Tuesday, 31 May 2011

organisational culture

not this kind of culture...

I spent Tuesday at the Volunteer Development Scotland board meeting in Stirling - VDS is Scotland's Centre for Excellence in volunteering and leads the way in informing and modernising approaches to volunteering policy, enhancing practice and improving the quality of the volunteering experience for the people of Scotland. I really enjoy being a part of the board - yes, the decisions are sometimes challenging and in the current economic climate everything comes with a bit more pressure these days - but the enthusiasm and focus of the team at VDS is something I enjoy being around.

In previous meetings we have used the term 'form follows function' to help us through our decision making and today the Chair coined another - lean, mean, fast, flexible. 'Mean' is not us being horrible to one another - more that any organisation needs to be able to focus on its aims and objectives and not be distracted from that path. I like these two phrases. The first reminds us that while structures are important, they are only important so far as they enable us to carry out and achieve our aims. The second phrase reminds us that delivery needs to be reactive and proactive to the environment around us and that there is no room for excess in anything that we do.

In the hands of other organisations these phrases could be seen as negative or reasons to take actions that would otherwise be unpalatable without a sound bite to cover them off. It is interesting to me that I don't feel this with the Board or team at VDS - that behind the words is a philosophy and ethos that is about always keeping the volunteer at the centre of our work. How do you explain this though? This kind of 'feeling' strays into that fuzzy world of 'culture' that many organisations struggle to define or achieve. It has made me reflect on the organisations and cultures I come across in other parts of my working and personal life - the NHS, Diabetes UK [and my amazing team in Scotland], the Scottish Government etc.

It has also prompted me to go and look out my old MBA notes on culture and have a think about the different kinds and how they are generated - and the leadership qualities required for each one - combined with what I saw at VDS and experience elsewhere and see what I can learn from that. I think it could form a future post...

Monday, 30 May 2011

joseph joseph - so good they named it twice

I previously blogged about the joseph joseph index chopping boards I got given for Christmas [thanks, Emma!]. I have not used them, preferring to save them for the new house. Now, the new house has seen some buying power - kitchens, carpets, bathroom suites etc all take investment - but we have been very restrained and not splurged on 'furnishings and household items' as I term it. So, we haven't bought anything that isn't integral to the building itself. We have held back and been sensible - we have not stockpiled cushions, crockery or ornaments. This weekend we broke with that just a wee tiny bit. We ordered some dining chairs to brighten up the dining table and some bar stools for the breakfast bar. We have also ordered pots and pans [new induction hob = new cooking pots] but that is a whole other post. We also indulged in some joseph joseph! So I have new utensils on their way -

And critically, two new worktop savers for our new breakfast bar/Kitchen surfaces. The house has a lot of sleek lines and neutral colours but everyone needs some fun and we spotted some cool worktop savers at Sterling Mills.

Andy gets the tractor -

I get the sheep on the hill -

We managed to not buy the entire range, or give in to new knives, or any number of amazing things. So we have been restrained - honest!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

busy busy busy

Sometimes life gets very busy and while most of the busyness has been good it is tiring and I am starting to look forward to a week or two of calm post-move.

First off is that the house is now lurching forward at a scary pace. We are three weeks out from moving - decisions about paint, conversations with lawyers, forms to fill, carpets to finally order, packing to be done.

The house is looking almost like a proper ready-to-move in house - we get very excited every time we visit. It has always, even in it's shell-like state, felt like home but now there is actually a visibly recognisable house there.

Yes, it has gone so far that I now gaze at freshly painted walls for hours on end...

The walls are painted and the windows sealed and there are wires for our lights.

The bathroom is in and almost done.

The stained glass is being cleaned and restored.

And sometimes it is the little things - our front door is finished, the handles are on the internal doors.

On top of that, work has been pretty manic. We had a day long meeting on Tuesday on peer support for people living with diabetes [followed by dinner with the lovely Ruth Wilson - our Peer Support Manager who works out of the Cardiff office] and launched the Live for It! project on Thursday. Friday was 'work from home day' which means I get to catch up on all of the paperwork and emailing the week generates. And I get to do it sitting in my jeans and hoody and playing my music loud. It also means I can multi task to make our lovely builders some cakes - this week they got cherry and chocolate muffins. In the space of our hour on site they had cleaned out the whole batch...

To round it all off I finally got somewhere with my shoulder and saw the GP and got some pain relief. The worst thing about the pain has been the exhaustion that has come with it and not being able to concentrate when it gets really bad. When everything looks like it is at the end of a long tunnel because the pain is at crazy levels it makes it difficult to be as productive as usual. But - now it is under control I managed a full Saturday awake - for the past four or five weeks I have crashed out post-house visit for most of the day - not great for packing and getting stuff done!

Now I just need to make it through the next three weeks and it will be move in day!

Friday, 27 May 2011

back to skool

One of the issues that really gets me going is kids in school with type 1 diabetes who feel isolated, or are bullied, or don't get access to their treatments because diabetes is not well understood. Alongside that I want kids to have good, engaging education on making healthy choices so that their future is not going to include developing type 2. If diabetes continues to rise in prevalence at it's current rate, 1 in 4 children at school will have diabetes when they are in late adulthood. This for me is quite terrifying - what kind of future is that to offer young people?

How to tackle this? Well, a purely medical approach won't work. Nurses and doctors don't have the time to go into schools to talk about diabetes, kids don't want a lecture on metabolic systems and teachers don't have the training themselves to explain one of the most complex conditions there is. Diabetes UK Scotland doesn't know how to educate primary school kids and schools don't want us taking up their class time.

We had to think differently. The Edinburgh International Science Festival has a worldwide reputation for making science education fun and interesting and encouraging kids to enjoy science. We have the diabetes knowledge and the ability to fundraise. The schools have a new 'curriculum for excellence' that requires learning to integrate subject areas. From that an idea was born. Why not devise a schools tour that took healthy lifestyle messages and promotion to the kids in a way that matches curriculum objectives? But, in addition, the first step in this was through one of our volunteers who attended an EISF event and had that 'lightbulb' moment - and reminds me that you can take an idea from its initial point of origin and take it right through to fruition. Something to remember when ideas seem too hard to make a reality.

Live for It! is the fantastic result of this. After almost a year of development, and £100,000 investment with sponsorship from Lifescan, Pfizer and ScotMid we have launched a joint project between EISF and Diabetes UK Scotland that debuted yesterday at Niddrie Mills Primary School in Edinburgh.

Each school participates in four 90 minute sessions during which students explore topics including, diet, cooking, digestion, diabetes and how the body uses energy. The programme comprises three interactive workshops, Eat for it! – where students go on a journey through the digestive system, Go for It! where they test blood glucose and learn how our bodies convert food into energy, and Cook for It! – all about eating a balanced diet and making healthy food choices. The final session Live for It! allows the students to show off what they have learned through a series of interesting challenges, including Oscar; a life size model patient with exposed organs and a flashing red nose modelled on the ‘Operation’ board game.

The kids get to find out about how glucose and diet affect the body...

I went along to the launch yesterday and had an amazing time - seeing kids talk about the pancreas, the first time they made and tasted cous cous, figure out what foods to eat and be excited about exercise and what recipes they had tried over the four weeks was great. Seeing a very tangible impact from our work was also good and gives your enthusiasm a real boost. I also got to try out the x box kinnect challenge along with Sarah Ward [Diabetes UK Scotland Project Development Manager and the one to contact about Live for It! - sarah.ward@diabetes.org.uk].

This year we will reach around 26 schools and we are already planning for how to fund more.

For me this is what the job ultimately is about - yes, writing reports, filing documents, sorting out emails, managing the budget - these are all essential. But the only reason for doing all of that is so that a bunch of kids get the chance to make the choices about their life that can make the difference between a healthy life or one where type 2 diabetes looms down the line. And the great thing is that with the EISF we will get robust evaluated outcomes and be able to take this to the Scottish Government and others and say, hey, why not make sure every kid in Scotland gets this?

I get to hang out with the EISF team - amazing people - and their Director - Simon Gage - also amazing!

Friday, 20 May 2011

work life balance

So all this social media stuff these days makes it difficult to keep work and home life separate. I currently have two facebook pages and have just started to tweet and I am realising that keeping bits of yourself separate is quite difficult.

When I started this blog it was partly so that Andy had an online repository of recipes, for me to record recipes and general chit chat for friends and family - it resolutely stayed clear of of other areas of my life - like work, politics and having Lupus and M.E. They do sometimes get a mention but they are not dwelt on. I worried about mixing them and about whether if I mentioned work and what I made last night for dinner in the same post that somehow made the work stuff less profesional and the home stuff less fun. It is more difficult these days to shut the door behind you and create that space. But at the same time sometimes the overlap can be positive.

One of things I have realised recently is how much I enjoy that Andy shares the same area of work - diabetes. We have quite different jobs and careers and also quite different interests in general - proving the opposites attract rule. He has a phd and works with other very clever people in health informatics and I can barely get my head round what he does - I do a job and have a career that at times defies definition. Campaigning, public affairs, policy development, planning etc - what does all that mean? I always struggle when you get a form with a drop down menu and you have to chose your profession - teacher, doctor, mechanic, lawyer, nurse, shop assistant - why don't I have an easily defined profession? It seemed that our work was definitely an area where we would always have little in common. But we do both share a keen sense of wanting to have jobs where we can see a line between what we do and making a positive difference in someone's life. Well, that can sound a bit cheesey and ultimately we need to pay the mortgage but we have always made decisions that once the bills are paid we pick jobs we enjoy and that match that goal. Diabetes has been the first time we have overlapped.

One of the interesting things about this has been how we have dealt with sharing our work and also drawing boundaries around it. Andy works with patient data and supports research - so sometimes he won't tell me what he is working on. Sometimes the first time I know what he has been doing is when a paper is published or an announcement made. Equally there are things I sometimes don't tell him - like the content of presentations I am about to do at conferences he is in the audience of. We have worked out a way of keeping those issues separate.

But what has been lovely is when we are tackling a problem or feeling a sense of achivement with things at work we can share it - and we can share a general sense of working together towards something. Andy knows me better than anyone so while the fact that his ability to read my mind isn't always a good thing, it is lovely to be able to be totally open and know the person you are talking to 'gets you'.

As well as Andy and I sharing diabetes, I have realised that working with people the way we do at Diabetes UK Scotland means you are allowed to be a person as well as a role. There always has to be a line, of course, but some of my favourite moments have not been in meetings or writing reports - some have been when a volunteer has offered me hospitality in their home after a long day and made me feel welcome or when the team takes a break to play with a team member's daughter after nursery. Sometimes it is when you are exhausted and are really not looking forward to taking the train home when you realise the short lift to the station you were being given is taking twenty minutes and in fact your colleague has decided to drive you home to help you out.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that we are all human and not mechanical parts that can be separated and then put back together easily. It is good to have boundaries. It is good to be professional. But I think maybe my virtual on-line kitchen could do with a bit more of a peak at the other rooms in the house a bit more often. Anyway, once the new house is finished a seem of blogging material will run dry and I will need the material! And if John Halamka can have a blog that combines his high profile work in American healthcare with how to build a birdhouse then why can't we all?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

the project - the kitchen goes in !

And the big moment is here! Our kitchen is now being put in and while there are still a couple of bits and pieces to finish the bulk of it is there. The kitchen has been over a year in planning and while I love all of our house the kitchen has always been the bit I have looked forward to most.

The back wall of cabinets are black gloss [the wrap is still on to protect it while the house is finished] with a vanilla worktop and cabinet doors. I did worry about whether the black gloss would be over powering but seeing it in has put my mind at rest - the height and light of the space needs something other than the vanilla and I am happy it works well.

The surface space is really good - it will be so much easier to have more than a foot of space like we did in our old flat! The template for the indiction hob and hood are done too.

And our brand new shiny sink -

The bit I have been waiting for though, of course, is the Magic Larder - no picture can do it justice and just now the shelves are tied up but here is the first pics. I am in storage heaven...

So there are still bits and pieces to be done but it is great to see such a big step forward - it makes it all the more real and closer to moving in.

Friday, 6 May 2011


They say a week is a long time in politics but after the election results today maybe it should be revised to 24 hours being the definition of a 'long time'. The SNP have the first full majority since the Parliament was re-established in 1999, Labour has become a minority, weak and destabilised party and the Lib Dems suffered a severe drubbing.

The Scottish Election has been a complex one. The media like to reduce analysis to glib statements - it's the Westminster coalition that did it, it was a two party race etc etc. But you don't get the majority the SNP has under an additional member based PR system a year after a resounding vote for Labour in the UK general election without a number of intertwined issues coming together.

The first is that while I sometimes have pondered the logic of local communities unseating elected representatives who are clearly excellent both locally and nationally for the sheer hell of it [as it appears to me anyway], I believe the Scottish electorate are fairly sophisticated and have an understanding of politics in Scotland that is beyond that of most political pundits - you only had to see Nick Robinson on the BBC to realise that. It may seem to some that a strong vote for Labour at the Westminster elections last year would lead to a strong showing yesterday. But of course they are entirely different elections with different choices and different policy outcomes and that viewpoint belies the nuances of a devolved system. Voters may not articulate it as political anoraks would but they definitley 'get it'.

The second is that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote was expected but the depth of the Labour collapse was not. The Lib Dem losses in and of themselves did not create the unstoppable surge in SNP support. Why did the Labour vote collapse like this? Scottish Lib Dems are suffering from a coalition with the Conservatives - what's Labour's reason?

The third is that while the SNP has independence as a policy they have proven that they are a party with policies for all areas of Scottish life. They are not a one trick pony. You may not like all of the tricks but they are a full blown show - not a sketch. They have governed and by all reasonable measures have governed well. They have certainly disproved the predictions of not lasting more than six months in power.

The fourth is that voters views on independence are not the driving factor in voting for or against the SNP. People will vote for the SNP as a party for Scotland even if they are not fully for indepedence.

The fifth is Labour's inability to run a positive campaign and one that is about Scotland - and not about Labour's struggle to operate in the devolved settlement they enabled to happen. A campaign that focuses on using Scotland as a springboard to success in a future Westminster election, negative messaging and an inability to contain Labour's internal struggle to recover from last year's UK elections and the previous Scottish elections is not a vote winner. Scottish voters perhaps more than others are sensitive to being used and patronised to.

The Lib Dems are in a dark place - but at least they know why they are there and so have a head start on how to work their way out of it. Labour needs to figure out how the past 24 hours came to be and recalibrate accordingly. Do they have the mettle to do this? Given the losses they have suffered their intellectual and political capacity is significantly pruned.

Of course, this short blog post itself only skims the surface of a 24 hour period that will take days, if not weeks, to understand and analyse. But five years ago no-one would have predicted an SNP majority or that Labour would be in the position they are now in. Scotland is grasping devolution in a way that no other part of the UK is quite achieving and is stating and creating its own path. If there is a part of our United Kingdom that knows it's own mind it appears it is Scotland.