Still time to get inquisitive about Appreciative Inquiry

You might recall I trailed the concept of Appreciative Inquiry in June and the work has been continuing behind the scenes to develop that further.

To recap briefly, Appreciative Inquiry works on the simple principle that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions (and working towards finding the answers). The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

It’s a way of turning the focus to what we want to create, grounding outcomes in past successes and the new guiding principles, as well as inspiring us all to embrace opportunities. By opening up positive discussion we hope to encourage creativity, increase buy-in and improve morale.

With that in mind a working group is being set up and my thanks to all those who have expressed an interest in getting involved, it promises to be an interesting and rewarding project.

The team are making a final call for anyone keen to take part, with the aim of finalising by the end of August. You can find out more here.

The initial focus for piloting AI will revolve around how we value each other and recognise a job well done, an essential part of the guiding principles and a great starting point for another really positive innovation.

Holiday season brings winter into focus

The October school break always feels like the start of the countdown to winter – and mother nature seems to have read the script, with the stormy weather in recent days.

My thanks go to the response squads who were called into action over the weekend as the fringes of Storm Lorenzo brought localised flooding to the city. As ever, our teams were out in the worst of the conditions to prevent any harm to people or place.

On a related note, we launched the winter maintenance programme this week with the help of the team at Bucksburn – who welcomed quite a gathering of media, who always turn out in force to hear the plans for the months ahead.

Winter maintenance is a hot topic for residents and businesses too – the addition of online gritter tracking this year will be well received I’m sure, not to mention reducing some of the contact we receive from customers when snow and ice bites.

The one-tonne community salt bags are also being organised, part of the drive to help communities help themselves.

I’d like to put on record my appreciation to the 180 or so staff who are primed to start winter duties – they always go above and beyond to keep the city moving and this year will be no different, battling the elements on our behalf.

The Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership is also progressing with its winter preparations, with the annual plan approved by the IJB, and I must thank all of the frontline staff in advance for the work they will put in during the peak period that’s looming.

The build-up to the festive period has begun in all walks of life, not least retail as the Christmas rush starts earlier and earlier.

It’s important to acknowledge, particularly in Mental Health Awareness Week, that this time of year does put strain on many people. As the season of goodwill draws nearer, please be mindful of the financial and emotional pressures that always surface at this time of year and look out for colleagues and service users. The care and compassion we show as individuals and teams always leaves an impression on me.

Autumn and winter also brings lots to look forward to, with the plans for our Winter Festival in place and all that entails – from the fireworks display through to the Christmas Village and Hogmanay celebrations. Schools and community groups will be gearing up for carol concerts and pantos, with HMT also ready to welcome thousands to its festive shows.

Before then we have a brief period to catch a breath and prepare for the hectic spell ahead. If you have time booked off I wish you a relaxing break and I pass on my thanks and appreciation to the many who will be keeping council services running right through the October holidays.

An appreciative nod to inquisitive colleagues

We have our first Appreciative Inquiry (AI) working group up and running as we embrace a concept that’s new to the Council.

You may have read my previous posts on the approach and I’m pleased to see it gathering pace.

The premise is that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions and working towards finding the answers. The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

Nine colleagues have signed-up to take part in the first group, all with something different to bring to the table and with a real enthusiasm for the project. There’s a good mix from different clusters, including from the school community, and that should generate lots of different views and ideas.

The theme for the first foray into the world of Appreciative Inquiry is on recognition and how we can better value each other, with the first meetings already held.

I’m keen for the group to share their experiences and thoughts on a regular basis, so look out for those updates in the weeks and months ahead – as well as the invitation  to all of us to get involved and help shape the work of the group through the Transformation Zone.

By way of introduction, the group comprises:

Pauline Wilkinson, Support Manager, Place, Strategic Place Planning

Gordon McDade, Portfolio Officer, Governance, PMO;

Akeem Babatunde, Support Worker, Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services Services;

Aneta Mroczynska, Customer Applications Administrator, Customer, Customer Experience;

Greg Davidson, School Technician, Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services Services;

Lynn Mutch, Project Officer, Place, City Growth;

Michael Robinson, Quantity Surveying Officer, Resources, Capital;

Bruce Reid, Business Services Manager, Customer, Customer Experience;

Manuela Costa, Clinical Practitioner, Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services.

Training is being provided to give everyone an introduction to the principles and practice of Appreciative Inquiry, with the first recommendations expected to come back from the group around the turn of the year.

My thanks go to all those who have volunteered and I’m sure you join me in wishing them well as they set off on an exciting journey.


An open invitation to join our Mental Health Awareness Week events

Monday marks the launch of our first Mental Health Awareness Week programme and there are many opportunities to take part in the days ahead.

Running from 7-11 October, there’s a busy schedule of events and activities that I really hope will open conversations and shine a light on the support available.

The time we spend at work is a large part of all of our lives – taking care of our own mental health and that of the friends and colleagues around us is important, but perhaps it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

Mental health has to be a focus every day, not just a date on the calendar once a year, but this week is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and set the tone. I’d encourage everyone to get involved.

In partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and third sector partners, we have developed Connect 2 – a series of events which aim to help raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and breakdown some of the taboos and stigma that are associated with mental health.

Talks, awareness sessions and training opportunities both face to face and online are planned. For colleagues not based in the city centre, a mobile information bus will be touring offering insights and advice on mental health. You can find out more and book tickets here.

It’s important mental health is kept at the top of the agenda throughout the Council, with a recent webinar hosted by Derek McGowan and the activity around Suicide Prevention Week worth recapping on if you didn’t catch them first time around.

Value is such an important guiding principle – recognising a job well done, but also acknowledging  the challenges individuals face both on a personal and professional level. This week is about flying the flag for mental health awareness and underlining the value we place on wellbeing in the workplace.

Thank you in advance for your support and to the teams both from within the Council and our partner organisations who have worked so hard to create such a comprehensive and engaging programme.


Committee approval opens the door to new opportunities for our valued staff

Local government is built on foundations of good governance, process and policy – but that would count for little if it wasn’t for the dedication, knowledge and skill of our colleagues in all corners of the Council.

As an organisation we can all take pride in the sum of the parts and the way we serve the city day in and day out. It’s so important to recognise the capability of our staff as well as to nurture and develop the talented individuals we have under our wing.

At Staff Governance Committee today we took a very significant step towards realising those goals, where a new approach to internal recruitment and the internal movement of staff was approved.

The full report can be found here and I’d encourage you to take time out to read it.

A great deal of work has gone into shaping the approach and my thanks go to Lesley Strachan, supported by Isla Newcombe, for a really valuable and detailed piece of work.

To give a very high-level overview of what is a comprehensive report, the overarching goal is to create an organisation where every member of staff has the opportunity to develop, progress and fulfil their potential by broadening the opportunities that exist for employees.

As the report outlines, our current selection process is the same whether we recruit internally or externally – we concentrate on technical skills, qualifications, and experience and assess a candidate’s ability to meet these from day one.

The new approach will focus on an internal candidate’s potential ability to undertake a new role based on transferable skills, knowledge and behaviours developed through their existing role with the Council. Where someone demonstrates a good fit to a new role, the transition will be successfully achieved through time, training and personal commitment.

The benefits to individuals are clear but there are also great advantages for the Council, both in terms of retaining talented people but also in our move to building a flexible and adaptable workforce equipped to meet the changing needs of our city and people. The needs of our employees are changing too, particularly our young workforce who we know value a varied career in a dynamic environment.

We want to support individuals to explore opportunities and also be inspired by the colleagues who have already made big decisions about their career path. The recent cohort of 29 Council staff, with a wide range of backgrounds, who have qualified as Early Years Practitioners is a fantastic example of a group who have embraced the chance to get involved in a growth area of our business as part of something new and exciting.

The focus on reskilling and retraining employees in every part of our operations is designed to allow us to recruit on a predominantly internal basis, helping to meet demand in key areas.

The approach approved by the Staff Governance Committee this afternoon will break down barriers for our valued employees and is a significant shift from a traditional recruitment model to a modern, dynamic way of working.

If you have any questions about the new approach to internal movement of staff,  a live Leadership Forum webinar with Isla on Monday, 7 October, at 1pm will  bring the plans to life.

Every one of the guiding principles is at the heart of the approach and I look forward to seeing the principle becoming practice, helping individuals from every function and cluster to thrive as part of one team, one council, one city.


Seeing red to raise awareness for national campaign

The invitation to wear red feels like one too good to turn down for an Aberdeen workforce, so I’m expecting a sea of colour next week when we lend our support to a national initiative.

On Friday, 4 October, the Council will be joining organisations up and down the country by taking part in Wear Red Day as part of the Show Racism the Red Card campaign.

You can find out more by clicking here, with opportunities to get involved and to donate to the charity’s work.

The overriding message is that racism and discrimination have no place in society – something we can all play our part in amplifying.

As a Council we’re proud of our commitment to diversity and equality, so the opportunity to add our voice to the work being done nationally is an important one.

I’d encourage everyone to show their support and wear red next week. With the Dons at home to Hibs the following day, it may even bring a bit of luck ahead of that Pittodrie encounter!

Beautiful Scotland Awards bring Aberdeen Communities Together

It has become customary at this time of year to celebrate Aberdeen’s award wins at the Beautiful Scotland Awards and 2019 is no different – but it is even more notable.

On Thursday there was a haul of silverware for the city at the 53rd annual ceremony.

Aberdeen Communities Together – an initiative driven by the Council but supported by hundreds of groups and more than a thousand volunteers – won the gold award in the city category and the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society Trophy.

The Powis Residents’ Group won gold in the residential community category and the young people discretionary award whilst Brighter Bucksburn and Cove in Bloom earned silver gilt prizes.

Steven Shaw and his teams deserve huge praise for the way they continue to overcome challenges, in the face of the financial challenges posed by the Council’s decreasing funding and rising demand, to deliver to award winning standards.

I know Steven is incredibly proud of all those who contribute – not just our own staff, but the many community groups and organisations who are central to the many achievements over recent years.

This year’s awards would also have been a great source of pride for Alan Gray, who we lost earlier this year but whose memory lives on through the work of his colleagues and efforts of the volunteers he took under his wing.

Aberdeen Communities Together (ACT) is the umbrella for the work being done to bring together groups and individuals with the share aim of maintaining the city’s sparkle.

ACT has been credited with creating a new wave of civic pride, as well as opening up external funding opportunities to support the work being done by the partners who work together with a common goal.

Thousands of volunteer hours, in addition to the hard work and dedication of our own staff, help maintain and improve our parks and greenspaces. Again, it’s the one team, one council, one city principle in full flow.

On behalf of the Council my thanks go to everyone who has played a part in the latest achievements – I’ve no doubt there will be many more to come!

Marischal display puts Trading Standards in the spotlight

Staff and visitors to Marischal College will have noticed our colleagues doing a sterling job of raising awareness as part of Scottish Trading Standards Week.

Graeme Paton and the team will be manning their stall throughout the week as part of the national drive to tackle important issues and share very powerful messages.

The role of Trading Standards in protecting the people and place from harm can’t be overstated and day in day out there is great work being done in our city centre and communities – both in terms of detection and prevention.

The focus to kick-off the week has been on the sale of tobacco and vaping products to young people under the age of 18, with some quite shocking statistics highlighting the scale of the issue.

In Aberdeen our team employs a variety of tactics to counter the problem and have had some notable successes in helping and encouraging city businesses and consumers to comply with tobacco and e-cigarette law, taking enforcement action against those who refuse to.

In doing this work, we play a vital part in the government’s health agenda of reducing tobacco and e-cigarette use which will limit the damaging long-term health impacts and ease the pressures on our partners in the health service further down the line. It’s a really good example of the early intervention agenda and the potential for benefits across a number of our partners.

A range of other Trading Standards topics will be covered through the week and I’d urge you to take the time to visit the stand and show your support to the work of our team.

Team goals realised as Offshore Europe makes its debut at new home ground

Just last week delegates at Offshore Europe were passing through the gates and preparing to enter a whole new world as they got their first experience of The Event Complex Aberdeen.

More than 38,000 visitors attended over the course of four days as the new venue hosted its inaugural major event, with the P&J Live arena and conference facilities coming into their own.

It was a test of the design, of systems, of traffic plans and of staff – and all passed with flying colours. Feedback has been incredibly positive and I sense a real pride throughout the city in what is such a hugely significant development.

Following on from what was a successful week for the city, I must take the opportunity to place on record my thanks to those who have worked tirelessly to realise what was at the outset a very ambitious vision.

Richard Sweetnam, Andrew Win, Scott Ramsay, Steve Whyte, Stephen Booth and John Wilson have led various teams over several years to take the project through design and build to the grand opening.

Special mention to John too for his role as managing agent of the AWPR project, with the bypass a key component of the successful operation of TECA. Aided in no small part by that fantastic infrastructure addition, Doug Ritchie and his colleagues from Mark Reilly’s cluster were able to keep the city moving throughout Offshore Europe and that’s testament to the planning that has been done. Ross Stevenson, Jack Penman, Neale Burrows, Vycki Ritson, Sharon Toseland and Iain Moffat were at the heart of an excellent package of work in relation to travel and traffic management.

A project of the scale of TECA – more than £300m of investment by Aberdeen City Council – involves intricate teamwork not only within our own functions and clusters but with the key partners in delivery. Henry Boot Developments, Robertson Group and operators SMG have been at the heart of the success.

Underpinning those partnerships is a complex and painstaking procurement and legal process, led by Craig Innes and Fraser Bell, which provided a clear framework from the outset. Alison Watson from a legal and contract perspectives and Carol Wright with Ruth Kydd in relation to insurance have all been key players with support from colleagues throughout both commercial and procurement services and legal services.  The legal and commercial foundations were expertly laid before a single spade had gone into the ground on site.

Of course, the funding of the project and financial governance has also been paramount to the success – with Sandra Buthlay, Neil Stewart and Karen Black from Jonathan Belford’s team integral to that aspect of TECA’s delivery.

In Gale Beattie’s Strategic Place Planning cluster our planners at the beginning of the process and building standards team through to the final sign-off have also been instrumental while, from Andrew Howe’s Digital and Technology cluster, Steve Robertson and colleagues were pushed to the fore in ensuring the connectivity and systems were in place and stood up to the rigours of such a large attendance.

Offshore Europe was about far more than providing a world class venue, with our presence through the Invest Aberdeen and World Energy City Partnerships stands part of the ongoing efforts to grow our regional economy.

Richard’s team, with Dawn Schultz and Emma Watt leading the way during the months of preparation, ensured our civic leaders had a meticulous programme for the duration of the show and were able to maximise the opportunities presented by the audience Offshore Europe creates. The Invest Aberdeen flag was flown by Danielle McKinlay, Lynn Mutch, Callum Stewart and James Welsh.

The External Communications cluster was involved in everything from the launch of the venue through to the extensive traffic and travel messaging across social media and the design of exhibition material as well as having a part to play in various elements of the planning and delivery of Offshore Europe and WECP. Shevonne Bruce, Stella Evans, photographer and videographer Norman Adams, Karen Allan, Paul Smith and designers John Smellie, Katrina Angus, Laura McAra and Brenda Reid were among those involved from the team.

The WECP annual general meeting, the culmination of a packed programme for members, was hosted at the Town House to round-off the week, again with fantastic feedback on the professionalism and dedication shown by an array of our colleagues in bringing that important event to fruition. Ishbel Greig, Catherine Seam, Rachael Smillie, Morag McCorkindale as well as civic colleagues Gail Mair and Garry Watson were central to the planning and delivery. There was also a dedicated band of volunteers, drawn from various clusters, who kept the wheels of WECP turning through the week and ensured delegates left with a fantastic impression of our city.

As a final vote of thanks, it’s important to highlight the work done from an emergency planning and perspective. Largely unseen work, it is immensely important.

Mhairi McCowan, as our interim emergency planning and resilience lead, was supported by Fraser as well as our Duty Emergency Response Coordinator for the week Derek McGowan and all Chief Officers in ensuring we were prepared for every eventuality during such as a high-profile event. The comprehensive programme of work from Mhairi included devising and hosting two emergency response exercises, providing vital assurance to us and our fellow Local Resilience Partnership members, and extensive liaison with emergency services.

From protective services there was valuable input from Andrew Morrison, Samantha Bull, Nicola Dunbar, Helen Brady, Courtney Craig, Fiona Harvie, Justine Morrough and Tara Gilchrest. Andy Campbell, Lee Taylor, Bruce McKay and the building management team were also instrumental in supporting emergency planning and facilitating the WECP events.

The contributions of our public sector partners in the emergency services cannot be overstated, with collaboration during the planning stages and throughout the course of the event.

One team, one Council, one city – we can all be very proud of the way we came together to deliver on behalf of the city.

Suicide prevention week: Ask, Tell, Save a Life

Many different themes run through this blog through the course of a year, but by its nature it tends to be a corporate platform.

I’m setting my role to one side for a few moments to post something far more personal. I write as a workmate, a friend, a wife, a mother and a daughter rather than as Chief Executive.

Today marks the start of Suicide Prevention Week.  It’s a subject that isn’t spoken about openly very often and isn’t particularly well understood.

NHS Health Scotland and NHS Education Scotland have created the animation below to coincide with a week of action and awareness raising and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes out to watch it. It could help to save a life.

On Saturday, SAMH will be hosting a tree planting ceremony to remember those lost by suicide in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. This is an annual event, open to all, and this year is being held at Battle Hill in Huntly from 2pm. Where a tree is planted, a plaque is placed to try to encourage conversations to open up.

There is also a drive within the Council to increase awareness of Time For Talking, with promotional material being distributed within clusters at present. The free counselling service is available to all employees by phone 24/7 on 0800 9703980 or online at, with a live chat option using the password TfTnow. The roll-out of our Mental Health Action Plan also continues.

Because suicide isn’t discussed we tend not to acknowledge the scale. A World Health Organisation report published in recent years stated that at least 800,000 people die as the result of suicide every year. That averages one person every 40 seconds, the subject of the thought-provoking poem by Patrick Roche you can read at the foot of this post.

In Scotland the average is two people every day.

Much more than numbers and statistics, each individual lost to suicide is a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour in their own right.

Any death is a tragedy, with the loss of time that would have been spent together. When someone dies as the result of suicide it can be far more difficult to come to terms with

Every one of those people represented in the stark figures I have mentioned is different and has their own story, with so many complexities that make it incredibly difficult to find a common thread or a simple solution. But we have to try.

There is a lot being done locally and across Scotland, something I see at first-hand as a member of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, and it’s so important we build on that good work.

Removing the stigma and secrecy that so often shrouds conversations about suicide is a big part of that.

Continuing to show care for one another is even more important. We spend so much time with our colleagues, day in and day out, and sometimes, not always, we get a sense that something has changed. We may have an understanding of what others are experiencing and events that may be causing distress, often we have no idea.

Mental and physical wellbeing aren’t always visible, but both can have a profound impact on our lives and those around us – deserving of compassion and understanding. There’s no shame and should be no secrecy, as a society we have to get better at breaking down the barriers and opening up the conversations that might make a difference.

What I really want to say is it’s fine to ask ‘are you okay?’ and it’s fine to tell those around you and reach out for help if things aren’t right.

Every 40 seconds by Patrick Roche:

This is not a list poem

This is a eulogy for those swallowed by their own mind
This is a call to arms, a call to speak
This is not family gatherings when I mention mental health
And then told not to spoil the turkey
That it is uncouth
That it is better to stay silent
This is taking that silence and then breaking it with my hands
With my teeth and tongue
This is people with mental illness banging our heads against the walls
Not out of insanity
But to try to make some noise
To be heard
Too often we are ashamed
Too often we are in the shadows

Suicide is not always a banshee wailing against your eardrums

It is the child playing hide and seek behind your friend’s smile
They will not wear it openly
They will not hold its hand and introduce it to you
It is always invisible
Suicide is a lonely ghost desperate to give itself playmates
It is not a permanent solution to a temporary problem
These are so rarely temporary problems
It is aiming for a long night’s sleep
After years of insomnia
It is a seduction of safety and simplicity
Sometimes it is careful planning
Drafting the note
Inspecting the apartment for beams that can support your weight
Or it is a flip switch
Given the right trigger
Or no trigger at all
It is painting a target on the highway divider
It is imagining the phone call my mother will get in the middle of a nap
Sometimes it is sudden
It is not always arriving

The most convenient time of the clock keeps ticking
Every forty seconds
This is not a list poem
This is the tea kettle rising to a soprano screech
But you keep ignoring it to watch TV
It keeps whistling and crying
But you keep ignoring it
How much noise do I have to make
When we tell you that we are suicidal
It is a cry for help
But that’s not a sign of weakness
This is not a sign of weakness
This is saying that we’re fighting and we’ve been fighting with every weapon and fist we have
We’ve crashed against the cliffside
Broken and splintered
But we’re still fighting with whatever we can
I’m using my voice
That’s all I have left

Over the years I have written different versions of my suicide note

On the nights I almost took my life I always deleted or threw away the note
Rather than sending it or leaving it for someone
I assumed the words would just make them uncomfortable
If I’m going to die
Better to do it without all that fuss
Better to do it in silence
Hundreds and thousands of people are dying in silence
And because of silence
This is not a list poem
This is saying we can keep each other breathing
This is speaking louder than the stigma and hoping someone will listen

Energy of our Council teams in focus as OE and WECP burst into life

A very brief note to say good luck to the many, many Council teams who are involved in the delivery and support of both Offshore Europe and the World Energy Cities Partnership AGM being hosted in the city this week.

The two will run side by side in a hectic spell which will bring tens of thousands of delegates, exhibitors and VIP guests to the city.

From the project team who have delivered the fantastic venue for OE – as P&J Live prepares for its first major event – to the City Growth colleagues hosting our Invest Aberdeen stand, the road and traffic specialists who will keep the city moving, emergency planning colleagues who have prepared for every eventuality and the various Council groups who have ensured the WECP event will run like clockwork.

That is to name just a few of the areas we will have an important role in, there are lots of others to add to that list.

Best wishes to everyone involved this week, I know how much preparation has gone in and the energy and commitment that sits behind the plans for the days ahead.