learning experiences.

What has been most rewarding about the experience has been the feedback I have received from students. This has been overwhelmingly positive. It has proven difficult for some to find exchange partners, particularly given that our students are conducting the Leadership Exchange as part of the MPA. However, everyone has been matched and all have really enjoyed working with their exchange partners.

Comments I have received include from one student who noted that she was reassured to see just how much the theory of our programme related to practice in different organisational contexts. Having seen public administration from both the theoretical and practical perspectives gave her a new found appreciation of the subject and the value of her learning on the programme. For another student the experience in working with his exchange partner had also proven just how much the challenges facing our public services cut across organisational boundaries. He planned to continue the exchange process beyond his studies and has set up a number of ongoing meetings with his exchange partner to continue the learning. Finally, another student had noted that he had been partnered with a senior manager within a Third Sector organisation. Coming from the public sector he had little prior experience of the Third Sector and admitted that he had previously held views of Third Sector organisations that proved to be out of step with reality. He was now open to the idea of a future career in the Third Sector thanks to his experience in the exchange programme.

My overall view is that our MPA programme could not achieve it’s aim ‘to enable students to critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration’ without the strong industry links that have been facilitated through our partnership with ACOSVO. And so much current public administration research and practice involves collaboration – it would be a nonsense if we didn’t practise what we preach!

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MPA Visit to Brussels 2017

Brussels is seen by many as the capital of Europe and the EU. It is the location of key EU institutions such as  of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council. It is also the location for committee meetings and some plenary sessions of the European Parliament albeit the primary home of the European Parliament is Strasbourg.

What is striking about Brussels is the extent to which it has been at the centre of European affairs, almost reluctantly so, for centuries. A rather unassuming plaque on Grand Place marks the spot where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked on The Communist Manifesto.

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Nearby is the house where Victor Hugo developed writings that would become his masterpiece, Les Miserables. Both Karl Marx and Victor Hugo had sought political refuge in Brussels. Other writers to have been inspired by Brussels include the Brontë sisters and our very own Sir Walter Scott. It is clear that Brussels has been a welcoming and tolerant place for centuries. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that it later became the de facto capital of Europe.

The primary purpose of our visit was to explore the European institutions and get a better sense of how the EU works and how this then affects public administration. A key highlight of the trip was our visit to the EU Parliament and the adjoining visitor centre – the Parliamentarium.

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The Parliamentarium provides an exceptional account of the development and workings of the EU institutions. The exhibition starts with some deeply moving accounts of Europe before the EU was established – plagued by war and poverty.

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These stark images were set alongside some key quotes setting out the vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and united Europe that latter became the European Union.

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Later parts of the exhibition set out how early agreements on integration of the Western European coal and steel industries later developed into the European Economic Community and eventually to the establishment of the European Union with free movement of people, a shared currency and free trade. Again the images portraying the expansion of the EU community were set alongside images of major world events such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall which influenced it’s development and expansion over time.

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The final part of the exhibition explained how the different parts of the EU work in practice. This allowed our MPA students to fully explore the nature of decision-making within the EU.

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Having completed our tour we congregated at the Parliamentarium cafe and were struck by the presence of several copies of the letter from UK Prime Minister Theresa May to European Council President Donald Tusk which invoked Article 50 just a few days before our trip.

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Exploring the city further during our visit it is clear that Brussels remains a tolerant and welcoming place. Today Brussels is the multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic capital of Europe. It has the second highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the world (62%). It remains hugely influential within Europe and indeed throughout the world. It will continue to do so without the UK being a member of the EU. Hopefully it will continue to be a tolerant and welcoming place – and perhaps parts, or the whole, of the UK will be welcomed back some day.

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I certainly think Brussels left it’s mark on our students. Visiting the EU institutions and seeing how they work has, I hope, raised their awareness and appreciation of the EU more than any book or academic journal article would. I only wish more students and more members of the public could benefit from this experience.

I now look forward to our new cohort of MPA students and hope that we may be welcomed back to Brussels next year. As for Scotland and the UK – it would seem like anyone’s guess as to what will happen next – but I look forward to finding out!

We are now accepting applications to start the MPA in September 2017. Find out more here:  https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/postgraduate-study-at-qmu/2018-postgraduate-courses/master-of-public-administration-mpa/

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Interview with Stuart Duncan, Public Services Management Graduate

NB: This was previously published on the QMU website: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/press_releases/Interview-with-QMU-graduate-Stuart-Duncan-Executive-Masters-Public-Services-Management.htm

Stuart Duncan is from Bo’ness and is married with two children. He graduated with Executive Masters in Public Services Management (now Master of Public Administration – MPA ) from QMU in 2010.

Stuart was working full-time when studying at QMU and was fortunate to have his studies funded by his employer. He has over 15 years senior management and leadership experience and has a strong track record for leading change and delivering policy by building and maintaining collaborative relationships within and outside the Scottish Government.

Before enrolling on the Executive Masters in Public Services Management at QMU, Stuart was leading the creation and establishment of one of Scotland’s largest public service partnerships.

In 2009, Stuart moved to Scottish Government to work in the Justice department and led a number of major summary justice reform programmes.

In 2014, Stuart was appointed a Programme Director at the Scottish Government and authored the Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland. He has since been leading an implementation programme to deliver the objectives set-out in the strategy; transforming administrative, civil and criminal Justice in Scotland.

In January 2017, Stuart joined the Leading Improvement Team in the Scottish Government to help departments and organisations across the public sector shape their change and improvement work.

Why did you choose to study Executive Masters in Public Services Management at QMU?

“Despite having two degrees already, I knew I wanted to continue my learning and reading in the area of public services management. I was lucky enough to have a supportive employer who was keen to support me. Scottish Court Service was offering a place on the first cohort. I applied for the opportunity and was fortunate enough to secure a place, studying part-time.

“My professional career is grounded in a technical background and I wanted to develop and grow in the area of general management, with a focus on leading change and improvement.”

How did you find the workload?

“I did my undergraduate and first postgraduate courses part-time, so I knew what I was letting myself in for. I was fortunate to have a support network in place that made studying part-time easier, but it was equally important for me to have a structure in place to manage the workload.”

What obstacles did you encounter during your studies and how did you overcome them?

“I had a full time job when I did my postgrad and also had a young family. The biggest challenge for me was to create the time and space to study. For me, it was important to put a proper structure in place and give myself the best environment to learn and reflect.”

How do you think your QMU degree has equipped you with the skills and knowledge to development your career?

“The Executive Masters in Public Services Management helped me better understand the evolution of government in the UK and devolved administration here in Scotland. The knowledge which I acquired certainly made me more inquisitive. Even now, I constantly question policy and look for evidence to verify decisions.”

Top tips for future students?

“Always be prepared to question and challenge convention. As Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”, so be prepared to critically evaluate why things are done a certain way.”

Life after graduation?

“At the time of completing my postgrad, I was creating one of the largest public sector partnerships in Scotland. Once this was established, I moved to Scottish Government to lead policy implementation of major reforms to summary criminal justice.”

Where are you now? Do you have any further future plans?

“I authored The Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland which was published in August 2014. Since then, I’ve been directing a programme of work across public services with the purpose to use digital technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost. In 2017, I’m joining the Leading Improvement Team in Scottish Government to help implement continuous improvement across the public sector.”

Anything that you might have done differently?

“Reflecting on my professional career to date, I’ve always looked for the perfect time to move jobs and found that there really isn’t one. I’ve stayed in posts for too long. Going forward, I want to find a better balance between fulfilling responsibilities and developing my career.”

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

For more information on Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU visit: www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Interview with David Crighton, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student

NB: This was previously published on the QMU Website: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/press_releases/Interview-with-QMU-postgraduate-student-David-Crighton-MPA.htm

David Crighton from Glasgow is currently studying the Master of Public Administration (MPA) part-time over two years.

David has worked within local government for more than 30 years. He started his career as a landscape gardener with Cumbernauld Development Corporation (CDC) in the early 1980s. On completing his apprenticeship, David undertook a series of roles within the CDC before moving to Stirling Council in the mid 90s. In that time, he fulfilled several roles, including Cemeteries Officer and Land Services Team Leader. He gained his first service manager post with Falkirk Council in 2013 before returning to Stirling Council in 2015 and taking on his current role of Roads & Land services manager.

David has always enjoyed working in the public service especially within an operational capacity. He works towards improving and enhancing the public spaces that are so important to people for health and wellbeing, as well as recreational use and leisure activities. He has a high degree of job satisfaction in the services he manages and the impact they have in improving the quality of life for those that live, work or visit Stirling and its communities.

Why did you choose to study Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU?

“After undertaking various work based learning and training programmes, I started to develop an interest in management and leadership, preparing for my future career aspirations. I undertook a HNC in Management before moving on to a Diploma in Leadership & Management.

“The next natural step was to progress to a MBA and had identified this aspiration within my personal development plan. However, I was provided with information on the Master of Public Administration by my employer, Stirling Council, and noticed it aligned more directly to my work in the public sector.

“I’ve been very fortunate that my employer is very supportive of my learning and has assisted me in gaining a place on QMU’s MPA programme.”

How do you think the MPA will help you develop your career?

“Through the MPA, I’m looking to gain a greater knowledge of public administration and to be challenged academically. I’m working full-time and attend the course on a part-time basis, so I do find it difficult at times to manage my work and learning commitments along with my family life.

“However, there is support amongst my cohort and there are also academic support classes provided at the outset of the course. This has been invaluable to myself have never attended university previously. I think the MPA will help continue my own personal development and ultimate goal of obtaining a postgraduate level degree.”

Top Tips

“I would advise any prospective students to be aware of the time commitments especially if you are in full-time employment. It is important to try and build up a support network with library staff, tutors, course leaders and fellow students. This can be important to share your experiences and understand you are not alone.”

For more information on the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU, visit www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277 and watch our film

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I Tried to Bribe an Official

Earlier this year I tried to bribe an official. Actually, I didn’t really. But this was how it was construed. The experience made me think a lot about bureaucracy, process, control and leadership.

It all came about when I was asked to do a presentation at a conference. This was a commercial venture – for which speakers often receive a modest fee. I have never accepted a fee for this type of activity which I believe is part of my job in terms of public engagement. But at the same time I don’t believe I should give my labour for free. So in lieu of a ‘fee’ I received some complementary tickets which I then gave to our postgraduate students. Thereby enhancing their learning experience and indeed hopefully adding to the discussion at the conference itself. A classic win-win I would have thought.

Here’s where it all starts to unravel. Many of our students are employed by public bodies. One such student, from Anytown Council, mentioned to their boss that they had received a complementary ticket to a conference and would require the day away from the office to attend. At this point it’s important to remember that this was part of the student experience and would directly help the student in her studies – and in turn help in her job.

The response? The student was asked to complete a business case as to what the conference was about and exactly what the benefit would be for her job. So, instead, the student decided to take the day as annual leave.

At that point you might think that would be the end of it. Oh no. Next the student was told that this could be construed as a bribe. Yes, the student experience is no longer just about me trying to enhance the learning experience of the students – clearly I might be using this as part of some Machiavellian plot.

So, said student is sent the 50 page policy document on ‘gifts’ and asked to read carefully. Then, said student has to complete a form (there is always a form). It must be explained what the nature of the gift is, from whom it has been received and what potential conflicts of interest there might be. Meanwhile the public need better public service delivery. Clearly, this doesn’t help.

These policies and processes exist for good reason. But ultimately how they are interpreted and applied is key. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between following the letter of the policy in a literal and inflexible way vs following the principle of the policy in a proportionate way. Often this requires leadership – to say ‘is this really necessary?’.

What this story highlights for me is the importance of what we are doing at QMU. Our public services still need better leadership. There is still a long way to go. But I’m confident that through our MPA programme, research and CPD programmes we will help.

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Connecting with the Real World

I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.

The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.

Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:

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For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.

In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm

Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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The Stories We Tell

I’ve not been blogging much of late due to a number of other priorities around marking, teaching prep, research writing and conference attendance. In amongst all of that I’ve had three lovely weeks off at the start of August. For many people the summer holidays are a time to catch up with some reading. For me this largely involves Julia Donaldson books. But recently I discovered a new favourite – Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss. Here is why it should be required reading in every Business School.

Yertle the Turtle is a story about a King Turtle, called Yertle, who becomes increasingly power hungry. Not satisfied with his status as King of the pond he requires his subjects to work harder in order to extend his realm. As his status rises so the burden of those below him also increases to the point where they are in great pain and hunger. Yet as Yertle continues to rise high into the clouds his link with those below him becomes ever weaker and ultimately his hubris leads to his demise. It is a fantastic story (available to purchase here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007173148).

This is a children’s book. Like other children’s books the focus is on fair play and the importance of sharing. We constantly tell our children to play nice, to respect others, to always say please and thank-you. When do we think this should stop?

At some point our childhood learning is dismissed and replaced by mechanisms of management and governance that both enable and actively encourage individualised efforts and game playing. Team-work and shared goals are shunned and often the vision of ‘great man’ leadership is espoused. Even within education group-work for students is often avoided, especially assessed group-work, due to the problems associated with perceived ‘free-riders’. In research sole-authored academic papers are (at least in social sciences) considered superior to co-authored works. In many organisations promotion and reward criteria are often based on individual efforts and evidence of individual impact. Across corporations, and increasingly the public and Third Sectors, this mantra is reflected in the rise of CEO pay packets whilst at the same time tax avoidance and pay restraint for other employees are seen as common and accepted business practice.

Should Yertle be seen as the villain of the piece or someone to admire – ambitious, assertive and driven? Do we lose something by failing to recognise the value of sharing and team-work in business and management? Or should we tell our children different – to look after number one, that greed is good, to be ruthless in their negotiations and never trust anyone? Would that help them face the realities of life or, dare I say, improve their employability?

Should we teach our children different – or is it us who could do with a lesson?

For another example of the stories we tell see this episode of Peppa Pig in relation to debates around Brexit:

 

 

 

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ACOSVO Leadership Exchange

As part of our new MPA programme we have developed a partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) to include a practical experience opportunity for our students. For some of our students this will involve participating in ACOSVO’s highly innovative Leadership Exchange programme.

In order to gain some first hand experience of this programme – and to develop my own professional practice – I took part in a leadership exchange over the last six months. The following is offered as a reflection on my participation.

I was paired with Andy Dey, Operations and Development Manager at ACOSVO. The purpose of our exchange was largely to explore the links between our two organisations and, for me, to get experience of the Leadership Exchange prior to it becoming a core part of our new MPA programme. This last point was important as I wanted to make sure I had a concrete understanding of the process before advising our new students. But equally the former purpose was necessary so that we could scope out together how our two very different organisations would work together in supporting students on the MPA.

The first thing to note about my particular exchange was that, as exchange partners, we could not be more different in our backgrounds and experience. Andy has experience at a senior level in the military (RAF/Air Commodore) and third sectors, including the running of multi-million pound, multinational organisations. I am an academic (albeit I do work in the real world!).

This difference was not a barrier to learning. In fact, I would argue that having people working together from different organisations and backgrounds is an enabler of learning. What is important for learning to take place is that both parties are open to the opportunity and are willing to challenge and question their own practices, values and beliefs. In doing so it’s important that both parties in the exchange respect the others’ perspective. I’m reminded of my favourite Rabbie Burns poem, To a Louse,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

With any learning or development opportunity it’s important that those engaged in the process enter into it with the right mindset. If one party approaches any learning opportunity thinking ‘I know best’ then realistically there won’t be much learning!

So whilst the exchange partners may come from different backgrounds and experiences it is important that they share a common purpose. Thus the first stage in the ACOSVO leadership exchange process, filling out the application form, includes questions such as:

  • What are your areas of experience and knowledge which might be of interest for an exchange partner?
  • What topics would you like to explore during your exchange?
  • What would you like to gain from a Leadership Exchange

Within our MPA programme we are extending this by requiring students to complete a Tripartite Agreement between the university, their exchange partner and themselves. This will detail their anticipated learning outcomes from the exchange and the types of activities that they will be involved in to achieve these outcomes.

Within my exchange the key outcomes were clear and were shared between myself and my exchange partner so that the experience was a positive one. We met a number of times at both ACOSVO and at the university. I was able to sit in on an ACOSVO board meeting and Andy contributed to one of our Collaborations Operations Group (COG) meetings. As well as our meetings we had regular email communications. Again, communication is important for any learning experience to work – not to mention partnership working.

For our MPA students there will be a requirement that they attend four campus-based sessions about the workplace learning element of the programme. For those going through the leadership exchange there is a requirement that 24 hours of ‘contact time’ be used within the Leadership Exchange itself. This might equate to six half day (4 hour) sessions or three full day (8 hours) sessions. Again there needs to be this level of commitment and engagement in order to get the most out of it – particularly when benchmarked against Master’s level learning outcomes.

But what did I get out of it? A greater appreciation of the great work done within the Third Sector; positive affirmation that what we do as a university in terms of governance and quality assurance is of a very high standard; and contact with a hugely experienced Third Sector leader – who also happens to be a great guest speaker! But most of all I would say that my experience on the leadership exchange made me realise just how great the idea of leadership exchange is – and the case studies from others who have taken part testify to the value of this programme.

I would recommend the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme to anyone who genuinely wants to develop their professional practice. I’m delighted that at least one of my colleagues from the senior management team at QMU has embarked on a leadership exchange having heard about my experience – hopefully others will follow. Moreover I know that the MPA programme will be a terrific learning experience for all involved and I can’t wait to get started in September!

Applications for our new MPA, in partnership with ACOSVO, are now open. Click here to apply.

 

 

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