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VisitScotland - good practice in attraction and assessment - 2015

Key learning outcomes

  • Steps you can take to redress a significant gender imbalance on a board
  • Positive action measures that are effective at attracting more successful applications from women
  • Learning lessons from other appointment rounds for other public bodies is a good strategy
  • Unconscious bias mitigation techniques are effective at every stage of an appointment round
  • Using multiple methods to assess the suitability of candidates increases validity and allows panels to identify those who match the person specification most closely
  • Publicity is best targeted at professional bodies and membership organisations when specialist skills are sought
  • Working in partnership with organisations devoted to diversity makes a difference to the diversity of the applicant pool.


This round was run to find up to five new members. There was a significant gender imbalance on the board, with only one woman out of nine members. The approaches taken aimed to redress this imbalance.

At the outset, the Head of the Scottish Government’s Public Appointments Team indicated that the round would benefit from the same approach that was taken with the Creative Scotland round. This had been a pilot appointment round which used a new competency framework for board members. It had helped the panel to set out a mix of general and priority criteria for selection which better reflected the minister’s views about the board’s needs. 

The chair of the panel agreed with this approach and also introduced some lessons learned from a recent Scottish Enterprise round. This had been successful in its strategy for attraction as it saw significant increases in both the overall number of applicants and the percentage of applications from women. The approach taken represented positive action: targeting people from what was a currently underrepresented group with an interest in taking up a board position. 


The three person selection panel included an independent member from the British Hospitality Association Scotland. During the planning phase for the round, the panel discussed the revised approaches to attraction and to the design and content of appropriate person specifications. We allocated a Public Appointments Adviser (PAA) to the round to provide guidance and support during planning. As well as assisting with process design, the PAA briefed the selection panel on techniques that can be successfully adopted to mitigate unconscious bias as the round progressed. 

As planned, the relevant Cabinet Secretary and the appointing minister had been actively engaged in a discussion on the skills required for VisitScotland’s success and these were translated into person specification(s). It was agreed that that the board would be enhanced by members who had experience of digital media channels and also knowledge and understanding of financial matters.

Publicity Strategy

The selection panel considered the management information gathered from the previous VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise rounds and decided to follow a similar path this time. They concluded that it would be best not to publicise the appointments in the press but rather that publicity would be better targeted to relevant groups and individuals. They collated a list of publicity routes using what had worked best on the previous rounds as a basis for their decisions. They augmented this list to reach as wide a pool as possible. Given the nature of the specialist skills highlighted by the Minister, it was agreed that relevant marketing and finance representative bodies would be targeted also. 

Material relating to the work of the body was redrafted to make it more welcoming to people who might not otherwise have considered applying. It more accurately reflected the transformation that Scotland’s visitor economy was going through:
“Scotland’s visitor economy is going through a transformation.  It is diverse, fast-moving and energetic. We’re looking for a board which will reflect this change. VisitScotland’s strategic direction of travel over recent years has seen the organisation move from a strict marketing and tourism role to a broader visitor economy agenda.  This intake of board members will allow us to broaden the range of skills and experience to drive forward that agenda and we look forward to welcoming new board members from a wide variety of backgrounds, not specifically or necessarily from the tourism industry.”

In addition to this the panel decided to run an event in collaboration with Changing the Chemistry, the aim of which was to make a wider range potential candidates aware of these opportunities and about the regulated appointments process.


It was agreed that:

  • the competency framework approach would be used to clearly articulate what was required and to provide transparency and clarity for both the panel and for applicants about the quality and level of the evidence anticipated
  • the application form would be as short as practicable
  • there would be a five minute presentation at the start of each interview.

The person specification incorporated four essential general skills which all successful candidates would be expected to possess. Only three of these would be tested at the application stage. The fourth, interpersonal and communication skills, would be tested at interview. There was also a pick list of priority skills and experience. Candidates needed to demonstrate a minimum of one out of seven of these more specialist skills, inclusive of those highlighted by the minister, to ensure that the range of current board needs would be met.  


The enhanced processes used for planning and design of this competition, the early proactive contact with the minister, the use of the competency framework, the simplified arrangements for assessment and the positive action taken to attract people from a currently underrepresented group all contributed to a successful outcome.

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 brief report can be obtained from Ian Bruce, the Public Appointments Manager in the ESC office:
Tel: 0131 347 3897