"I would argue that having people working together from different organisations and backgrounds is an enabler of learning." says Dr. Ian C. Elliott, Senior Lecturer at Queen Margaret University, while talking about his experience of the Leadership Exchange Programme...
As part of our new MPA programme at Queen Margaret University we have developed a partnership with 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.