Monthly Archives: December 2011


The title of this blog is ‘Connecting Social Care and Social Media’ and this post by the excellent Mental Health Cop reminded me of the importance of the very first word, ‘connecting’.

What is it that needs to be connected or more importantly who is it that needs to be connected? This, for me, is one of the key factors in my continued use of social media outlets.

What is the appeal of the social over the mainstream? It’s the connections that we make. It is the connections that can have higher barriers to climb in less egalitarian settings.

As someone who has been working in social care for more years than I’d like to relate, I can see tangibly how these connections have improved my own practice and how they have the potential to change the landscape in social care (as well as other areas) for many years to come.

We are on the precipice of changing paradigms of communication and it is exciting but it’s important that we remember it that the goal is ‘connecting’ not talking.

Who do we connect with?

We begin to connect with each other. We find others who do similar things to us or who work in similar ways or who have similar politics. People in ‘our worlds’ who we can relate to and have easier conversations with and with whom we can share news stories, information or chatter.

Then we connect with people who might work in similar or related fields – the police, lawyers, academics, doctors, nurses but also those within the public sector who are linked to us whether in private organisations or the public sector – by connecting social care with social media we can explain the stories behind the headlines and the role and importance of social care in the fabric of a functioning society.

Most importantly though, we connect with those who use the services we provide. I have seen a drift towards a professionalism in social work which is all very good but it should never come at the price of building barriers between ‘professionals’ and stakeholders in the profession. I see the ability to communicate more freely and openly with those who use the services we provide to be one of areas to promote social work.

How do we connect?

‘Social Media’ is more than a blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Social Media is a means of communication which allows more accessible two-way dialogues. It includes newsgroups, forums, social bookmarking sites. Increasingly I think we are moving to a place where sifting information becomes more valuable than finding information but the key to social media is the social. We are people behind a screen and the relationships which we make are real. I’ve met a few people with whom I’ve only had contact via a screen and made real ‘off-screen’ relationships but the dichotomy between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ is becoming harder to separate and are merging.

Why do we connect?

My perhaps oversimplistic answer is to ‘make things better’. I see faults in the systems that I work in and I want to improve them. Having conversations with experts, users who access the services, carers, colleagues in other locations, in other countries can refine thinking about planning for the future.

Social Work has been in crisis for as long as I’ve been in Social Work but I try to remain hopeful. I hope we can push the profession back towards a true advocacy role and towards the promotion of social justice. We have more tools at the ready and more voices to use.

Social Work is built on relationships. We have new ways to build these relationships and new ways to open communication channels.

Looking ahead to the new year it’s important that those in this area of work or with an interest in it, use these means to promote not just the profession but much more importantly, those who rely on social care services who are yet to find voices.

We are living in interesting times and the social care sector can’t afford to be left behind because those relying on it need these voices. Not all, of course, many users are far more adept than most professionals but I work in an area where there are a lot of the quieter voices who ‘don’t want to make a fuss’. I see it as a part of my professional ethics to provide, promote and advocate for those who might not be replying to government consultations or participating in user-led groups.   I also see it as a professional duty for me to take responsibility for my own learning and to understand the world and the ways it is changing better.

While ‘social media’ isn’t a panacea – perhaps ‘connecting’ is. We need more connections and this is another tool to use to connect.

Thoughts on Achieving Social Media Maturity

I read this post about the ‘Five stages of social media maturity’ which made it’s way onto my Twitter stream a few days ago and found it particularly interesting.  One of the things, by the way, I love about Twitter is the way that by expanding the people I follow, I constantly get ‘hit’ by fresh and different information.

Anyway, it’s  from PR Weekly and in a field that I am wholly unfamiliar with but the basic premise is that within organisations there are five ‘stages’ to go through to reach the elusive ‘social media maturity’. This is taken from a report published by Forrester Research.

The five stages are

1. Dormant – Resistant to any use of social technologies due to unwillingness to participate

2. Testing – Individuals or departments test in isolated pockets

3. Coordinating – Management begins to coordinate across teams and departments

4. Scaling and Optimization – Organisational shift towards growing and improving social applications

5. Empowering – Organisation fosters all relevant employees; fosters and rewards top performers.

While I like this model for organisations, I’ve been pondering about how we achieve ‘social media maturity’ as individuals too and wonder if there is a parallel model.

Obviously when we are referring to people, personalities become a key point but I thought of the five stages of social maturity for individuals could be relevant too, in terms of understanding the process of finding new ways to communicate. We are all of us learners.

So my equivalent ‘stages’ are

1. Dormant – this would be the scepticism before we ‘jump in’. You know, the ‘Facebook is for stalkers’ or ‘Twitter is just people saying what they had for breakfast’ type approach. It’s easy to understand because it’s human nature to fear and feel sceptical about what we don’t understand. Until we know something, we can’t understand it.

2. Testing – these are the first steps we take into the new ‘online’ world – whether it’s forums, or bulletin boards, Twitter, Facebook or mySpace, we (and the speed depends somewhat on the personality) begin to try things out. We begin to take things (and ourselves) too seriously at times. We suffer from this. We get into flame wars. We test the limits including our own.

3. Coordinating (Building links) – this is what I’d call branching out and is one of the first stages of ‘understanding’. It comes from building links of use to others and working out the etiquette (oh, remember when it used to be called netiquette!) of the social environments. Using the jargon attached appropriately and moving beyond entertainment and novelty towards utility and information.

4 Scaling and Optimization (Branching Out) – This would be about building new networks, using different platforms. Trying things out and using the skills and base that has been created to create your identity and differentiate it. You are, by now, using the tools to gain and share information as well as to entertain. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way but there are social norms to adhere to and you are mastered them. Never, of course, forgetting the importance of the person behind the screen both on your own side and on the other side.

5. Empowering – I like the term ‘empowering’ so will continue to use it in this new model. It is about not only using the means well for your own purposes but helping others to learn along their path. Learning that sharing is more important than giving and information is not a limited commodity owned by particular institutions over others.

I’m not an expert by any means. I think I’d place myself in the third or fourth category but I’d be interested in the opinions of others about what the stages might be and if they are transferable to individuals as well as organisations.

Funding, Social Innovation and Social Care

This post was initially triggered by a Twitter discussion last week with Toby Blume chief executive of the Urban Forum who was attending the People Powered Change event #ppchange organised by the Big Lottery Fund. There have in recent months been a number of new social innovation initiatives with funding provided by diverse organisations. When I was running a charity I was very aware of the time and resources required to submit funding applications and to satisfy the funder’s requirement for demonstrating the outcomes of a project.

It feels like there is a real need for more joined up and connected thinking across the public, third, social enterprise and private sectors. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred in terms of who delivers front line public services. There is the real danger of duplication which was highlighted in the newly published Audit Commission report: Joining up health and social care Improving value for money across the interface.

As an example of the time being spent on submitting funding applications @DameHilaryBlume provided the following calculation. There were 1401 applications to the Silver Dreams Fund. Assuming 5 days work was required to complete the application that equates to 28 years of one person’s work. Rattling a tin for charity in the same time period could raise £1.4million assuming that £200 in donations could be raised in a 7 hour day.

@PeterWanless Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund responded by making the fair comment that “these figures assume a traditional application form and process. Silver Dreams is a call for ideas which organisations are then supported and paid to to develop. The serious investment will come when the best ideas are selected”.

It is worth looking at the Big Lottery Funding page. They are funding an impressive range of programmes across the UK and giving grants from £300 to over £500,000 to organisations ranging from small local groups to major national

Some of the recent funding initiatives relevant to social care (please feel free to add to the list)

The Silver Dreams Fund is pioneering ways to help vulnerable older people deal more effectively with life-changing events. The Big Lottery Fund is making a £110 million investment in older people in association with the Daily Mail.

Living Well with Dementia the Design Council and the Department of Health are running a competition to rethink life with dementia. The challenge is to help people with dementia and their carers live easier, better planned and more enjoyable lives. There were 150 applications and 5 ideas were selected which will be funded to deliver their working prototypes by March 2012.

Keeping Connected Business Challenge – the Design Council and the Technology Strategy Board competition to develop innovative services that keep older adults better connected through a £495,000 fund. 9 projects have been selected for stage 1 of the Keeping Connected Business Challenge

The Innovation in Giving Fund run by NESTA with the Office of Civil Society issued an open call for ideas to the £10m Innovation in Giving Fund. Proposals were invited which had the potential to deliver a significant increase in the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money. They received well over 400 applications and shortlisted 62 applicants to go through to the next selection phase.

Interesting questions and thoughts were shared on Twitter from the People Powered Change event and it is worth reading the Storify of the Workshop @johnpopham

Some comments from Twitter:

@willperrin Lets have a giant discussion forum for people applying to lottery bidsavingexpert maybe
@cased: How do we use funding to build local networks at scale instead of creating 2 way dependency relationships?
@dansutch -171 thousand charities spend £2.6bn on fundraising and PR to get £4.5bn in individual donations-broken equation
@judehabib ‘it’s all about storytelling.. Charities can’t afford not to make most of their stories’
@Andy_Malone Exploring how grant funding can be more than just a source of finance and how it can help support community action

I would like to explore:

How all of these initiatives and projects are being embedded in local communities and what are the links being made with social services, health organisations and the Health and Wellbeing Boards?

Keeping track of all the social innovations in social care underway is a challenge – do we need a central portal which links all of the initiatives or as Will Perrin suggests a discussion forum to support organisations in making funding bides?

Would it make sense to try and standardise funding applications?

I have been told by many small organisations that they are unaware of, and have difficulty in keeping track of, all the funding initiatives. I have promoted the excellent NCVO Funding Central guide to grants, contracts and loans which includes a regular eletter.

How else can we help signpost the information and advice that is available?

Would it be useful to research how much time organisations are spending on funding applications generally? The resources required to submit funding applications is a big issue especially for small and start up organisations.

I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of people who use services and carers organisations about their involvement in these projects and what other support services they would like to see being developed.

Hierarchies in Social Networks

Over the last week or so, I’ve turned my mind to the place of hierarchy within social networks and forms of ‘social media’ and what this means as these new forms of communication open up to more people.

Human Pyramid

The lie of democracy pretends that we all have an equal voice in terms of our vote when we are choosing our leaders. The reality is far from that. The loudness of the voice is determined by many other factors such as wealth, social standing, professional status, age, physical appearance and many other discriminations that run through every group that forms and society that is created around communities.

In some ways, ‘social media’ such as blogs, micro-blogs such as Twitter and sites such as Newsvine, Reddit, StumbleUpon and many like them have an undemocratic ‘feel’ to them. They allow anyone so the theory goes to become a ‘citizen journalist’ or rather a ‘citizen curator’ without needing to explain who they are and why they are qualified to do so.

More recently a few conversations I’ve been involved in (yes, on Twitter mostly) have highlighted the crossover between the importance of ‘status’ and the expectation that the same status should be accorded on these more open, more ‘democratic’ platforms.

This for me, is the rub of the ‘old’ against the ‘new’ and while we cannot disregard ‘real world’ influence in affording respect to particular views – in some ways, it is a parting of ways for the original  mentality which ask people to be judged on the content and value of their words rather than the letters before or after their name.

There is no way to break down these barriers of status completely. Barack Obama will always have more followers on a social media site than John Smith, a school student from Little Hadbury and it is quite right too.

Perhaps though, we are losing something by disregarding the content and influence that John Smith could have if given the channel and voice to do so.

Some of the most precious insights I have gained from my brief dallying in social media forms has been particularly from users and carers of services that I provide as a social worker but also from social work students. Indeed (no offence intended) it is often students that can ‘teach’ more insights than professors because academics have louder ‘natural’ voices which are provided by the status that they are (quite rightly) accorded in the society in which we live in.

Various tools like Klout and its ilk are trying to establish ‘hierarchies’ onto these communication tools – indicating that some people are ‘better’ than others where the real value is more personal and unlikely to be provided by a logarithm.

My concern is that as the ‘real world’ hierarchy creeps across social networks is not that we should ignore them – of course not. It is a great way of sharing knowledge and understanding but more that we must not lose this opportunity to lose the naturally quieter voices. Indeed, we should seek them out and learn from them.

Human beings like categorising things – including ourselves. We need to know our own place in these hierarchies. Sometimes our perceptions of where we are on these hierarchies is different from where we might place ourselves but really, the most important thing is to listen to all who have voices – sometimes learning comes in the least expected places.

I’d be interested in the experiences of others with the changing hierarchies particularly within social networks? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? How do you interpret the changes that are being experienced by society?