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Creative Scotland pilot appointment round - good practice in planning and assessment - 2015

Key learning outcomes

  • The Scottish Ministers have made a commitment to more diverse boards. The way to achieve this is to engage early with the appointing minister to identify what her or his priorities are for the appointment to be made. 
  • Ministers define merit for every appointment. How merit is defined will determine whether people with a lot of public body board experience are more or less likely to be appointed. 
  • The Commissioner’s guidance on the Code and the core skills framework used in combination can help to turn ministerial aspirations for the type of people to be appointed into person specifications and successful appointment rounds.
  • It’s possible for a person specification to include a requirement for people to be committed to the work of the body. It’s important that you properly explain this in applicant information materials so that applicants and panels have a common understanding of what is sought. 
  • Refreshing standard materials such as the pack and application form can make the process more accessible to a wider range of people who aren’t familiar with public appointments.
  • Simulating board activities is an effective assessment method with higher levels of validity than interviews alone. 


Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.

This round was chosen as a ‘pilot’ to trial alternative approaches to attraction and assessment and, in particular, implementation of guidance on application of the Code that the Commissioner issued in August 2014.

The guidance clarified that if ministers wanted to make more diverse appointments the opportunity to do so was at the outset of planning when they could give clear direction about the different attributes that they wanted to see in new board members. “Merit” is not an indefinable quality that somehow resides in the current make up of public body boards. These are ministerial public appointments and on each occasion that an open competition is planned, the guidance explained that it was up to the appointing minister to define merit. The guidance also clarified that it was open to ministers to specify the level at which particular criteria have to be met, including identifying those criteria that they consider more important than others. 

Effective planning involving the appointing minister should therefore provide an opportunity to draft a person specification that does not advantage current board members over those new to that type of position. The Commissioner’s view was that proper application of the guidance should open up opportunities to a wider and more diverse pool of people.     

To support officials to adhere to the relatively new guidance, the Commissioner’s office worked with the Scottish Government to write a competency framework for board members. It was subsequently published as the core skills framework. The framework dovetails with the guidance. It gives selection panels a means of clearly identifying what the minister needs for the board. It also gives clarity for the panel and just as importantly for applicants on how those needs are defined and how they will be assessed. It is intended to enhance transparency, mitigate against unconscious and other forms of bias, help to attract a more diverse pool of applicants and ultimately deliver the right outcome for the board. 

This pilot appointment round was extremely valuable in leveraging the guidance and in assessing the efficacy of the tool that we co-designed to do so.

Planning phase

The Commissioner allocated the PAA who had been involved in drafting the framework as a full panel member. Her expertise in this area assisted at every stage of the appointment round. 

The appointing minister was Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs. The Cabinet Secretary was engaged in planning from a very early stage. She gave the selection panel a very clear view of her priorities and of the skills she was looking for in new board members. This enabled the panel to proceed with confidence that it was going to deliver an applicant pool that the Cabinet Secretary saw as appropriately skilled and competent and the right match for the board’s needs at the time of appointment.

The panel used the new competency framework to define the general skills which were felt to be important for all members. The framework was well received by the panel and sponsor team who used it very effectively to reach detailed definitions of what applicants needed to demonstrate. The panel also defined the three priorities the Cabinet Secretary had identified and included descriptors for them in the pack so that both applicants and the panel would have a shared and detailed understanding of what was sought. The priorities were:

  • Knowledge/understanding of ethnic minority communities
  • A practical knowledge and understanding of the Scottish arts, screen and/or creative industries sectors and how these work
  • Financial experience. 

The panel decided to test two criteria in the written application – evidence of one of the priority criteria along with ‘enthusiastic and passionate about arts and culture in Scotland’. 

The Cabinet Secretary felt it was very important that all applicants were able to demonstrate this. The panel was very conscious that this was a personal quality and so defined it using descriptors with the same degree of clarity as the skills. The panel also redesigned the standard application form to create a more positive first impression. This involved moving the fit and proper person test declarations and related questions to the end of the form and re-writing the instructions to make them more user friendly. 

The panel decided to use a practical exercise to assess most of the generic skills. Information relating to this was to be sent out with the interview letters, with more information and the exercise question being given to applicants on the day of the interview with 30 minutes afforded everyone to prepare their response. A board paper and supporting documents were used as this simulated an aspect of board member activity.

The panel also used a new and more accessible style of information pack.

Assessment and Conclusion

The panel saw an increase in applications in comparison with the previous round. Our PAA reported that the quality of the written applications was substantially better than is normally the case and the PAA’s view was that this may well be down to the descriptors for the criteria which appeared to have been effective in guiding the applicants on what the panel wanted them to demonstrate. These descriptors were either drawn from the competency framework or designed for this competition. They helped to ensure that both the panel and the applicants had a shared understanding of what was sought. The chair of the panel was also very encouraged by the quality of the applications. 

Despite being a personal quality the panel found the passion/enthusiasm criterion easy to evaluate, aided by the clarity provided by the descriptors. 

The practical exercise worked extremely well in providing good quality evidence of the criteria and enabled a discussion to follow which brought in the remaining criteria to be tested. A positive atmosphere was created by the panel chair with an appropriate level of informality to ensure that candidates felt welcomed and were given the best opportunity to demonstrate their merit. 

One and a half hours were set aside for each interview. This allowed sufficient time for all the criteria to be covered during the interview – approximately one hour for each applicant – with the remaining thirty minutes being used to do a thorough sum up. These time slots meant that the panel did not need to go back to do any summaries at the end of the day. They also ensured that good feedback could be generated for all candidates. 

You can find out who was appointed by following this link to the press release.

More information

More detailed information on any of the materials referred to in this report can be obtained from Ian Bruce, the Public Appointments Manager in the ESC office:
Tel: 0131 347 3897