How the Scottish government applied Theory U for collective leadership against Covid-19

Fostering bold creativity in times of crisis through co-initiating, sensing, presencing, creating and shaping

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Case study abstract

This case study illustrates how society can be creative and productive during a crisis (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) through collective intelligence.

This is illustrated with the example of the Collective Leadership for Scotland network, a collaborative initiative led by the Scottish government. Their work is primarily led by the action inquiry approach of Theory U.

Core characteristics of systems leadership

Key recommendations

Use Theory U – or any other action inquiry approach – when working with cross-boundary groups trying to solve complex or “wicked” societal issues


Have a clear appreciation of the power and importance of relationships. We can’t foster collective leadership by telling people to do it. It is not always obvious how we need to work together and people can inadvertently try to impose, or look for, hierarchy within a collective. As a facilitator, it’s essential to notice and name this when this happens, for the benefit of the group.

Create and strengthen connections with what others are doing: the established sectors, passionate individuals, and organizations committed to engaging differently.

Make a commitment to support colleagues to do the work where they are. Facilitators trained in complexity theory (e.g., through the “Facilitating in Complexity” program) and a well-developed understanding of group dynamics are crucial so that issues that are difficult or avoided can be addressed in the moment.

Read the in-depth case study

“How the Scottish government applied Theory U for collective leadership against Covid-19”

Inspiration, key principles, practical do’s and don’ts

In open acess thanks to the Porticus Foundation

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