In PeerEX

ACOSVO/IDEELL ARENA – PeerEx 2022 Members’ Edition

As a longstanding member and board member of the Euclid Network, I was delighted to be matched with fellow board member Erik Sjostrand, CEO of IDEELL ARENA (IA) and to have the opportunity to find out more about each other’s work, sector and cultures through a peer exchange programme.  The ethos of Peer exchange is all about sharing knowledge, and building bridges between our understanding, our learning, and our connections. – Patricia Armstrong OBE

EN members ACOSVO and IDEELL ARENA were matched in the 2022 Members’ Edition. The main goal of this project was to learn about how each of the organisations support the leaders within their networks. Additionally, ACOSVO sought to  explore the importance of academic links with the sector, a strength of IDEELL ARENA. Patricia Armstrong (ACOSVO) and Erik Sojstrand (IDEELL ARENA) are both EN Board Members but due to the fact that most meetings and interactions happen online, due to COVID-19, and the efficiency of remote working, Patricia and Erik hadn’t yet met in person. PeerEx gave them an opportunity to meet and discuss leadership and support across their organisations.

While Patricia has participated in several peer exchanges and previous PeerEx editions, it was Erik’s first time, and we’ve heard from him that it was a fruitful experience.

I’ve said from previous exchanges that I learn as much from seeing my own world through the eyes of others as I do from exploring a new world.

– Patricia Armstrong OBE

Keep reading to find out more about ACOSVO and IDEELL ARENA as well as their exchanges in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stockholm, Sweden!

ACOSVO supports leaders of third sector organisations across Scotland and was set up by leaders who understood the importance of peer support and leadership development. IDEELL ARENA connects organisations working in civil society, focussing on knowledge exchange and leadership, and was set up by an academic partnership and works collectively with its members who are the organisations. From the start, Patricia was keen to identify the similarities and differences across these organisations and the way they work. Moreover, due to Patricia’s recent foray into academia through her doctoral studies, she was keen to find out the value of the academic connections behind IDEELL ARENA and consider what learning there could be for ACOSVO.

When in Stockholm…

Patricia was struck by how open and welcoming everyone she met on my journey was. All were as keen to listen, learn and understand, as she was, and were very generous in the time they committed to do that. Her first stop was lunch with Erik and two of his academic connections, Truls and Ola. They gave some background into how IA works collaboratively, for example, citing the rotation of members’ hosting the office and the programmes and networks they offer.

Patricia came to understand that as well as knowledge exchange between those working in civil society and academia, importantly in both directions, there was also an element of advocacy: the sector organisation could highlight areas which needed exploration by researchers, they were more likely to engage in the research, and researchers had close ties which meant they could easily connect with those at the front line to find out what the key issues were – and see how their research might land.

On the second day in Stockholm, Patricia visited the IDEELL ARENA offices and was delighted to get there early and have time for a lovely autumnal lakeside wander. She gave the IA team a short presentation on ACOSVO and there was particular interest in ACOSVO’s Active Leaders Programme, their range of networks, the work with boards and the work on the first and last 100 days in post.

She found it helpful to find out more about the networks, the  more in-depth leadership programmes offered by IDEELL ARENA (including a group leadership programme with colleagues in Northern Ireland) and some of the research that had been taking place. The group also talked about the influence of government, the amount of service delivery and the changing world of work. This great discussion was rounded off by another healthy lunch.

The exchange in Stockholm was completed by a final chat over dinner with some traditional Swedish fare, which allowed them to find out more about their journeys to leadership, their interests in travel and learning and the connections they could make between  countries and colleagues.

The first leg of the exchange left Patricia and Erik full of thoughts and ideas to ponder, strong connections in a new area, and motivation to remember the importance of walking in another’s shoes and seeing your world through new eyes.

Erik was due to visit Scotland in a matter of weeks. Patricia and the ACOSVO team had a full programme planned, including a visit to the office to meet the team and a day at the annual conference.

When in Edinburgh…


The week after the first part of the exchange, Erik arrived in Scotland. The exchange started with a “walk and talk” through Edinburgh to the ACOSVO offices. The team from ACOSVO spent time with Erik that afternoon explaining the offers and services that are available to ACOSVO members to support their leadership.  That evening, the ACOSVO chair and UK CEO of the Chartered Institute of Funding, Katie Docherty and ACOSVO strategic partner Julie Hutchison, Head of charities at Abrdn (also a governance expert and visiting Professor) joined Patricia and Erik for dinner to discuss the sector in Scotland more widely.

The following day was a full day in-person (and hybrid) ACOSVO annual conference that both participants attended. Erik got to observe and take part as over 100 sector leaders attended the event with a full agenda of speakers and workshops. The final evening was a dinner to have a chance for both exchange partners to reflect on learning and the exchanges.

Erik reflected on the exchange as a whole and concluded that it had been very valuable to him but also to the IDEELL ARENA staff. “Hosting Patricia and being asked questions about our operations and way we work made us reflect on how and why we do things in a certain way”.

The PeerEx between ACOSVO and IDEELL ARENA was a mix of both talking `executive-to-executive”, meetings with staff and trustees and taking part in a concrete activity. It resulted in a great set-up to be able to learn a lot in a short time. It gave insights both to the daily operations such as how to organise mentors and exchanges, and how to “package” your offer to members. Additionally, it also made it possible to get new insight on strategic issues such as how to navigate in relations to other actors within the field, and the insight that you can organise similar operations in many different ways.

Concluding his thoughts, Erik said it was also a great opportunity to learn more about institutional similarities and differences between countries, which is valuable to have when navigating ideas and incentives that “travel” between national contexts.

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