End of an era for the Ideas Hub as new opportunities for collaboration are explored

Building the Council of the Future and transforming the customer experience requires us to work together – and harnessing the creativity and knowledge of all employees is central to that.

As a complex organisation, with staff working different shift patterns and in so many different locations, I recognise we need to have the right tools to enable the collaboration and engagement that is so important to our success.

The Ideas Hub has been one of the platforms we have used and it has been of real benefit to the Council. However, our contract with the Ideas Hub provider HunchBuzz ends this month and the decision was taken earlier in the year that we would not be renewing. The associated saving is included in our budget measures for 2019/20.

With Office 365 now rolled out, there is an opportunity to look at how we can continue to improve online collaboration using the options open to us and work is ongoing in that respect.

The intention is to launch a replacement for the Ideas Hub, developed and managed in-house, with a firm focus on improving services across the organisation while making the most of our reduced resources. We need to put the customer at the heart of innovation.

The aim is to promote collective problem-solving and collaboration across the organisation as we seek to capture, refine and deliver your suggestions for how we can do things, big and small, more effectively. The hub is likely to be have a different name, reflecting our customer-centric approach.

A customer’s experience often cuts across Clusters and Functions, so we must think beyond organisational boundaries. One City, One Council, One Team: our new Guiding Principles provide inspiration. Our Organisational Capabilities provide the context.

Digital systems may give us the means to be more efficient but it’s the way we use new technology that really counts. That means having a greater understanding our customers and their requirements. Qualities like empathy and imagination will be invaluable as we redesign services and operations to better serve communities and deliver value for money.

The new platform is being developed using tools in Office 365 and I will share further news on that as the project progresses, as part of a wider piece of work being done to improve communication and engagement throughout the Council.

Since its introduction in 2015, the Ideas Hub has helped drive transformation and I would like to thank its many contributors (and impassioned commentators!). Be assured, recent submissions – including those from the “Make Every Penny Count” campaign – remain under active consideration.

We want to build on that success, so I hope you will all join me in constructively embracing the new hub when it arrives.

If we improve the customer experience, we improve our own experience as public servants.

From counting votes to collecting awards, May marks a month to celebrate

There’s lots to celebrate as the end of another month looms – so much that I’m not quite sure where to begin!

I’ll start with the most recent and thank the hundreds of Council staff who ensured the European Parliament elections ran like clockwork in the city. From polling day to Sunday’s count at the AECC, everything went to plan. Congratulations to Fraser Bell on his first count as Returning Officer, ably supported by David Gow, Steven Dongworth and colleagues from every cluster and function. Particular thanks go to Town House building assistants Derek Morrison, Hamid Abouelouafaa and Ian Bell as well as customer service advisor Jenny Main for their valued contribution. A real team effort and logistical triumph!


Whilst the final preparations for the count were underway on Sunday morning, a logistical challenge of a different type was unfolding at our accommodation facility at West North Street. Flooding led to the need for swift action on the ground to look after those displaced and prepare contingency plans. Special mention to Kay Diack and her team for their actions and making sure everyone was cared for.

Continuing with the notes of thanks, last week Core HR went live as the transition to the new system draws to a close. For users of the system it represents a far cleaner and intuitive platform, which many will already have seen when accessing the latest payslips online, and for the organisation it supports our modernisation in HR, payroll and workforce planning.

As with all change on this scale, there have been teething problems to overcome in recent days and we’re committed to ensuring any issues are addressed as a matter of urgency.

It has been a huge undertaking to migrate from our old system to Core HR, with colleagues in Digital and Technology working closely with those in People and Organisation and Customer Experience in particular. Jacqui McKenzie, as Chief Officer for Customer Experience, has been fulsome in her praise of the teams who have worked tirelessly to make the switch and can I add my appreciation.

Moving on to awards, we have had a number of notable successes in May.

The Council has been presented with the new Buildings Standards Community and Building Safety Award in recognition of the work undertaken in relation to fire safety following the Grenfell disaster.

Grant Tierney and the building standards team impressed judges with the comprehensive response in Aberdeen, particularly the reviews carried out within all 59 of our multi-storey properties and the approach to fire door compliance. It has been a major undertaking but a vital one – safety must always be our first priority. The national award is a very welcome endorsement of Aberdeen City Council’s diligent work in this important area.

The APSE Awards have also brought success, with Daniel Shand receiving a silver award in the Rising Star category. Daniel’s work as the Council Gardener has been very well received and his latest initiative with city schools is reaching a new audience. Daniel’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject is fantastic to see.


Sport Aberdeen has also been in the spotlight – taking to the stage at the Community Leisure UK Awards and winning two prestigious prizes. First was the Leisure Capital Project of the Year Award, for the investment in the Sheddocksley facilities, and then came the Outstanding Individual Volunteer Award for 15-year-old Aimee Work for her achievements as chair of Aberdeen’s Active Girls Committee.

Staying with our ALEOs, the Music Hall redevelopment earned Aberdeen Performing Arts the RICS Scotland Community Benefit Award. The community engagement was singled out by judges for praise, as well as the long term benefits for the people of the city.

That’s an awful lot of positive news to squeeze into one blog post – but it represents just a slice of the good work being done all across the Council and the city. There’s much more to follow!

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has contributed and congratulations to all for the wonderful achievements of the past month.

Back to the future with Digital Skills Week

We might not have the doc’s DeLorean parked up at Marischal College, but there is an opportunity to go back to the future as a legacy of the excellent programme that colleagues in Organisational Development ran for Digital Skills Week from May 13.

I had my first experience of hosting a live webinar, as part of Webinar Wednesday, and it was great to be involved in.

Thank you to everyone who took part on the day and if you didn’t get the chance then there’s still the facility to go back and view at your leisure through Office 365.

So that’s the ‘back’ element covered off, but what about the ‘future’?

The future of the city and Council was at the heart of the session, with the expert input of Martin Murchie, Craig Innes and Jonathan Belford.

The focus was on one of our seven organisational capabilities – managing demand through prevention and early intervention. Of course that links to the other capabilities, notably focussing on outcomes that make a difference.

I hope we provided a good overview of demand management and how it applies not only the organisation but to each of us as individual members of staff. It will be something you hear much more about and we all have a role to play.

It’s a really interesting subject when you scratch beneath the surface and there’s a power of work being done to evolve our approach.

Digital Skills Week was a great way of turning the spotlight on the role technology will play as we continue to make leaps and bounds forward as an organisation.

On a personal level, I’m enjoying exploring new platforms and the first webinar was a case in point. I have to admit I was apprehensive to start with, when you’re more used to face to face events it’s a really strange experience speaking to an audience you can’t see, but I certainly hope to be involved again as webinars become more of a feature across the Council.

We’re a complex organisation, with thousands of staff working different shift patterns and at various different locations inside and out, so communicating to everyone is a real challenge. It’s something we are committed to getting better at and digital tools will help us to do that.

Ending the week with two very different votes of thanks

Council life is always varied and I’m ending the week with two very different but equally important votes of thanks.

The first is to all those who once again have put Aberdeen on centre stage through the staging of the OVO Energy Tour Series, an event broadcast worldwide and enjoyed on the day by thousands of spectators who turned out to cheer on the elite cyclists, applaud the local competitors and enjoy the programme of activities.

It’s another great example of the one team, one council, one city principle – with colleagues from across a variety of clusters (City Growth, Communications and Operations to name just three) coming together to ensure the smooth running of the event, working closely with public and private sector partners to deliver a memorable day for city residents, businesses and visitors. Thank you to everyone for the hard work behind the scenes – it really paid off.

Pride is another of the principles that is in plentiful supply across the Council and it certainly applies to our role in the Career Ready initiative – as does our purpose, and vision of Aberdeen as a place where all people can prosper.

You might recall I previously posted an appeal for colleagues to join me in volunteering as a mentor, with an excellent response.

We have an enthusiastic group of Aberdeen City Council mentors and are preparing to welcome our young people for a four-week placement that will give a great insight into the world of work.

My thanks go to all who have given their time to volunteer – your efforts will make a real difference to those who are falling under our collective council wing.

I remember my own one-week work experience as a 15-year-old at Timex in Dundee – and how daunting it all was! The memories are of seeing the big mainframe computer for the first time and the big, noisy print room.  Times have certainly changed in the workplace since then, but the nervousness and excitement for those joining us will be just the same.

I recently attended the Career Ready 2019 graduation ceremony in Perth, where a group of Aberdeen schools were among those from across Scotland taking part.

If I had any doubt about the positive impact the scheme has, that was quickly dispelled as I listened to the young people describe themselves pre and post participation. They highlighted how much more confident they were as a result of Career Ready and it was lovely to see so many of the young people then chose to pursue a career in the area where they had spent their interim placement.

There will be new opportunities for you to get involved with mentoring in the months ahead. Speaking from personal experience, it’s just as important for our own development as professionals as it is for the young person. I’ve gained so much from being part of it.

I came away from the Perth event with a renewed belief and pride in the influence we have on the lives of children in the city – but even greater pride in the Aberdeen graduates. I’m already looking forward to the next graduation ceremony for our current cohort.

One (cycling) team, one council, one city!

16/0519 Tour Series 2019A group of intrepid colleagues will be showing the one team principle in a whole new light today when they take to the streets as part of the OVO Energy Tour Series.

Flying the flag for the Council in the corporate race are Sandie Scott, Phil Astley, Janet McRoberts and Barbara Jones – good luck to team ACC!

The city centre is a hive of activity this morning as it’s is transformed into a cycling hub, with activities running from noon right through to the start of the elite races that get underway with the women’s event at 5.30pm.

The corporate competition is part of the support programme, with age group and amateur categories on the 1.3km circuit from noon, and our team will be on the start line at around 2.20pm for anyone who is keen to cheer them on.

They’ll do us proud and will surely come through with fewer bumps and strains than the Council football team that fell to a gallant one goal defeat against Police Scotland counterparts last week. It’s the taking part that counts, at least that’s what the football team tell me!

The Tour Series route this year starts and finishes on Broad Street, showcasing the incredible event space that has been created, and takes riders down Upperkirkgate and onto Schoolhill before looping back through Back Wynd and Belmont Street to head back along Union Street to the home straight past the Town House and Marischal College.

The organisers take the Tour Series to towns and cities across Britain and have been vocal in their praise of the Aberdeen crowds, with thousands turning out over the past two years. Here’s hoping for similar support today and this evening – and more of the sunshine that was a feature of the Aberdeen leg in 2017 and 2018.

Tour Series 2019

Digital skills and numeracy in the spotlight

I’m delighted the Council will be lending its support to Digital Skills Week (May 13-17) and National Numeracy Day (May 15), with lots of opportunities for everyone to get involved.

The programme for the digital week can be found here and includes events, showcases and drop-in sessions.

Digital skills are the foundation the Council of the future is being built upon and this week is a good chance to shine a light on the way we’re all changing and adapting –  I hope every week will be a digital skills week going forward!

National Numeracy Day promotes skills that are also central to so many of the tasks we carry out as a Council day to day. At its heart there’s a challenge to test your ability with a view to learning and developing. You can find out more here, with links to useful resources.

Both Digital Skills Week and National Numeracy Day are part of growing national campaigns and I’d encourage as many people to take some time to explore the resources available and to support these two initiatives.

A glimpse into the future through the eyes of Aberdeen’s children

I had the pleasure of representing Aberdeen at the Unicef Child Friendly City accreditation board at its latest meeting and it underlined the importance of our bid to be recognised.

Launched by Unicef in 1996 and active in 40 countries, the initiative is designed to put the human rights of children and young people at the heart of local democracy – translating Unicef’s global mission into local action.

To achieve Child Friendly City status, Aberdeen will need to be able to demonstrate that we hear the voice of children and that we consider the impact on all children of the decisions we take.

We need to demonstrate that as a city, not just a Council, and there is support from a wide range of partners for the bid for Unicef recognition.

The accreditation will help us realise the ambition of ensuring citizens of Aberdeen, of all ages, are involved in decision making – something that is integral to the transformation journey we’re on.

The voices of children are definitely being heard on climate change. Across the world, including in Aberdeen, we saw young people strike to drive action on climate change. Locally pupils ensured their views were at the forefront and influenced the Council’s decision to ban the use of plastic straws.

I recently attended the national conference of Scotland Excel, the sector’s national buying body, and we heard from a group of influential children who were showing us the level of plastic content in a range of commodities local authorities purchase. That input will shift attitudes and continue to make a difference to the world we live in.

We’ve had a glimpse of the future and its going to become our present – because the children aren’t going to slow down! They are, after all, fighting for their own future and we all have a role in providing the support, encouragement and platforms to enable them to shape positive change.

A jet powered tour of the city’s transformation

I jumped on the Jet 727 bus out to the airport recently and was treated to a tour of the Council’s leading role in the transformation of Aberdeen.

Moving slowly through Broad Street, the view of the stunning restoration of Marischal College is fantastic – with the fountain, set against the landscaping, providing a natural draw for locals and tourists alike.

The contrast with the bold, contemporary design of Marischal Square is something to celebrate, with Provost Skene’s House peeking out and inviting exploration of what’s become a real hive of activity in and around the new restaurants and offices.

As we headed north, the next landmark was an engineering one rather than architectural – the hydrogen refuelling station at Kittybrewster. We should all take pride in the way we have led the way in terms of the adoption of hydrogen, with the roll-out in Aberdeen eclipsing anything that has been seen in Britain and indeed Europe. The progress has been rapid and underlines the importance of innovation to the future of the city.

The Haudagain was next on the route, with the cleared site providing a nod towards the regeneration of key communities and the importance that’s being placed on modernising housing stock and changing the way people live. With hundreds of newly built council houses at Manor and Smithfield just a stone’s throw away, the progress is clear to see.

Rolling on, the sight of The Event Complex Aberdeen in the final stages of construction is overwhelming. The scale of the project can’t be overstated – creating a facility of the size and quality that will be the envy of cities not only on home soil but worldwide. We’re on the finishing straight with TECA and excitement is growing, quite rightly.

The final leg of the journey was on the airport link road, an Aberdeen City Council infrastructure project dovetailing with the AWPR (another project in which we had a significant role in delivering).

One short trip, lots of impressive achievements along the way: “Nae bad fae the Cooncil!”

A huge well done to everyone who has played their part in the landmarks of the Jet 727 tour!

A fond farewell to a long serving colleague

I attended a farewell presentation to Lorna Cassie in the Digital and Technology cluster last week and it was lovely to hear how much she meant to colleagues and friends at the Council.

As Lorna prepares for the next adventure, after 36 years of sterling service to the organisation, my own thoughts took me back to November 2013 when I joined the Council as Director of Corporate Governance.

Lorna was one of the first members of staff I met and it’s incredible to think how much has changed in that time, with no sign of that pace slowing.

Long service brings with it tales of the past and the presentation touched on the experiences over that time, particularly the significant reorganisation in the 1990s.

I recognise that many colleagues are choosing to take VSER and therefore farewells are taking place across the Council.

You often hear it said “there’s no future in the past” but it’s important at this time, I think, to celebrate that past and in particular the contributions and achievements of colleagues who are leaving us.

It seems to be human nature that it takes colleagues to leave the organisation before we tell them what they’ve meant to us, but nonetheless it’s important to say it.

So to Lorna and all those colleagues who are moving onto a new chapter in their lives, thank you for all the service you’ve given the city and the Council over many years. We wish you well and hope you look back at your time and colleagues within Aberdeen City Council fondly.

Putting communities at the heart of our team Aberdeen approach

At the core of the new guiding principles is the importance of one team, one council, one city and we see that in action across the organisation.

The work being done in key communities is fantastic to see and is an example of the way the principles can help us to make a real difference

The development of an integrated locality model of delivering services is crucial and we have taken great strides forward.

Historically we have a number of services that are delivered through local offices – housing and community development are obvious examples, but we also need to consider the role of environmental services that are based in localities as well of schools and the presence of public sector partners including GP surgeries and police and fire stations.

Our transformation programme is designed to ensure there is a one team approach – that officers dealing with Council housing issues are as effective as they can be in sustaining tenancies and ensuring that people have warm, safe homes; or that local teachers are providing the highest level of education for children in that community to provide the best start in life. We need to understand what we can do as a team to improve outcomes for all those we serve.

Outside of that Council house is a natural and built environment. The tenant inside their new home will want to see that the environment is well cared for, that the roads are in good condition and well lit to provide a safe route to school, and that the local park their children play in provides a safe environment for play. This is a simple example of how we work as one Council to improve the lives of residents and communities.

Where there may be crime or antisocial behaviour in an area, those residents will look to the police for support and action and expect that they work with other services to remove any ongoing concerns.

Many members of that community will want to play a part in how their community looks, to participate in decision making and even take responsibility for the condition of the park or to ensure there is no dog fouling on the streets. They want to drive the provision of activities in local community centres, GP surgeries and schools for children and adults. This exemplifies the one city approach, where public agencies and communities are working together.

To ensure this approach is consolidated, we are working on new hubs in Torry and Tillydrone where services will not just be co-located but integrated, and the one city principle will be embedded.

This involves understanding the nature of demand in local communities, and ensuring the right services and approaches are working together to tackle and reduce that demand.

To support this we are developing improved mechanisms for identifying concerns sooner and sharing data across all partners. The culture around this work is critically important and I’m delighted the Chief Officers for the Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership, Early Intervention and Community Empowerment and Integrated Children’s Services have been working closely to achieve our ambitions.

With the three locality areas agreed and health, community and education services being aligned, they are developing plans to ensure that at both strategic and operational levels there are strong locality leadership teams in place to plan the effective delivery of services. Our existing locality partnerships will benefit from this approach.

I look forward to seeing how this work develops over the coming months as we develop our one team, one council, one city approach – and to the outcomes it will deliver.