Outcomes and Measurements Project: Interview with Ewan Aitken

This is an interview with Ewan Aitken exploring a series of questions about outcomes and measurements aiming to get nuanced views from people as what started as a part of an action research project.

Below is a transcript of the above recording.  Special thanks go to Ewan Aitken giving the time to share his considerable experience in reflecting on these questions.  I am grateful to his participation and giving of time to share his thoughts through this project and the support of Edinburgh Cyrenians.

Alex Dunedin: All right, so well can you talk about your role in relationship to care work

Ewan Aitken: Well in some ways my relationship is by necessity quite distant now, my job is to make sure that the staff who are involved in care in this organization have what they need so that they can serve best those who are referred to us or refer themselves to us so that we can go on a journey with them…

…and my perspective is that our task is to journey with people; our task is not to sort people’s lives out for them for them but help them – but walk with them as they sort their lives out themselves but that requires me to give my staff the right support, training, insight, challenge and resource so that they’re well equipped for that journey. So I suppose that’s the way I’m now involved in care

Alex Dunedin:…and your position would be, so you’re Chief Executive Officer

Ewan Aitken: Yes

Alex Dunedin:…and so that means….the buck stops with you kind of…

Ewan Aitken:…absolutely, absolutely if it goes pear-shaped, it’s on my watch right and I have to – and partly because of the culture I want to engender in this thing – is that I operate a no blame culture, right; so if something does go wrong my first response is not to point the finger but to ask what do we need to do together to fix this and then learn from it but ultimately my head is on whatever block appears on a given day

Alex Dunedin:…and Cyrenians, of course, is a discrete organization amongst many; and what superstructures are above you ?

Ewan Aitken: There’s only one I’m a point of contact and the person to whom is given delegated powers by a board of trustees; they are created by a trust created in 1968 and with some adaptations that is still essentially what we work to but other than that there is no other superstructure
The board is made up of unpaid but reasonably either qualified and/or experienced individuals whose task is to make sure that we have the right strategies in place and making legal decisions given that we are working primarily – although not entirely – but primarily with other people’s money and that we’re meeting our regulation, regulatory requirements, to provide the care that we provide

Alex Dunedin: Can you talk about what successes you had in providing this care work and then managing you know this complex group of people successes

Ewan Aitken: Successes, that’s an interesting question. I just had my appraisal and they it was reasonably good so I guess I’ve had some successes; I’m, I’m a bit too Presbyterian to be saying it was all down to me; I think if we’re, if we have a success it would be we’re not short of people coming to us and when they have a challenge or a need for somebody to go on a journey with them and that would need to be a sign of a sign of success

There are a legion of stories of people who will tell you that that journey changed their lives. You know, we’re about to do a big brand relaunch and at the heart of that will be 50 stories of individuals who are willing to say ‘I once was and now I am’ because that’s the message and that’s very powerful if people are are willing to put themselves on the line and let people say and let others know of that transformation and I think that’s probably a sign of the kind of human culture success that we have created…

…and well, it was here before I came but I’ve continued to nurture, you know. There are some organizational successes where, you know, last year where we’ve – only a little bit but we managed to increase our funding overall. In this day and age that’s a success you know, we’ve maintained our staff levels, that’s a success; we’ve ridden out a couple of crises which – and the fact that you or other people don’t know about them is a sign of success.

You know, yeah, so, but they’re organizational things; for me, are more people coming to us and then willing to say that their experience with us and what’s positive for them ? The answer is yes, so that would be my definition of success

Alex Dunedin: The logo you’ve got is a squiggling line I’d like to hear your thoughts on…

Ewan Aitken: Well not for much longer, the brand will change. There’ll be a launch at the end of October. The new one when I first came here I thought it was a seagull with a broken wing. It is supposed to imply, you know, that the the journey of change is an up and down journey and from that point of view it’s accurate

I suppose my thought is if you have to explain the logo it’s missed the point so, I suppose it’s very rude, I don’t mean to be rude it’s just these things happen. I can see why people made that choice and I see what it is actually. I’ve looked at it many times and I think the problem is not the squiggly line it’s the fact that the tips go to points and that’s what make it looks like wings – yeah – so it’s an unintended consequence

Alex Dunedin: So I’d like to know, do the current systems of administration help you in achieving the successes ?

Ewan Aitken: No I think that that’s an area where we have some big changes to make and I think we struggle by, on our I.T. Infrastructure. I think, well, we know, in our plan that we need to increase and improve that quite significantly particularly as we have more people being mobile and satellite places.

We’ve got seven offices and the best way you can describe their I.T. Infrastructure would be a variable in its quality. I think our – I know our…the way we hold our information on that digitally is also not helpful. Funnily enough we had a discussion at the most recent staff forum with things that were holding staff – well we asked staff ‘what holds you back’ – and they identify, they rightly identified that as one of the key areas so we’ve got to do a radical reassessment of that and in fact we need a new – we need a whole new what I would call content management system…

…basically so that, so the staff can get what they need quickly and feed into that effectively. We need to do that for our finances, for our HR (Human Resources), for our client support information, for our marketing, and for our storytelling. That’s why – notwithstanding your commentary here – we’re going on the journey of the Outcome Star right across the board so that we can get an insight into those journeys that people take but in a consistent way, so that we hear those voices effectively and we gather them well so we can tell that story more effectively

Alex Dunedin: Can you talk about the difficulties of measuring the outcomes of your work

Ewan Aitken: Well the the primary difficulties is human; it’s about how do you tell your story, you know, and everybody has at some level a sense of the journey they’ve been on but to describe that in works and also to say what were the trigger points I think is hugely challenging

I mean, you know, the British Longitudinal Study; I don’t know if I spoke to this before but British Longitudinal Study, which was, which followed the lives of everybody born in Britain between the 5th and 12th of April 1970 (1970 British Birth Cohort Study BCS70). It’s a massive study so there’s several thousand…

…and of course there’s a bit of drop off and all the rest of it but it’s consistently over the years has kind of done a whole variety of ways of kind of assessing things like social economic impact on people’s lives and decisions and all that kind of stuff. Anyway that group of people were asked, and it was quite deliberately a subjective feeling question that they were asked when they were 35…

…and ‘do you feel successful in your life ?’, and of that group, and the number that felt successful, and then went and said ‘what is it that means you feel successful ?’. Now it is, as I say, deliberately a feeling question because it’s an emotional response to your circumstances rather than a quantitative response because it’s a human thing.

Anyway they looked at that and of that group who said yes I feel successful in life, the common factor was not the socio-economic background, it was not the educational standard of qualifications of the mother, and was not whether or not the family had stayed together; was not a what either they had made or whether they were in a family or all those things – the common factor was the level, and they were able to do this because they’ve been following these guys for 35 years was the level of self-confidence when those people were 10 years old.

Now self-confidence is an extraordinary – it’s one of the most important human things – in terms of our resilience, our capacity to have relationships, all those things that are fundamental – but it’s really hard to measure – and if it goes, what is it you need to do to replace it before…if you’ve got a 10 people room it’ll be 10 different things

So I think that whole business about outcomes is hugely challenging however I have to be able to tell this story well, effectively, rigorously and robustly, and so I need to do something and that’s why, you know, having looked at various things we we’ve gone for the Outcome Star with all its limitations because it seems to us to be…it’s got a decent background to it, it’s been thought through

It does appear to me to have a reasonable element of ownership by all the people involved, even though one of your critiques says the design didn’t but I’m gonna take that fair point, you know; but and it’s not too complex, it’s not trying to measure 36 matrix – a matrix of 36 outcomes – it’s a series of five things and it’s yeah I think it’s got merit because this organization wouldn’t survive if I can’t tell the story. If the story’s about people I need to tell people’s stories but they need to be consistent.

Alex Dunedin: Again, in defense of the Outcomes Star, these are my initial and thought considered responses and after speaking to them directly they were saying oh well there’s an awful lot of thinking here and there’s training that goes with this. So the document’s initial; it’s an initial starting point and my experience working with Oscar and Evelyn and Karen – you know – all that humanity was brought in through, so…

Ewan Aitken: Yeah, yeah but these are – you know – they’re fair questions the ones you ask and we need to keep asking them because the problem comes when you, when it becomes too systematized and loses the human element so that’s what’s really important to me, is how do I capture but don’t define or limit the human element.

Alex Dunedin: Can you think of helpful and unhelpful examples of bureaucracies in relationship, in relation to your work

Ewan Aitken: Where would you like me to start… I think actually the biggest challenge at the moment is that the public sectors budget challenges mean that they are unable to think with any sense of innovation and that has meant that what was always a problem has become a bigger problem – which is the procurement process – has kicked in is the way in which you evidence value where in fact it does none of the things it’s supposed to do

Procurement is supposed to evidence accountability, transparency and good value the trouble is that nobody knows who took the decision; nobody knows why the decision was made and they confuse cost and value because they’re not the same thing. Price, cost and value are three very different things even though they’re all about the same number…

…and that, and because it’s a more and more competitive context, because there’s less money about, procurement it’s having a bigger and bigger effect. At the same time there’s a series of legislative challenges around procurement and public sector money being brought even into more into focus because of that competitive development; because everybody wants a piece of the pie…

…so they’re using every weapon they can which makes the public sector even more cautious than it’s ever been before. So I go and talk to folk who I know in the councils and that, because of my background, I – you know – I can knock on a door and generally speaking the door will open and we can have a chat and I say to them ‘look here’s a bit of innovation, if we do this with us for a period of time we’ll evidence that we’ve made savings – can we have a go at this ?’, and they’ll go ‘yeah, it all adds up but it’s got to go to tender’.

So why is that ? Well procurement says European Rules. I say ‘well under £50,000 you can do a pilot’ – ‘we’re not really prepared, we know we’ve got that power but we’d rather not do that because we fear somebody else yelping about it’, you know

So you know, of all the bureaucracies it’s the culture created and really brought focus by that budgetary challenge so you can’t have those conversations that we might have had once before and the tools that are being brought to the fore – particularly around procurement mean that the relationship makes it, makes the making of real proper relationships between institutions and organizations and much much more difficult

Alex Dunedin: You mentioned the tools that are brought to…

Ewan Aitken:…the procurement tool basically, yeah, yeah; everything everything is through procurement

Alex Dunedin: Right…So can you think of helpful examples of what

Ewan Aitken: Yeah, we’re investigating one at the moment which has been led by Dundee Council in the Robertson Trust and Dundee Council gets lots of credit for this; and the example is there are four schools in Dundee – oh see if I could remember the name… I can’t remember the name of the the project but I will get it before the end of this conversation – but they had a huge problem with truancy…and they…and it was costing lots of money
So the Robertson Trust and three organizations – Apex, Bernardo’s and somebody else – said if we run this program we will significantly reduce truancy to the point at which we can evidence that you will make serious savings based on the money you have to budget for just now; and they said what we’ll do is this – we’ll structure this so that we’ll run it for free for two years, right, to prove the evidence and if we can prove the evidence will you commit to funding us for another three years…

…and if you if it’s costing you Y, we’ll only charge you – without funding for three years we’ll charge you for X which will be less than Y but will be enough for us to run our project and pay back the loan that we’ve taken to run it for two years for free so it’s a five-year project and the Robertson Trust, because they the Robertson Trust are always trying to develop things that have an exit strategy so you’re not constantly dependent on charitable giving and this would be an example…

…they’re going to put their money up and the council has said ‘yeah we’re prepared to guarantee’, you know, so in other words it doesn’t have to go to tender; if you reach those after two years we’ll give it to you for another three years, right; it’s a new way of innovating funding and the plus for the council is they can budget for those savings because they’re going to save money

The plus for the funding sector is that (a) there’s an exit strategy, (b) there’s a recognition of their work, and (c) that they say to their staff ‘you deliver and your job’s guaranteed a minimum of five years’.

Alex Dunedin: So do you feel the sector is adequately funded or resourced ?

Ewan Aitken: No, no; but you know it’ll never be, you know. There will be times when we’ve got more money and times we’ll get less money but we’re working in a world of human need and that need is right across the board from people with incredible levels of lifetime conditions that the public sector can never provide all for so there needs to be that you know other additional resources to people whose passion is not human beings but animals all right, you know; and that’s a false spectrum but you know, I mean it’s a couple of extremes to compare to each other. So the idea that somehow there would be a time when the third sector has all the money ever needed is a myth.

What you have to do is think how can I most effectively get the resources I can get to best meet the the level of need I can with given the capacity I have and the other thing is that the sector at the moment is quite skewed so there’s a small number of really quite big organizations and they frankly sook up everything…

…and the sector is therefore undermined because that those small organizations – who actually are better at a local level of providing real grassroots stuff than the big ones; no matter what the big ones think, they’re big, you know, as soon as you’re…

I mean we’re one of them, I mean we’re sort of, we’re kind of in the middle; we’re still quite grassroots but we’re getting bigger and we’re going to lose something the bigger we get and so there’s…so the small ones are…it’s much much more difficult for them to continue to be as effective as they can and that’s where I think there’s a real problem over how that resource is distributed

Alex Dunedin: How often do the funding administration systems change and do they have continuity ?

Ewan Aitken: No and the closer it is to the public sector the more it changes. I mean I’ll tell you at the moment we got a contract about a year ago but which was a change from a previous month so we made some changes how we delivered it and in the process agreed to take a 10 percent cut because we knew they were struggling but it meant that we could continue the work and by operating a bit differently we reckon we could – and I think we have been able to cont…maintain that same level of service

There’s still a question about it but it’s not bad and it was fair and they went up front, it was transparent, it was clear, and then along came a suggestion that we would take another 10 percent cut – we told them to take a hike because we couldn’t – having gone through what we’ve gone through – cut some more…

…and now there’s talk of…there’s a real real threat of changing the money from being a block grant to being payment by results and we still haven’t, we still don’t know how they’re going to calculate the payment by results but they’re telling us they’re going to do it whilst at the same time reviewing what we’ve done made from the change that we made previously

…and they’re trying to say that there is a difference between the review and the decision to move to payment by results and we’ll say ‘well if the review tells you the payment results won’t work ?’ – ‘oh those are two separate decisions…’ and by that point I’m just gonna hit my head off a brick wall

You know, so on the other hand, as the Chair of Children In Need Scotland our policies generally speaking have stayed pretty consistent for the last 15 years and some might argue that we haven’t changed enough because circumstances have changed, and there’s now, I think there’s very helpful talk in that one that actually the consistency that we have provided is becoming a barrier because the things that people now tell us they need to meet the needs of the young people we want them to serve are such that our regulations mean they can’t apply to us. So it’s not at all change is bad – that’s what I’m saying,

Alex Dunedin: Yes, yes, right, okay; so do the funding structures allow you to plan long term

Ewan Aitken: No, not really I am on a plan to change the funding, the balance of funding income streams to this organization so that we have more…we move further…we move…we’re less dependent on the public sector and we’re generating more of our own income and if we can including that a decent tranche of earned income

I, you know, selling our wares one way or another through social enterprise then we will be able to make longer term decisions but you know there are limits to that too and as we know from the crash in 2008 it doesn’t matter how big or how long you’ve been around and things can…there’s no such thing as permanent in the world of, you know, income. You can have…it’s more likely if you have more control over it but there’s no such thing as permanent and we need to be realistic about that

Alex Dunedin: So you mentioned the crash and the – sort of – economic big picture; how does this factor into your work, your colleagues work and ultimately the people that you’re working with

Ewan Aitken: There’s several things…at the client level there are still people who we’re working with who began on a journey of requiring support as a consequence of the crash – people who lost their homes – people who lost their jobs and therefore their homes and/or developed other personal challenges as a consequence – all those kinds those of things and the flow through from that is still still there

Secondly it created a context in which the politics of austerity was created which led to the, you know, the ideology of the reduction of the state. So, you know, the mythology that we need to reduce the state – both deficit and debt to the levels that were, that are being done by the present government – it is framed by the austerity experience; but is an ideology that’s causing more problems for us and it’s particularly impacting on things around welfare reform

I mean that the issues that we’re now facing as a consequence of welfare reform are frankly scary, you know, and the levels of exclusion that are coming as a consequence are absolutely enormous; however to me there’s another element that’s also quite significant that we need to explore more deeply is that the so-called recovery is predicated on a new employment structure much more around zero hours, low wages, insecure jobs, low training frankly apart from that group of things that are in the high tech

So if I tell you that the economy of Edinburgh over the next 10 years, the analysis of where there’ll be big areas for for work are construction, care and I.T.; now only one of them is what you would call high-skilled – the construction industry is for some medium skilled but a lot is kind of labor intensive and the care industry has a small number of skilled jobs but primarily it’s low paid and and low skilled which is pretty bad given that it’s dealing with some of the most vulnerable but that tells you something about where employment’s going to be…

…and if we keep saying if the answer to your other social problems often is the security of a job but the jobs we’re offering them are insecure and low paid, it is less likely that that will play the role – the supportive role in change – that we once believed it would. So you can see there’s a whole series of factors that have come out of that crash that we need to come at in a number of levels
Alex Dunedin: Is this sort of a shift towards sort of an Americanization of the UK from a mixed market economy where there was, you know, the freedom to truck and barter for example mixed with certain things which were stabilized and government regulated to something that’s much more driven by entrepreneurs – the philanthropy in society is to be largely driven by the proceeds of private enterprise I don’t…

Ewan Aitken: Yeah, yeah I think there are signs that we’re heading that direction but there’s a number of questions to be asked about that, and there’s some positives and negatives; so the negative is that, you know, we talk about the entrepreneurial spirit and self-employment. Now one of the reasons people end up in self employment is because they can’t get a job, right, so they end up doing their own thing and that sounds good but actually the self-employed are amongst the lowest paid apart from a few the lowest paid particularly in the first five years

So the idea that entrepreneurial spirit is a solid bedrock needs to be you know analyzed in some detail when you look at people. Now, people have capacity; you can set up a – you know – a very niche company from your from your bedroom now in a way that you couldn’t do before. I mean I have a friend who runs a wedding stationery – and so it’s not a stationers or…it’s weddings…it’s bespoke designed wedding stationery; she runs it from her kitchen table, she uses her digital skills and she has a relationship with a printer and because she now can get the volume, she can get the deals to get things done, quickly that way.

So you can see it’s a lovely bit of niche but I know that she really struggled for the first five years and if it hadn’t been for her parents she wouldn’t have survived. Not everybody’s in that position, so this move to the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t quite what it appears in terms of what it means for people.

Interestingly however, as one of the consequences – I think – of people coming out of the crash, and particularly corporates and particularly because of the ethical questions that were being asked about the financial system, my experience lately of large organizations…and have I’ve heard a number of different senior corporate people say this often unsolicited

…although they’re saying it to me because they know who I am – not me Ewan – but they know the role I play. So they may be saying it because I think it’s what I need to hear but actually I’ve heard it often enough from unconnected people to think that it’s it’s potentially beginning to be culturally changed

They talk about how their CSR – their Corporate Social Responsibility – the values of the corporate Social Responsibility need to be embedded across the organization and not simply ‘it’s what you do with the kind of little extra you’ve got’; and that’s an interesting impact because that suggests that that whole concept of breaking down those barriers might have a positive…because you’re embedding different kind of ethical values in there

Now I think we’ve got a long way to go with that and I think there are a significant number who are still not there but I do get an impression; so for example I’ve just been appointed to the the council of the Chamber of Commerce because they want to engage with the third sector differently. I just don’t think that would happen five years ago, ten years ago. So it does seem to me that there are pros and cons for the journey – that’s happening.

Alex Dunedin: Do you feel you have the latitude to implement the policies you feel are important

Ewan Aitken: You mean within the organization

Alex Dunedin: Yeah

Ewan Aitken: I mean the board gives me huge devolved power; they tell me ‘we want to know what you want to achieve and we want you to do whatever it takes to get to the point where it’s achieved’, so they don’t interfere operationally and that’s absolutely brilliant because that’s not the case in others, right.

Where the barriers come, tend to be externally so we are…we’ve been working with the public sector about developing a care-at-home social enterprise and we had a whole set of assumptions based on conversations with them about how things were going to be progressed in terms of the contract and then along came somebody else and said ‘oh I can’t do that’; and so the barrier to our achieving our end and the policy which we want – which is to combine quality care at home with employability – has been…

So that to me means how you turn enterprise into opportunity beyond the task that you’re actually doing; the barrier to that is not – you know – the policy but the process with the partners that we require to work.

Alex Dunedin: Alright. Are you able through existing structures to forge the connections with outside organizations that you think are important

Ewan Aitken: I’m going to be a little bit self-aggrandizing here and I apologize for that, but I’m fortunate because of the things I have done previously – as I indicated earlier – to be able to get through bureaucracies that perhaps others might not have or might not.

Some can, I’m not the only one by any stretch of the imagination but given I’ve only been in this job a year I’ve been able to get to places where others have been around for a long time perhaps haven’t – so to that extent I think the answer question is generally speaking yes

However there are always challenges; I’m not as well connected in the private sector yet, as I once was, as others are, so but that’s one of the reasons we’re getting involved in the Chamber of Commerce…will assist in that, that’s one reason to do that and the public sector when it’s local authority, and to some extent government, is something I know and am comfortable with.

The health board however it’s not quite so open; I know some people in there but not as many and I think health boards are particularly challenging in working out particularly the split. You know, so for example the work we do with/in community gardens is primarily about community health but actually the people we’re targeting to help because we’re on hospital sites are people…whose responsibility falls under the acute part of the health board and as yet we can’t get the two to talk to each other. So there’s an example where I know the problem but I can’t sort it.

Alex Dunedin: I’ve become aware of some situations where I suppose territory, act, actions, process seems to be divvied up and one organization struggles to do something because, of course, payment-by-results or whose-outcome-is-it-anyway…

Ewan Aitken:…and we this is what I’ve alluded to earlier; we have a huge problem over the hill on that one; you know, we were asked – and I think not unhealthy to work with the homeless prevention service in collaboration with others. It means that you can you create consortia where you play to people’s strengths and so somebody comes along says ‘alright, well actually we can do this much but actually there’s a level of need that that organization could do’, so you move – great and that’s good, that’s good.

If you do payment-by- results however – and this is one of the challenges we’ve got because what the council are saying to us is that it will only be the first organization that gets paid and we’re saying…

…so that you yourself the first organization that deals with the person will get paid and that’s it….and we’re going ‘but that defeats the purpose of consortia’ where people can play to their strengths, and they’re going ‘no, we’re we’re just going to keep it simple and we’ll see what this is…’

That’s simplistic not simple, right; simplistic is one organization, one payment, that’ll get it sorted; because in fact what that will do is undermine our ability to deliver for those people that we want to deliver for because more often than not folk come with one issue and have a variety of issues and we need to be able to manage that…and therefore payment-by-results as a concept isn’t perhaps the best way of incentivizing us – if that’s what they’re trying to do – to achieve more outcomes.

Alex Dunedin: Do you feel the language used in these administrative structures – these super structures – and outcomes and measures adequately represents the work you do

Ewan Aitken: A friend of mine who’s a Professor of Linguistics at Glasgow University said to me that she spends much of her life writing in academic English and what she knows is that it might be it might be academic and that words might form part of the English language but it’s not English and she’s absolutely right and we have the same problem here

I mean we laugh a lot about…I mean I’m fluent in council-speak right, but do you know what, I cringe if I find myself using words like that when I have the opportunity to spend time with people – you know – those we serve right…I just…and we’ve got to say, you know. It’s a bit like many many years ago I was a youth worker in Glasgow and Glasgow was divided up because it got some money from Europe – lots of money from Europe – and it was divided up into areas but of poverty, because it had to define what those areas were for the European money to come

This was the 1980s, we’re talking a long time ago; and so I was running Ruchill which was part of the Maryhill Corridor, it was called, and we had a big public meeting about some bit of funding that was coming through – it was a massive one – and this guy did this whole presentation where he talked about the community of the Maryhill Corridor.

Now, notwithstanding fact that the Maryhill Corridor was lines drawn on a map and a phrase invented by somebody in her office that were no relation to people’s experience, it was just a stupid thing to do because he finished and this woman said “son can I just say I live in a hoose, no in a corridor”, and it’s like, I mean the place erupted you know, it kind of was a metaphor for me of the madness of…using a concept and a language – and even an – in fact a very bad metaphor when you were trying to talk about people’s lives. You know, it’s a story I’ve never forgotten.

Alex Dunedin: What roles should broader society play in facilitating the work of Cyrenians ?

Ewan Aitken: Well I think that’s a very interesting question. I think, I believe, in fact that there is an opportunity for us to stop thinking about three sectors – Public, Private and Third – and start talking about citizens and our rights and responsibilities as citizens and what is it that we do to reintroduce as an alternative to the kind of ‘we’re all autonomous beings individualism’ ideology – it’s been around the last 50 years – the concept of ‘in meeting the needs of our neighbor our own needs will be met’…

…but doing so not because the Third Sector is a place where you do good stuff and everywhere else is when everything else happens but that we’re all citizens and everything that we do in whatever context we’re working in, whatever the name by the tape, the name above the door; all the income model that’s there can be done for the benefit of your fellow citizens

So our pension scheme is run by Standard Life; if Standard Life makes sure that our pension scheme is as good as it can be for the staff who work here, so the staff who work here feel that they’ve got good reward for the work that they do, they will feel more like…they will be more likely to stay at this job and to work harder. I mean that’s a very kind of simple kind of connection but it means that somebody to organize a pension scheme had kind of a direct impact on the quality of work that happens in a front line that they’ll never know…

…but if they can have in their heads that there is a connection because the contribution they make to the making sure the person on the front line feels secure and supported will mean that they’ll do their job better and we do that because we’re citizens seems to me to be the way in which we should articulate what you’re doing rather than saying how can…the Private Sector help the Third Sector

Alex Dunedin: Right. So how might the clients/service users/the people/the beneficiaries best support the Cyrenians developing and delivering the support…

Ewan Aitken: Well I want to say that in my view we’re all beneficiaries; the journeys that we all go on and the ones that I am privileged for going on… So I am changed for this job as much as anybody else; my starting point is different and the things that are changing in me might be different to somebody who arrives in our recovery service for example but we’re on our journey of change and we all have to be

So that’s really important for what we’re about, otherwise…you fall into the trap of thinking that my life’s sorted in other people’s arny because I can tell you it’s not like that you know. So I think that’s really important. I think that those things the opportunities that you’re asking about are things that will evolve as a result of the quality of relationships that we have

So it’s not like there’s a menu but that there is…if we can create the right relationships, the right things will happen. So we had a group of volunteers, many of whom have been in bad places and they’re now on a different journey of our Fareshare; and 20 of them went up and ran a water station as part of the Glenn Nevis challenge – whatever it was – a few weeks ago…

…now it was a day oot, it was a day in the hills, it didn’t cost them anything, why should it; there was a bit of banter, there was some lunch, they did some stuff for other people and had all those experiences. In terms of their personal journey it was a positive experience; you know, they don’t get that many chances do that because of the circumstances they’re in so at one level it was about just a thing to do that they wouldn’t do otherwise…

…but it gave us publicity, it gave people an insight to what we did because they talked a lot to people and as a consequence the people organizing the event gave us five grand towards Fareshare that we weren’t expecting

I can’t set up a work plan or a set of outcomes that will mean well if we do this many of these this will happen; what I need to do is create lots of contexts in where that kind of thing might happen knowing that there’s a good chance that in some places it will happen, right, and that’s what it’s about and I suppose the thing most of all is if people – if those whom we serve can be open to the idea that this is something different to – and we need to do that, we need to help them see that – but then if they can be helped to go to the doctors to get a pill or going to the brew to get your benefits; but there’s more about…this is about the human relationships we create on the journey that we take; then they will be providing for what is needed for Cyrenians to continue to do more for them and for us

Alex Dunedin: I’m interested in the area – in this general area is there recommended reading ? Do you think there is a book that comes to mind that you think ‘this I thought was really good broadening my view and getting into these nutty problems, these…’

Ewan Aitken: Good question. I think it depends what’s… I suppose my job is so diverse that there are many different things so what’s on my bookshelf here that I would say have helped me in some way or others ? but so my, this is an organizational one that my chair gave me that when I first arrived. So organizationally I would say that is very helpful

Yeah, so here you go, right if you want to talk politics that’s one of the best books I read of understanding why political decisions are made, right. It’s written by a guy who’s a neuroscientist and a political animal, right; so he talks about the politics of the brain and what the brain help does politics

It’s very very good. Right this is about Myers; I like Myers-Briggs – people use lots of different things – I don’t know if you’ve come across Myers-Briggs, it’s a personality type indicator. Yeah so because I’m comfortable with it I use it; there are lots, there’s the Enneagram; there’s IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) all of them have merit. I would not judge one to be better than the other…

I just was introduced this 20 years ago and I like it but that’s actually helpful; this is a classic that whole business about taking risks okay. This book I really recommend you reading because it tells you something about the Scottish Culture

She is an amazing woman and she writes; she runs the Scottish Center for Confidence and Well-being, right; she really gets a grip with that whole business about the culture and the Scots the sense of confidence (Scots’ Crisis of Confidence ???), where it comes from – the whole religious element to it and all that kind of stuff. So that’s good and I’ve always been a fan of emotional intelligence and understanding that. So if I was, yeah, so there’s lots depends what you’re doing

Alex Dunedin: You know, really, that’s a library I can write down, I will make good use of. I really appreciate that. In regards to the, and I’ve just got… I know your time is short so just have you got….thinking about the the document I’ve written and about how I’ve been trying to zoom in right close to the problems I’ve encountered with the paperworks that govern my life and sometimes when I’ve wanted and needed a human interface there’s there’s not been

…and I’m getting better at this but it’s only through the human interface that I get… I improve through other people; I am lucky enough that way to encounter that – so have you any thoughts on what I have written there ?

Ewan Aitken: What you said in essence is it seems to me is that it’s that tension I described earlier on; you’ve captured it which is that business about – okay in the end the only person will ever tell your story will be you right but I need to be able to tell your a story too yes…

…but I also need to be in some ways able to tell other people’s story as well but do so in a way that’s consistent, right, because otherwise people say ‘well,…how can you show that you had that ?’; you know, us going on the journey was part of the change, right, and are you comparing like with like ?

So it’s, I think what you’re trying to do is is to turn that tension into a positive because I think tension is energy and energy can be positive or negative, right; so it feels to me you’re grappling with that and you’re not far away because what you’re saying is in the end it depends on the quality of the human relationships that are involved, right…

I was struck by this section here, this bit where you’ve talked about the collaboration of the Outcomes Star but also how the Outcome Star gets in the way; I was quite struck by that – in other words it’s very existence gets in the way of the thing it’s trying to do, right; it seemed to me to be…is that an accurate description of, you know…

…and yet I think what we have to do; I know what I have to do is accept the limitations and try and make the best of it because if I don’t, I won’t be able to do the things I need to do so I can help the people and help my staff walk with the people I want us to walk with

So it’s flawed and it’s human but it’s that reality and we’re not yet at a place in terms of those who for whom we we are dependent on for resource to do otherwise, okay. So I mean in Children In Need, for example, we’ve reduced our…the things that we require of folk to down to three outcomes so we need to know ‘what is it you’re trying to achieve ?’ in three different ways; we do three different ways of con…so it can be three different things but the same because we recognize that it can be different things

We only ask them to put it in 250 words because we want them to be concise and simple – not simplistic but simple and we don’t want to add them but we do want to be able to see what it is happening so that when we go out on the telly and ask for money we’re telling the truth

So, and we wouldn’t get that money – was it 31 million last year or something like that – if we didnae have something of that order and that… Even if you’re like Shelter who took a decision about 10 years ago to significantly reduce their dependence on Public Sector and significantly increase their fundraising element so that they had much more freedom to campaign which is what they wanted to do – and good on them – you still have to be able to tell the story so they can persuade people to fund it as well

Alex Dunedin: Yeah, so with the conversation I opened up with the Outcomes Star, the people who theorized it and develop it, I asked whether there’s a space – because in itself it can be a very useful tool – but I asked is there a space to create an annex where people can create their own stories. So I’m very booky, not everybody’s booky, not everybody likes writing but, you know, some people might like to talk or make video entry to append to, to accompany the Outcomes Star so that it adds depth

Ewan Aitken: Well in my view the answer is yes, in fact, we do wee hints of that and when you describe it those terms I realize that’s what we’re doing; I didn’t know that’s what we’re doing but that’s what we did. So I don’t know if you’ve looked at any of the videos that are on the…on our website

Alex Dunedin: Not yet

Ewan Aitken: No, you should have a look. So we’ve got some ones about conflict resolution; we’ve got a lovely one of our mother and her daughter talking about… a mother and her son talking about their experience in the conflict resolution service; and another one, it’s done cartoonish so…the person reads it and somebody else draws cartoons to represent what they’re saying – it’s lovely it’s really really good

We’ve also, and this is one of the joys of modern technology; there’s a cracking little video being made by the recovery service – a guy called Craig, and I can say that because it’s public – who was an addict for 20 years and ended up nearly dying because he had septisemia in the hospital and he was like that close to death

…and so he said ‘I’ve got to get fit’ and he went tae the doctors and the doctors put him on a recovery – but a medical recovery program, and after six months it was doing his head in; and to his credit, and Craig credits the doctor, the doctor says ‘you know, you didn’t need me, you need somebody to talk to’ and he sent him to us, and Craig’s now been clean for three years…

…but they made a video, took him to make a wee video of that story about him and he walked past where he used to live and all that kind of stuff and all that and he tells wee stories but they did it all on an ipad and it’s really good; the quality is okay and there’s something actually quite, quite powerful about the rawness of it, you know; it’s not done with lights and aw the rest it’s just great talking to the ipad and it’s really something…

…and I’m intrigued that that’s what we’ve done and I haven’t realized that; and I can see, I can see a real role for that – and it would seem to me to be… and in fact what I want to say is it should be embedded as a key element rather than seen as an add-on – you know – because it would give it much more power…’you can see here’s the Outcomes Star, this is what they said and here’s them telling the story of what that means them’…

Alex Dunedin:…because doing this and the encouragement and support to read to know more about my world to create this document has been a huge growth experience for me and Oscar and Evelyn have been instrumental in this and I wonder whether that…

Ewan Aitken: I like that, I do; I like it a lot.

Alex Dunedin: Well the final question; would have to be…

Ewan Aitken:…Go ahead and I’m really enjoying myself…

Alex Dunedin: What questions do you think are him…important in working towards greater understandings

Ewan Aitken: At the heart of the human condition is the desire for meaning and contentment, and you need to begin with those questions. So when we’re on the journey, it’s a journey – it might theoretically be a journey towards, you know, overcoming addiction or getting your house back or no longer falling out with your mother or whatever – but at the heart of it is how do I get the meaning and the contentment which means that that’s a possibility

…and that’s the first stage of understanding – what is it that it will take for that person because for each person that answer will be different. So that that requires quite deep listening skills on the behalf of those who are on the journey.

It seems to me that what Oscar and Evelyn did was listen to you and then say ‘well, what about…’ and create the opportunity for you to turn what you had articulated in there through their listening into something of significance to you because it’s…this is intellectually robust but actually what you tell me it makes you feel good right.

Alex Dunedin:…it does

Ewan Aitken: You experience that sense of contentment that and I’m going to make assymptions here and correct me if I’m wrong here but the dislocation and…that you felt with your life before meant that you were making choices that were not wise, all right, okay – if that’s an accurate thing right but you don’t…you, you’re now connected to – this is what you said to me when you first came in…

…you’re connected to others but most importantly you’re connected to yourself and this is why this David Hume talked about how reason is a slave to the passions; it is how we feel first and foremost that we make most sense of the world and we need to listen to people very carefully and then from that listening work oot what it is that might be that they will get to the place they need to be so they will find that and experience that contentment…and that…and so find that sense of meaning and purpose.
Alex Dunedin: Fantastic

Ewan Aitken: I don’t know if that all makes sense but that’s what I think
Alex Dunedin: It really does, yeah, it does and I mean I’d like to…I’m going to be continuing this exploration, see what it might…for me meaning and contentment IS about being able to put back to the places which has kept….you know there’s a field of very tired angels and for me I want to put back to where you know the blessings

So finding something constructive to say; ‘it’s constructive to do’ is part of my path and this analysis, this, you know – if I can do a video, if I can, you know, push a broom around the floor, just let me know

Ewan Aitken: Dont worry, we will, we will in fact I’m surprised they havenae asked you before. Actually what you have just done now is really helpful because one of the things that I need to do – need to do, to do what I need to do well – is to have spaces and time to think, and so that series of questions

I’m serious and I really enjoyed it because it’s real, it’s a part of what I do – it will help me do my job better because I’ve not had to make any decisions for period of time what I’ve had a chance to think and re-articulate again and again because it’s not like you reach these decisions then it’s all sorted, you need to keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it

…so even that has been of real assistance to me as was grappling with this even though with lots of big words that I didn’t understand, you know, you know…I mean has there been anything specific or that you wanted to have a go at or…

Alex Dunedin: Well I mean I’m starting a law degree with the OU (Open University), I mean I want to…I’d…I’m interested in these outcomes and measurements; I read through the theory of the Outcome Star – I went to the original sources

Ewan Aitken: Well let’s stick to that then because I…it’s my intention to implement the right Outcome Star right across the organization so let us make us make you a critical friend.

Alex Dunedin: Well if…it would be lovely to facilitate, you know, doing the…how, you know – individuals like me – do you want to paint a series of pictures ? do a contemporary dance that helps you express ? but it’s yours…

Ewan Aitken: Yes…

Alex Dunedin: You know or whatever; whatever’s most appropriate…I want to find – to be able to hear the other side of the fence because this is a lot…my voice was important as you’ve given me the chance to hear – I mean it’s tricky being with sitting in this here seat – and you’ve helped me understand the part of the world that I’ve not got any ken about and if I can understand that from the Oscars, Evelyn’s, Karen’s, Everybody – maybe, maybe when we look at the overlap something might pop out

Ewan Aitken: Yeah, yeah I know I absolutely think that’s the case and I would just encourage you to keep talking to us. Amy is going to be leading the…do you know Amy ? So she’s gonna lead, she’s gonna be leading on this. I will give her this as a standpoint and then I will get her to come and have a chat with you and we’ll see where that takes us

Alex Dunedin: Thank you very much

Ewan Aitken: Alright. Joy !


Ewan Aitken
Ewan Aitken

I got Ewan’s permission to publish this interview and he said:  “I am fine with the interview if it is clear when it was recorded as some things have changed (e.g. the brand relaunch was over three years ago, the Dundee project has come to a close and we no longer run a recovery service) but as long as the date is clear, happy with the content”

To be clear – this interview was recorded in September 2015

You can find out more about Ewan Aitken’s work by visiting the People Know How website where there is the opportunity to donate and offer your support