sportscotland - good practice in planning and assessment - 2016

Key learning outcomes

  • When the appointing minister has a clear view about the specific attributes they want in a new chair, the entire process can be designed to deliver the right person for the role
  • Using multiple methods to assess the suitability of candidates increases validity and allows panels to identify those who match the person specification most closely.  


The round was initiated in July 2015 and designed to identify a new chair for sportscotland. The Commissioner set the oversight level of the round as high meaning that a Public Appointments Adviser (PAA) would take part as a full panel member. This same PAA had played an instrumental role in the development of the core skills framework for board members that was trialled on the Creative Scotland appointment round in 2015. The chair of the panel asked whether the framework could be further adapted specifically for a chair role and the PAA created a generic chair version as a starting point for this appointment round. The panel chair used the framework as a basis for early discussions with the appointing minister. This in turn gave the selection panel a very clear steer on what the minister wanted from the new chair of sportscotland. The minister wanted someone who knew how to promote equality and social change through sport. This clear steer informed planning by the selection panel and therefore the rest of the appointment round and eventual outcome. The panel membership included a civil servant as panel chair, the PAA and an independent member.


The planning phase ran from July through to September and involved the panel as well as the head of the Scottish Government’s Public Appointments Team (PAT) and a PAT manager. Based on the views of the appointing minister a total of four criteria were set, all weighted equally. Two of the criteria were specific to the role of sportscotland chair:

  • has a passion for sport and in particular promoting equality and social change through sport and
  • has the capacity to work effectively across sectors, beyond the boundaries of sport.

The minister felt these to be of particular importance to the work of and role fulfilled by the chair of sportscotland. The remaining two criteria were more generic in nature and mainly combined the performance/governance and leading/influencing headings from the core skills framework. In keeping with the way in which the framework was designed, applicants were provided in the application pack with more detailed descriptors that set out what good evidence that the criteria were met would look like. The application pack also included narrative explaining what would be tested and exactly when and how it would be tested. This ensured that the selection panel and applicants alike had a common understanding of what was sought and how the competition would be run. 

The panel chair was very keen to ensure that the descriptors for the criteria enabled a broad cross-section of applicants to come forward with previous board level experience not considered to be important. 

The panel agreed on a written application for the first stage of assessment. Selected descriptors from three of the criteria being tested were highlighted in the application form so that applicants were clear about the evidence that the panel was looking for at that stage. The panel also agreed on a three part final stage of assessment (see below). 

The panel gave a lot of consideration to how a more diverse applicant pool might be attracted and agreed on the use of a social media package alongside extensive publicity and direct approaches by the sponsor directorate to encourage applications. Additionally, the role was publicised via the normal Scottish Government channels including direct email to organisations whose membership includes currently underrepresented groups. 

Applications, shortlisting and final assessment

Eighteen written applications were received – a fairly good number for a chair role – and the majority of the applicants were completely new to public appointments. 

Five applicants were shortlisted for interview. The panel also ensured that a number of those who weren’t shortlisted but who nevertheless provided some good evidence against a proportion of the criteria would be contacted and encouraged to consider applying for future member positions on the board. The panel also asked the sponsor directorate to seek feedback from people who had been encouraged to apply but chose not to do so. This was with a view to designing the next appointment round for the body to make it more encouraging still. 

The second stage of assessment comprised an interview, a prepared response to a question and participation in an interactive exercise. The interactive exercise was based on a conversation to be held between the applicant fulfilling the role of body chair and an actor experienced in assessment centre work who was fulfilling the role of CEO. It was based on a scenario that was very relevant to the work of the body. Applicants were provided and asked to become familiar with a number of relevant documents well in advance of the interview. The exercise brief was given to them on the day of the interview with thirty minutes to prepare for the discussion. Detailed briefs on the exercise were compiled by the sponsor directorate and the PAA provided guidance to ensure that the exercise would be as effective as possible at assessing the relevant criteria for selection. The panel also agreed a ‘model answer’ and thought through the possible scenarios which might arise during the course of the exercise so that the actor could be guided on how he should respond. In addition, two meetings took place with the actor to provide further information and guidance. This type of exercise requires a significant amount of forethought and preparation on the part of those running it. 

Applicants were also asked to deliver a response of up to five minutes’ duration to the question ‘what is your understanding of the role of sportscotland in delivering social change through sport’. They were fully briefed as part of the interview letter so that they had an opportunity to prepare in advance. This worked well and provided evidence of descriptors from two of the criteria.

The panel then conducted a follow up discussion with the candidates and further explored with them the evidence they had provided in their written application. One and a half hours was allowed for each interview and this enabled sufficient time for the exercise, prepared response and follow up discussion/questions – just over one hour for each candidate – with the remaining twenty five minutes being used by the panel to do a thorough sum up of their assessments. This is very important as it enables a clear description of the suitability of applicants to be provided to the minister as well as clear, detailed and constructive feedback to be provided to all candidates. 


The enhanced processes used for planning and design of this competition, the early proactive contact with the minister, the use of the adapted competency framework and the arrangements for assessment all contributed to a successful outcome. 

The person appointed was Mel Young who was the founder of the Homeless World Cup and co-founder of The Big Issue in Scotland. 

You can find out more by following this link to the press release.

More information

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