Leading in a Digital World - Programme Retrospective

In 2022, we launched our new leadership programme, Leading in a Digital World. In this post, we take a retrospective view on what worked well and areas for future development.



We live in a digital world. How we shop, work, play, study and socialise is facilitated through technology, and this has raised people’s expectations of what services should offer. To provide efficient, cost-effective, safe and accessible services that truly meet people’s needs, organisations need to ensure they are set up in ways that enable them to fully benefit from technological advancements. This requires more than the right technology, it needs the right people, skills, culture, ways of working and, perhaps most importantly, the right leadership.

The Scottish Digital Academy has been working with TPXimpact to develop a new iteration of the Digital Champions leadership programme, entitled Leading in a Digital World. The programme, aimed at senior leaders across Scotland’s public and third sector, is focused on developing people’s leadership skills needed for ‘digital’ transformation.



A co-design approach was taken to ensure the programme’s content was relevant to the participants needs and challenges. This involved interviewing senior public and third sector employees to validate assumptions around learning needs and expectations. Experts from both TPXimpact and the Scottish Digital Academy built on these insights to shape the programme content and structure, bringing their expertise and contextual experience.

The first pilot cohort was delivered from March to June 2022 to 40 participants, providing an opportunity to test, iterate and improve the second cohort based on feedback collected.


Content and highlights

Each cohort consisted of 6 sessions (online and in person), delivered over a 3 month period. The sessions were a mix of expert presentations, reflective activities, group and paired discussions, practical activities rehearsing new methods and tools, and presentations from attendees.

  • Day 1: Introduction to Digital Transformation, Exploring Digital Maturity and Identifying Challenges
  • Day 2: Systems Leadership, Exploring the Digital Landscape and Cyber Security
  • Day 3: Culture, Skills and Mindsets
  • Day 4: Scottish Approach to Service Design
  • Day 5: Design Sprint
  • Day 6: Looking Forward

Many of the sessions were delivered by expert guest speakers, who brought their experience, knowledge and lessons learnt to their presentations. Some highlights identified by participants include:

  • Cyber security: Keith McDevitt, Cyber Resilience Integrator at Scottish Government, delivered a memorable talk on the realities and dangers of cyber security.
  • Digital transformation masterclass: Ben Holliday, Chief Designer at TPXimpact, opened both cohorts with an introduction to what digital transformation is.
  • Design sprint methodology: Things got practical as the teams came together to tackle shared challenges. In groups, working on challenges relevant to them, participants went through a design process to collectively develop ideas.
  • Scottish approach to service design: Cat Macaulay, Chief Design Officer at the Scottish Government, provided an emotive overview of design, service design and co-design within the Scottish government.


Lessons learned

This was a pilot programme and, thanks to honest and constructive feedback from attendees, we have a good understanding of what worked and what needs improving.

Value of the programme

  • Commonality of challenges. Participants cited this as the most surprising thing from the programme. Despite the differing roles and sectors, the key challenges were the same for everyone. For some, this was reassuring and a great opportunity to come up with shared solutions. For others, it was disappointing that everybody was experiencing similar frustrations, and they wanted more examples from speakers who had overcome these.
  • Engaging with peers. This went beyond networking – the value was specifically in meeting those who have the same professional expectations put on them as you do. Hearing other’s stories, learning that you have shared challenges and pressures, exploring the possibilities of solving these together led to rich discussions between peers, and in some cases, tangible actions to take away and apply. Both cohorts expressed a strong desire to continue the engagements with their peers once the programme was over, and the Scottish Digital Academy are working on ways to make this happen with the rest of the alumni.
  • Time and space to reflect. Having the time, space and freedom to pause and reflect on the challenges and opportunities in their businesses, and discuss them in an open and honest way was a welcome change from daily responsibilities.
  • Hearing from expert speakers (and other attendees). Hearing presentations from experts who had real tangible examples of methods, approaches and actions they had taken to enact digital transformation was insightful.

Survey feedback from delegates over the years shows that leaders gain real value from networking with peers and sharing their successes and challenges.  Some sessions prompt delegates to carry out urgent reviews in their organisations and this is particularly true of the information session which is delivered by experts on Cyber Security.  On the 2022 programme, we were joined by David Pirrie (SEPA), who is an Alumni of our leadership programme and he shared his organisation’s experience of a cyber-attack.  David conveyed not only the logistical impact, but also the emotional impact of the attack on his team at SEPA.  Finishing on a positive note, David said that his learning from the leadership programme and the contacts he’d made, had helped them deal with the attack.

 Required improvements

  • Timing and flow: We attempted to cover too much content, especially in the early sessions. This was addressed in cohort 2 by removing content and increasing the length of the session, to ensure valuable discussion time was not cut short.
  • Use of technology: Attendees noted that a programme championing digital should deliver digital elements seamlessly. However, there were a number of technical glitches via AV equipment in some venues, which were later resolved. We are still looking into ways to utilise a virtual learning environment as a means to share learning assets and stay connected.


What’s next

Cohorts 3 and 4 of Leading in a Digital World are taking place February to May 2023. Based on feedback, we’ve adapted the next run to include 5 days rather than 6, with a longer online session on day 3.

To secure your place on the programme, find out more here.

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