Building a Summer School in Transformational Leadership

As part of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Summer School is an immersive, experiential and holistic programme that seeks to build the practical skills and mind-set deemed crucial for transformative leadership. It is four weeks in length, combines a unique blend of daily theoretical, mindful, reflective and active practice, engages participants in live community projects and brings together almost fifty facilitators from Scotland and beyond. Its creation is a testament to what multi-level collaboration and design thinking tools can achieve when backed up with a functioning team and an inspiring raison d’être.

Creating such a programme has taken a great deal of time, patience, collaboration and expertise, but has been an immensely valuable and inspirational experience. Over six months, many of my assumptions about creating effective developmental learning experiences have been fundamentally tested, and exposure to a number of pioneering individuals and organisations has vastly increased my toolkit as a planner and facilitator. In the short space below, I will briefly share the successful processes and tools we followed and utilised to create the Edinburgh Summer School, in the hope that other individuals and organisations are inspired to follow suit.

Research and Foundations

We did a great deal of initial research before taking our ideas and aims outside into the wild. Some such research was predictable – looking at MasterCard Foundation literature, for example – while some was a little more interactive and innovative. One of our best decisions was to get our scholars together for a number of sessions looking at what transformative leadership meant to them and what they would want to get from the Summer School. We were able to combine our own thinking with the aspirations of some of the future participants, and use the results to create a set of learning outcomes. Interestingly, we were never really that far apart and few adjustments were needed.


Musical landscape mapping with Snook

More confident in our learning outcomes, the planning team took a short train ride to Glasgow for a day landscape mapping in the company of Snook, an inspiring and award winning service design company. Using scores of post its, sharpies and coffee, we talked through our vision and proposed learning outcomes for the Summer School, brainstormed possible module content, mapped out the full range of stakeholders, considered the needs of each and began creating an initial timetable inspired by weekly themes and daily, weekly and monthly learning patterns.

Pitch Deck

With all this fresh in our mind, we were set the homework of creating a pitch deck to accompany the outline of the programme itself. This would be our starting point when sharing the Summer School more widely, enabling all members of the team to present a consistent and structured message. The pitch deck included:

  • A background to the MasterCard Foundation (this was a big part of the sell to stakeholders)
  • Practical details about the Summer School, including dates and intended participants
  • The overall creative concept for the Summer School – who we are, what we believe…
  • Learning outcomes
  • The programme shape – themes and structure
  • Learning patterns – daily, weekly and monthly
The amazing Keira delivering the pitch deck

The pitch deck proved a very useful tool, both externally and internally. Externally, it helped us appear professional and organised to stakeholders. Internally, it stimulated discussion within the team about ensuring clarity and consistency with our terminology. For example, through our discussions around the pitch deck, facilitators, lecturers and contributors became Session Leaders, while our hands-on three-week community project became the Live Challenge.

Stakeholder Workshop

Our pitch deck received its first outing in a half-day stakeholder workshop (facilitated by Snook) to discuss and explore the scope, branding and structure of the Summer School, as well as mapping out the personas and needs of Session Leaders and students. Present were a group of committed Session Leaders, trusted ‘critical friends’ and undergraduate MasterCard Foundation students. The decision to invite students was again a good one, as other participants were clearly inspired by meeting them in person and seeing their level of engagement. One lesson we have learned in this process is just how important and rare student engagement is to many members of University staff, and how beneficial it can be in developing and maintaining commitment along a wide range of stakeholders.

Students, Session Leaders and critical friends.
Working on user personas.

Service Blueprinting

The early timetable – quite a beast!

The period following the stakeholder workshop was when we did most of the work completing the timetable (see above) and recruiting both Session Leaders and students. A few months later, we met again with Snook to discuss the development of appropriate support resources and a timetable of delivery. From this session, we decided to create the following:

  • An overall Summer School website combining information for all key stakeholders.
  • Comprehensive guide documents for all key stakeholders.
  • Shared Google folders for all key stakeholders.
  • Monthly coffee mornings hosted by the team and attended by two current scholars.
  • A one-on-one meeting with a team member for Session Leaders and community partners.
  • Dedicated project pages on Basecamp for Session Leaders and community partners.
  • A Facebook group for all students accepted onto the programme.

It was important for us to consider both resources and timelines at the same time. While we created resources a little late this year, we now have a clear workflow guide to follow next year.

This post was written by Steve Kaye – the Student Development Coordinator as part of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Edinburgh.